England’s household recycling rate rises by 0.4 per cent

England’s ‘waste from households’ recycling rate has risen by 0.4 per cent to 45.5 per cent in 2019/20, falling short of the 50 per cent target reaffirmed in 2018 by Defra in the ‘Our waste, our resource: a strategy for England’.

This version of Statistics on waste managed by local authorities in England in 2019/20 from Defra shows waste and recycling figures from the financial year 2019/20.

An image of wheelie bins along a streetThe figures reveal that the total volume of waste from households across 2019/20 remained at 22.1 million tonnes. The amount of waste sent to recycling increased slightly to 10.1 million tonnes, up 0.9 per cent from 2018/19.

The tonnage of dry recycling, including incinerator bottom ash (IBA), increased slightly, but remained at around 5.9 million tonnes in 2019.

Separately collected food waste rose by 5.5 per cent to 437,000 tonnes in 2019, up from 414,000 tonnes in 2018. However, it remained only a small proportion of total waste from households at 2 per cent.

The amount of other organic waste, including garden waste, mixed garden and food waste, wood for composting and other compostable waste, accounted for 17 per cent of the total waste from households.

Local authority collected waste

Total local authority managed waste – which includes street sweepings, municipal parks and garden waste, beach cleansing waste and clearance of fly-tipped materials, as well as household waste – remained steady at 25.6 million tonnes in 2019/20.

According to the figures, 8.5 per cent of all local authority collected waste was sent to landfill in 2019/20. This figure is down by 2.3 per cent from 2018/19, and down by 16.5 per cent from 2017/18.

In terms of incineration, the amount of waste sent to energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities continues to rise, increasing by 3.8 per cent to 11.6 million tonnes. This means that 45.5 per cent of all local authority waste was incinerated in 2019/20.

Of the 341 local authorities in England, there was found to be considerable variation in ‘household waste’ recycling rates, ranging from 19 to 64 per cent in 2019/20.

Household waste recycling

The region with the largest increase in ‘household waste’ recycling was Yorkshire and the Humber, with an increase of 1.3 percentage points.

Three Rivers District Council was the council that sent the most household waste to recycling, with a recycling rate of 64.1 per cent. South Oxfordshire District Council reported a household waste recycling rate of 64 per cent, followed by East Riding of Yorkshire’s recycling rate of 63.3 per cent.

As in previous years, it was London that sent the least amount of household waste to recycling, with a total household waste recycling rate of 33.5 per cent, while the South West had the highest household waste recycling rate, at 49.5 per cent. 

Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council replaced Newham London Borough as the worst-performing council, however Newham London Borough still came out second-worst performing, with household waste recycling rates of 18.8 per cent and 20.3 per cent in 2019/20, respectively.

Industry response

Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) Jacob Hayler said: “The annual statistics for waste managed by local authorities in England contain few surprises for waste-watchers and indicate continued flat-line performance across all major metrics – serving once more to highlight that, without significant new interventions, our national recycling rate will continue to be stuck in the doldrums.

“Next year’s statistics will of course hold more interest, as we will see a more complete picture of the impact of the pandemic upon the consumption and disposal habits of Britain’s households.

“In the meantime, our sector will provide full input into the next round of imminent consultations for Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy, which holds the potential to kick-start a new and much-needed upward trend in national recycling performance.”

Rogier Gerritsen, Recycling MD at DS Smith said: "It is disappointing to see that the latest government figures from Defra indicate our recycling infrastructure has yet again failed to move significantly forward. At a less than a 1 per cent increase to 45.5per cent, this means we are still trailing significantly behind our overall targets and leaves us lagging behind other European nations, such as Germany which is recording a rate of 67 per cent.

“We urgently need reform around our collection infrastructure and the best way for us to improve recycling rates is to focus on quality – in particular, paper and cardboard as the packaging with the highest recycling rate would benefit from a consistent source segregated collection of recyclables to avoid the contamination of valuable materials in mixed collections.

“With consultations around consistency, and other areas of waste and recycling legislation set to take place this year, we urge the government to accelerate moves to an infrastructure that supports high quality material for recycling.”

You can view the latest recycling statistics for England in full on the Defra website.