England’s recycling rate falls to 43.3 per cent

Figures published today (31 January) show a ‘disappointing’ fall in 'recycling from household' by 0.8 per cent for the last financial year (22/23), its lowest level in 11 years. 

In its latest statistical release, Defra reports that both municipal recycling and recycling from households fell for both the latest 12-month rolling timescale (2022/23), as well as for the calendar year 2022.
Bins on street for collectionTonnages for recycling and residual waste also fell for both these timeframes, in all likelihood reflecting the emergence from Covid restrictions and behaviour as a substantial proportion that worked from home in 2021/22 returned to the workplace.

Encouragingly, in 2022/23, total local authority managed waste decreased by 6.0 per cent to 24.5 million tonnes, the lowest level it has been since the millennium. This is reflective of a long-term trend which suggests that - despite growing population - household waste per capita is reducing.

For the last financial year, 7.2 per cent of all local authority collected waste in England was sent to landfill, amounting to 1.8 million tonnes. This represents a reduction of 0.3 million tonnes, or 16 per cent, compared to the previous year, 2021/22.

Regarding incineration, 49.1 per cent of all local authority collected waste, equating to 12.1 million tonnes, was incinerated in 2022/23. This shows a decrease of 0.3 million tonnes, or 2.8 per cent, from 2021/22. Of the total incinerated waste, 70.4 per cent (8.5 million tonnes) was sent directly for incineration in 2022/23, a slight increase from 70.2 per cent (8.7 million tonnes) in the previous year. Additionally, the amount of waste sent for recycling by local authorities was 10 million tonnes in 2022/23, a decrease of 0.8 million tonnes from 2021/22. 

Data for 2022, shows a sharper fall in the amount of glass, paper and card and metal sent for recycling than other materials, in all three categories almost a 10 per cent drop indicating a fall in the amount of packaging as on average people were at home less often post-Covid (see table below). 

Material 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Glass 1224 1227 1438 1413 1293
Paper and card 2161 2104 2101 2156 1960
Textiles 115 119 87 100 96
Plastic 476 501 528 522 492
WEEE & other scrap metals 570 559 465 508 482
IBA metal 187 201 222 228 222
Metals 238 249 270 268 240
Other materials 895 915 761 774 761

'Waste from households' dry recycling composition, England, 2018 to 2022 (thousand tonnes)

Defra's latest data highlights regional disparities in 'household waste' recycling rates across England, illustrating the role of factors such as population density, housing infrastructure, and the volume of green waste influencing these rates. The South West leads with a 48.2 per cent recycling rate, while the North East records the lowest at 31.2 per cent. Notably, all regions experienced a decline, except London, which remained stable, with the North East seeing the sharpest drop at 2.3 percentage points.

Disparities in 'household waste' recycling rates across England's regions are highlighted by a pronounced variation between the highest and lowest performing local authorities. The North West exhibited the most considerable disparity, with a 41.4 percentage point difference. In contrast, the North East showed the narrowest range at 14 percentage points.

Across England, five local authorities achieved recycling rates above 60 per cent, a slight decrease from the previous year. Leading the way, South Oxfordshire District Council had the highest recycling rate of 61.6 per cent, with organic waste constituting a significant portion of its materials. Consistently high achievers also included Three Rivers District Council and Vale of the White Horse, both maintaining top positions over the past six years. Conversely, Tower Hamlets recorded the lowest recycling rate of 17.7 per cent, with a minimal amount of organic waste recycling reflecting the low level of garden waste in the Borough.

Commenting on the latest figures Nathan Gray, Head of Sustainability at Reconomy said: “It is hugely disappointing that the latest DEFRA report on household recycling shows rates are continuing to stagnate and even trend downwards.

“In the week that Ireland introduced its Deposit Return Scheme – which has been proven to boost drinks container recycling rates above 90% in countries where it is in place – the UK’s waste management remains sub-standard.

“We have seen a decrease in household waste which is positive, although this is likely to be influenced by the unusually hot summer reducing plant growth, workers returning to the office and the cost of living crisis driving down household spend."