England should ‘hang its head in shame’ over recycling

National anti-litter charity Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) says that England should ‘hang its head in shame’, after Wales announced this week that its recycling rate had reached 59 per cent. KBT says that England can learn from Wales’s use of statutory targets, more consistent collection systems and mandatory food waste collections. 

In comparison to Wales, England’s rate has been static in the mid-40s for several years, and in March the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs released data showing that for the first time the country’s rate had actually fallen – to 44.3 per cent for the 12 months to June 2015, compared to the 45.0 per cent recorded the previous June.

KBT says that it is delighted that the ‘progressive waste and recycling policy adopted by the Welsh Assembly’, which has set escalating recycling targets for local authorities, culminating in a 70 per cent rate in 2024/25, is reaping dividends.

Under the targets, set out in the Welsh Government’s ‘Towards Zero Waste’ strategy, local authorities face fines for not meeting the targets, the next of which is for the end of the 2015/16 financial year. According to this week’s figures, which cover up until December 2015, 13 of the 22 Welsh councils have already met this 58 per cent target.

KBT suggests that similar methods should be implemented in England to drive up its flatlining recycling rate, with few incentives currently being given to local authorities.

The situation in England, KBT says, is ‘all the more concerning’ given that EU legislation requires the UK to achieve an average recycling rate of 50 per cent by 2020 or face penalties. Because England makes up the bulk of waste generation in the UK, the superior performance of Wales has a negligible effect on the wider recycling rate.

Government intervention needed in England

Keep Britain Tidy’s Deputy Chief Executive Richard McIlwain said: “The success in Wales reflects very badly on the situation here in England.

“If the government is serious about getting to grips with waste then it needs to look at what has been implemented in Wales and consider whether measures such as targets for individual local authorities, streamlined and consistent recycling bins and collection frequencies, together with statutory requirements around food waste collection, could drive up the faltering recycling rate in England.”

The possibility of more harmonised collections across the country is one solution that is currently being investigated by an action group led by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). 

Working closely with Resources Minister Rory Stewart, a Harmonisation and Consistency Working Group consisting of representatives from local authorities (LAs), waste management contractors, recyclers, producers and the retail sector has been researching the possibility of realising Stewart’s vision of giving LAs a limited choice of ‘five or six’ different collection systems within the next 10 years.

WRAP says that the results of a first phase of the project, which considered a range of scenarios, models and different approaches to consistency and areas for further investigation, will be taken to an advisory group, which will produce a publication of a vision for greater consistency in collections this summer. 

This is far from the first time that commentators have said that England should be following Wales’s lead. Indeed, when Wales reached 56 per cent recycling last year, SUEZ’s Director of External Affairs, Gev Eduljee, wrote exclusively for Resource that England should follow Wales’s example in implementing mandatory food waste collections and less frequent residual waste collections.