England's recycling rate plateaus

Local authorities (LAs) in England recycled the same amount of dry recyclables between July and September 2014 as they did in the corresponding period the year before, despite collecting more waste, new figures released today (7 May) show.

England recycling rate plateaus

According to the ‘Provisional Statistics on waste managed by local authorities in England including July to September 2014’, of the 5.9 million tonnes of household waste collected last summer, 47.2 per cent (2,789 million tonnes) was recycled/composted – up by just 0.1 per cent on the same quarter last year, when 47.1 per cent of the 5.7 million tonnes of waste collected was recycled/composted. However, the quarter’s marginal increase was also only achieved through an increase in composting, as the dry recycling rate held firm at 32.1 per cent.

Disposal rates down, recovery rates up

Although the figures show that the recycling and composting rate is plateauing – and the amount of waste generated is increasing – there was, however, a drop in the amount of waste sent for disposal. Between July and September 2014, LAs sent 41.2 per cent of waste for disposal, down from 43.4 per cent during the same period the year before.

The statistics also show that the routes in which waste is disposed are changing, with ‘recovery’ of the 41.2 per cent of waste sent for disposal (the amount of non-recycled waste not sent to landfill or incineration, a category that includes compost-like output, incinerator bottom ash and metals, and refuse-derived fuel) reaching a record high of 22 per cent.

The amount of waste sent for incineration also increased, with just over 16 per cent of all waste sent down this route (up from 12.2 per cent), while landfill disposal decreased from 31.1 per cent to 24.8 per cent.

Concerns England may not reach 2020 target

This latest set of statistics continues the trend in which England’s recycling rate appears to be stalling – as the country recycled 44.16 per cent (less rejects) in the calendar year 2013, up by just 0.05 per cent on 2012 levels.

Indeed, the ongoing stagnation in recycling rates led the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to warn last year that if increases remain low, England’s recycling level will be ‘insufficient’ to meet the EU’s target of recycling 50 per cent of household waste by 2020. (Despite these warnings, Defra ‘stepped back’ from some of its waste policy work in April 2014, due to budget cuts.)

As such, last year, several members of the waste and resources industry bolstered calls for the government to take more action to increase recycling.

Chief Executive Officer of waste management firm SUEZ environnement (formerly SITA UK), David Palmer-Jones, said that “active leadership and a policy sea-change is needed at national government level to put the country’s recycling performance back on an upward trend”, while Dan Cooke, Director of External Affairs at Viridor, added: “government [needs] to step forward, not backwards, in providing clearer support in incentivising best practice whilst tackling waste crime. Only then will we significantly improve rates of recycling in England and truly maximise the potential of a national renewable resource.”

Read the ‘Provisional Statistics on waste managed by local authorities in England including July to September 2014

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