Household recycling rates stall in Northern Ireland

New data published for the second quarter of 2014/15 shows that, for the first time since 2009/10, household recycling rates have stalled in Northern Ireland.

Household recycling rates stall in Northern Ireland
Provisional NI Local Authority Collected (LAC) Municipal Waste Management Statistics for Quarter 2 (July to September 2014)

According to the provisional ‘Northern Ireland Local Authority Collected (LAC) Municipal Waste Management Statistics: July to September 2014’, published today (22 Jan), the household dry recycling and composting rate has failed to show any quarter-on-quarter increase, remaining at just below 46 per cent (101,057 tonnes). This correlates to recycling trends in other parts of the UK, such as England, where progress in recycling rates has slowed to a near-halt.

The report attributes this to a lack of increase in household composting rates, noting that, in previous years, improvements have mainly been driven this way. The proportion of household waste being composted showed no increase on the previous year, remaining at around 25 per cent, while dry recycling held firm at 21 per cent.

Despite this, the report shows that household landfill rates have continued to fall, with the total tonnage of household waste going to landfill falling by 14 per cent over the last year (from 103,000 tonnes to just below 89,000 tonnes). This equates to 40 per cent of household waste now being sent to landfill – a decrease of nearly seven per cent on the same quarter last year, and the lowest rate yet recorded.

Like in other parts of the UK, the report notes that the falling landfill rate is mainly due to an increase in household waste being diverted for energy recovery rather than any improvement to the household recycling and composting rate. The Department of Environment (DOE) has said that ‘although this is better than landfill, ultimately resources that could be recycled are still going up in smoke’.

The news comes in marked contrast to the previous quarter’s results, which showed that, for the first time, local authorities (LAs) in Northern Ireland sent more waste for recycling and composting than they did to landfill.

LAC Municipal Waste

According to the report, the amount of municipal waste collected between July and September 2014 totaled 250,865 tonnes – a one per cent increase on July to September 2013 (248,392 tonnes).

This development was consistent across household and non-household streams, which each saw increases of 0.9 per cent and 1.7 per cent respectively.

The total proportion of LAC Municipal Waste sent for recycling and composting between July and September 2014 was 45.1 per cent, marking a very slight increase on the previous year (44.8 per cent).

The tonnage of LAC municipal waste going to landfill fell to 101,781, a decrease of 13.9 per cent on the same quarter last year when 118,159 tonnes were landfilled. This marked a seven per cent quarter-to-quarter decrease in the percentage of LAC municipal waste that was sent to landfill.

Household Waste

The total percentage of household waste sent for recycling and composting between July and September 2014 was 45.6 per cent - the same as the proportion sent in July to September 2013.

Of all household waste collected, 21.0 per cent was recycled and 24.6 per cent was composted.

The figures show that there was a mixed spread of household recycling performance across the country; household waste recycling and composting rates for the authorities in the arc21 partnership remained similar to last year, while the councils in the Southern Waste Management Partnership (SWaMP2008) improved by 1.2 percentage points (mainly reflected in dry recycling, which was up 0.9 percentage points from last year).

Notably, the councils in the North West Region Waste Management Group (NWRWMG) partnership had the greatest change since last year, seeing rates drop by 2.9 per cent (two per cent of which was due to lower levels of dry recycling). Resource has contacted NWRWMG for an explanation as to what accounted for this drop, but has not yet received a response.

In contrast, the total tonnage of household waste sent to landfill during this quarter was 88,511 tonnes down 13.9 per cent compared with last year (102,854 tonnes). This equates to 39.9 per cent household waste sent to landfill between July and September 2014, 6.9 per cent lower than the July to September 2013 figure (46.8 per cent).

Regarding household kerbside capture rates, the primary waste categories ranged from a high of 56.6 per cent for paper and card to a low of 1.7 per cent for waste electronic & electrical equipment (WEEE). The capture rates for glass and mixed metals improved on the previous year (up 1.6 and 1.2 percentage points respectively), whilst capture rates for the remaining primary waste categories remained more or less the same. 

Biodegradable Waste

In terms of biodegradable LAC municipal waste, 53,948 tonnes were sent to landfill between July-September 2014, marking an 11.9 per cent decrease on the same quarter last year (61,228 tonnes).

This meant that 18.5 per cent of the annual Northern Ireland Landfill Allowance Scheme (NILAS) allocation was used during this quarter.

Slowdown in recycling ‘concerning’

Commenting on the figures, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: “Whilst it is good to see that the North has maintained its household recycling rate, the slowdown in its increase does concern me.

“I would ask all householders to check with their local council to see exactly what materials they can recycle at the kerbside – the range is increasing all the time. Recycling saves local councils the cost of landfilling, so every small action taken by a household to recycle is contributing to the local community.”

Read the ‘Northern Ireland Local Authority Collected (LAC) Municipal Waste Management Statistics: July to September 2014’.

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