Scotland’s household recycling rate falls to 44.7 per cent

Statistics from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) reveal that Scotland’s household recycling rate for 2018 has fallen by 0.8 per cent to 44.7 per cent, though the carbon impact of Scottish household waste has also fallen once again.

The fall in recycling rate from 45.5 per cent – the original reported figure was revised down from 45.6 per cent – means that Scottish household waste recycling has fallen for the first time since 2011, when the recycling rate was recorded as 40.1 per cent using the old method of calculating the recycling rate, where household waste composted that did not reach the quality standards set by PAS 100/110 was included in the recycling figures.

The fall in the overall household recycling rate has largely been driven by a fall in the amount of paper and cardboard recycled. Paper and cardboard is the largest volume of material recycled in Scotland, with 209,120 tonnes recycled in 2018. However, this figure has fallen by 16,374 tonnes or seven per cent since 2017.

This fall in paper and cardboard recycling has offset the increase in plastic recycling, which rose by 8,163 tonnes or five per cent to 56,586 tonnes in 2018. A modest increase in the amount of glass recycled was also recorded, with 832 tonnes more glass collected in 2018, increasing by 0.8 per cent to 107,380 tonnes.

According to SEPA’s figures, overall, 2.41 million tonnes of household waste were generated in Scotland in 2018, a fall of two per cent from 2.46 million tonnes in 2017, and a fall of 201,513 tonnes since 2011.

This fall was accompanied by a further decrease in the amount of household waste sent to landfill – down by seven per cent or 75,491 tonnes since 2017 – meaning that the amount of waste sent for recycling (1.07 million tonnes) outstripped the amount of waste sent to landfill (1.03 million tonnes) for the second year in a row.

Despite the fall in recycling rate, Scotland continues to reduce the carbon impact of its household waste. SEPA’s statistics show a fall of 104,228 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) generated by Scotland’s household waste in 2018 to 5.76 million tonnes of CO2e. This follows the long-term decreasing trajectory since 2011 and the introduction of the Carbon Metric, which has seen a 15 per cent decrease in Scotland’s carbon impact over that time.

Certain materials have a disproportionate carbon impact relative to their share of the total household waste tonnage, with the top five most carbon intensive materials for 2018 accounting for 65 per cent of all waste tonnage, but 89 per cent of all carbon impacts. Particular offenders, were textile waste, which made up six per cent of waste arisings and 34 per cent of the carbon impacts, and food waste, which accounted for 25 per cent of household waste and 32 per cent of carbon impacts.A table showing Scottish household waste generated and managed in each local authority in 2018

Glasgow still holding recycling rate back

In terms of individual local authorities, 21 councils saw their recycling rates fall, although half recorded recycling rates above 50 per cent.

The top-performing local authority was East Renfrewshire, which recycled 66.2 per cent of its 43,927 tonnes of household waste, closely followed by West Lothian, which recycled 65.2 per cent of its 74,194 tonnes of waste. Midlothian (58.2 per cent) and Moray (57.4 per cent) also posted strong recycling rates.

Once again, Glasgow City and the City of Edinburgh generated the most household waste, with 245,318 tonnes and 193,341 tonnes respectively. However, there is a significant difference between the two cities’ recycling rates, with Edinburgh posting a 38.8 per cent recycling rate against Glasgow’s 24.6 per cent. Glasgow also sends the most household waste to landfill at 167,502 tonnes – 68.3 per cent of all the household waste generated in the city.

Glasgow’s recycling rate is the lowest of any mainland Scottish local authority, and is even being caught up by the island authorities of Orkney Islands (21.1 per cent) and Na h-Eileanan Siar (23.1 per cent). Shetland Islands retains the lowest recycling rate of any Scottish local authority with 10.1 per cent.

‘Difficult year for recycling’

Commenting on the results, Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “We have achieved a record low carbon impact for household waste and, while recycling is hugely important, waste prevention has far greater benefits, as most of the impacts from waste come not from waste management, but from producing the materials and products we discard in the first place.

“It has been a difficult year for recycling due to changes in global markets, especially for paper and plastics. While the overall figure has gone down slightly, there have been encouraging individual results with some of the top performing local authorities showing what can be done by achieving rates of more than 60 per cent. Recycling rates for food waste, which is a particularly heavy carbon emitter, has also gone up by 40 per cent over recent years.”

You can view the Scottish household waste data for 2018 on the SEPA website.

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