State of the union

Chancellor George Osborne stated in his Budget 2015 speech that “we are all part of one United Kingdom”. However, approaches to waste and recycling across the different governments are becoming increasingly fractured. Resource reports

This article was taken from Issue 80

Back in the days when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was a bit more united than it is now, recycling hadn’t really made the political agenda and wasn’t exactly a strong point: in 1999, the UK as a whole recycled or composted around 10 per cent of municipal waste (which was far less than our European neighbours – Austria and Germany had already surpassed the 50 per cent mark and the average European recycling rate was more than double ours at 23.9 per cent!). In the 16 intervening years since devolution, though, much has changed, and in 2013, the country as a whole recycled 43.5 per cent of municipal waste according to Eurostat (the figures for household waste alone are marginally lower – at 43.4 per cent for the 2013 calendar year, for example), though it’s fair to say that progress has slowed in recent years.

It’s not been uniform progress, however, as the different UK administrations have adopted different tactics (with varying degrees of urgency and success) in attempting to become more resource-efficient. As Iain Gulland, then WRAP’s Director for Scotland and now Zero Waste Scotland’s Chief Executive, told us in advance of the general election in 2010: “In many ways, the challenge for all the administrations is the same. We all want the same things – to reduce waste going to landfill, to make better use of resources, to prevent waste at source, to engage with retailers. Everybody wants to do all the right things, it’s just the approach is slightly different.” Now, as another election nears, we thought it time to check in and see how each of the administrations is getting on.