Resource Use

UK recycling rate falling short of EU target

The UK’s total household waste recycling rate rose to 44.9 per cent in 2014, up from 44.1 per cent in 2013, according to official statistics released today (15 December) by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

The data updates the UK’s waste statistics and progress on a number of European targets, including those for packaging and biodegradable waste.

The 2014 household recycling rate represents an increase of 4.5 percentage points since 2010, and leaves 5.1 percentage points to go if the UK is to hit the EU target of 50 per cent recycling of household waste by 2020.

UK recycling rate falling short of EU target
Recycling rate of Waste from Households, UK and country split, 2010-14
Wales has had the highest recycling rate in each of the five years since 2010 (inclusive), and in 2014 recorded a rate of 54.8 per cent. This figure is 10.8 percentage points higher than Wales’s 2010 rate.

However, as England is responsible for a vast proportion of UK household waste, generating 22.4 million tonnes of the UK’s 26.8 million total in 2014, the English 2014 rate of 43.6 per cent dictates much of the UK’s overall rate. The English rate has risen by just 3.6 percentage points since 2010, compared to 8.5 percentage points for Scotland and 5.6 percentage points for Northern Ireland.

In addition, UK household waste generation rose by 3.3 per cent in 2014, after year-on-year falls every year from 2010 to 2013. Waste generation increased in all four countries in 2014.

Working to achieve targets

Though the UK has achieved half of the increase needed to meet the EU targets in the five years since 2010, the stagnation of England’s recycling rate in the last three has led some to suggest that the target is quickly becoming unachievable.

Commenting on the new data, the Environmental Services Association’s Executive Director, Jacob Hayler, said: “The latest Defra figures on household waste recycling show that the UK is by no means certain to reach the EU’s 50 per cent target by 2020. It is interesting to see that while recycling rates in Wales and Scotland have increased by about two per cent a year for the last five years, in England – which makes up over 80 per cent of the UK figures – the annual rate of increase in recycling has been below one per cent.  This suggests that more political leadership will be needed to ensure that England makes its due contribution to the UK’s recycling performance over the next five years.”

Upon the release of English waste data for 2014/15 earlier this month, a Defra spokesman said: “These latest figures show the amount of waste going to landfill fell 20 per cent last year, and the waste from households recycling rate was up on last year. This reflects hard work by local authorities and a desire from people to recycle more. We remain committed to building on this success and recycling 50 per cent of our household waste by 2020 and will continue to support local authorities’ and WRAP’s efforts to promote recycling.”

Last month, Gev Eduljee, External Affairs Director at waste management company SUEZ, wrote exclusively for Resource that England could learn from the example set by Wales. Harmonisation of collection systems, a priority of Resources Minister Rory Stewart currently being investigated by a steering group, is among the measures that he suggests England could take to push up the recycling rate.

SUEZ has also released a report in September suggesting ways that the English recycling rate could be boosted. ‘At this rate… Exploring England’s recycling challenges’ highlighted less frequent collections and an enforced ‘pay-as-you-throw’ scheme as effective ways to meet EU targets.

The current 2020 target will likely be followed by a 65 per cent recycling target for 2030, should the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package proposals be approved by the European Parliament and Council next month. However, some European Parliament groups have already stated their intention to push for an increased 70 per cent target.

Biodegradable municipal waste

EU targets on biodegradable municipal waste (BMW), however, have already been met by the UK. The Landfill Directive of 1999 set a target for 2013 that required member states to send no more than 50 per cent of their 1995 baseline to landfill.

UK recycling rate falling short of EU target
BMW to Landfill as a percentage of 1995 baseline, UK and country split, 2010-13
In the UK, the amount of BMW sent to landfill fell from 10.2 million tonnes in 2012 to 9.2 million tonnes in 2013, which represents 26 per cent of the 1995 baseline (35.7 million). There is a further EU target to restrict landfilled BMW to 35 per cent of the 1995 baseline by 2020.

Individually, Northern Ireland’s 2013 landfilling of BMW represents the smallest proportion of the 1995 baseline (24.4 per cent), followed by England (25.3), Wales (27.1) and Scotland (29.9).

Again, the UK’s overall rate is weighted towards England’s BMW landfilling rate, which provided 7.3 million of the UK’s 9.2 million tonnes of BMW going to landfill in 2013.

Packaging waste

The European Commission’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive set minimum recovery targets of 60 per cent and recycling targets of 55 per cent, both to be met by the end of 2008. These minimums were to be maintained, with material-specific recycling targets for glass (60 per cent), paper and board (60), metals (50), plastics (22.5) and wood (15).

In 2013, 72.7 per cent of UK packaging waste was either recycled or recovered compared to 69.1 per cent in 2012. Recycling accounted for 6.7 million tonnes of the 10.4 million tonnes of packaging waste arisings, with a further 0.8 million tonnes recovered by use in ‘energy-from-waste’ incineration.

All materials met their specific targets. Paper had the highest rate, with 89.4 per cent of the 3.9 million tonnes of waste arisings being recovered or recycled.

The full set of statistics on UK waste can be found on Defra’s website.

Related Articles