Resource Use

UK recycling rate falls for the first time

The UK household recycling rate fell to 44.3 per cent in 2015 (down 1.6 per cent on 2014’s figure), the first time the rate has officially dropped since the government began publishing the statistic for waste from household origin in 2010, according to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra’s) new ‘UK Statistics on Waste’ report.

The report, released by Defra yesterday (15 December), gives an update on the UK’s waste statistics and a breakdown of the figures for each type of waste disposal, such as packaging waste and biodegradable municipal waste.

The statistics also give an indication of the UK’s progress towards the EU target of 50 per cent recycling of household waste by 2020. The UK remains 5.7 per cent shy of the target, having moved further away from the milestone after several years of stagnation.

Recycling rate of Waste from Households, UK and country split, 2010-15
When cut down into the different British countries, the rates presented in the Defra release show that Wales recycled 55.8 per cent of its household waste in 2015, far higher than Scotland and Northern Ireland (both 42.0 per cent) and England (43.9 per cent).

The figures show that Wales has once again increased its recycling rate, up one per cent from 54.8 per cent, continuing to outstrip its fellow members of the UK, though Welsh figures have revealed that its recycling rate for 2015/16 hit 60 per cent.

As England generates more than 10 times as much household waste as any other country in the UK, the nationwide rate is heavily weighted towards it, with 22.2 million of the 26.7 million tonnes of household waste produced in the UK coming from England.

Thus the fall in the UK’s overall household waste recycling rate can be attributed to the fall in England’s recycling rate from 44.8 per cent in 2014 to 43.9 per cent in 2015.

Furthermore, Scotland has increased its recycling rate by one per cent, up from 41 per cent in 2014, while Northern Ireland has seen a drop of 0.5 per cent from 42.5 per cent, though the amount of waste recycled in the country remained the same (344,000 tonnes).

Local authority results

The Defra figures suggest that South Oxfordshire District Council was England’s best recycling council for the third year in a row, with a reported recycling, composting and reuse rate of 66.6 per cent. The council beat East Riding of Yorkshire Council (66.1 per cent) and Rochford District Council (66 per cent) into second and third place in the English recycling league table for 2015/16.

The top 10 councils as reported in the league table are as follows:

  1. South Oxfordshire District Council – 66.6 per cent
  2. East Riding of Yorkshire Council – 66.1 per cent
  3. Rochford District Council – 66 per cent
  4. Vale of White Horse District Council – 64.8 per cent
  5. Surrey Heath Borough Council – 62.1 per cent
  6. West Oxfordshire District Council – 60.8 per cent
  7. Stratford-on-Avon District Council – 60.4 per cent
  8. Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council – 60.4 per cent
  9. Three Rivers District Council – 59.4 per cent
  10. Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council – 59.4 per cent

 Biodegradable municipal waste

The UK has already met EU targets on the disposal of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW), with the amount of BMW being sent to landfill falling once again to 22 per cent of the 1995 target baseline, down from 24 per cent in 2014. This figure remains comfortably below the 35 per cent target for 2020 set by the 1999 EU Landfill Directive.

Once again, the UK’s overall weight is heavily weighted towards England’s BMW landfilling rate, with 5.9 million tonnes of the UK’s 7.6 million tonnes of landfilled BMW coming from England.

A breakdown of the different countries shows that Wales again ranks better than its neighbours with a 17 per cent landfilling rate, with England (21 per cent), Northern Ireland (25 per cent), and Scotland (30 per cent) all coming up behind.

Packaging waste

The EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive set minimum recovery targets of 60 per cent and recycling targets of 55 per cent for packaging waste to be achieved by 31 December 2008. The directive also set material-specific targets for glass (60 per cent), paper and board (60 per cent), metals (50 per cent), plastics (22.5 per cent), and wood (15 per cent).

The Defra statistics show that the UK recycled or recovered 64.1 per cent of packaging waste in 2014, representing a significant drop from 72.7 per cent in 2013. The report indicates that fall can largely be attributed to a new paper and cardboard ‘placed on market’ estimate that has increased the estimated waste arisings for the sector.

Recycling accounted for 6.77 million tonnes of the 11.4 million tonnes of total packaging waste arising, while a further 0.6 million tonnes was treated through energy-from-waste schemes.

The highest recycling rate for a specific packaging material was 73.1 per cent of the 4.7 million tonnes of waste arising for paper and cardboard, down from 89.4 per cent in 2013.

Defra’s waste statistics for 2015 can be found on the department’s website.

Responses to the fall in the UK’s recycling rate can be found in Resource’s follow-up news story.

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