Resource Use

UK recycling rate increases to 45.7 per cent

The UK recycling rate for Waste from Households (WfH) has risen to 45.7 per cent in the 2017 calendar year, up from 45.2 per cent in 2016, according to the latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The new figures contained in Defra’s ‘UK Statistics on Waste’, released today (14 February), provide the most recent picture of the UK’s recycling performance, including packaging waste and biodegradable municipal waste (BMW). The data is used to measure the UK’s performance against targets set out in the EU Waste Framework Directive – the UK remains some way short of the EU target of a household waste recycling rate of 50 per cent by 2020.

UK recycling rate increases to 45.7 per cent
The WfH recycling rate increased in each UK country across 2017: England increased to 45.2 per cent (though earlier figures for England showed it fell to 44.8 per cent across 2017/18), Northern Ireland rose three percentage points to 46.3 per cent, Scotland increased to 43.5 per cent and Wales remains far out in front on 57.6 per cent.

The figures include data for metal recovered and recycled after incineration (IBA metal) after a revision to the methodology was introduced last year, providing a boost to the recycling rate in 2016 and 2017. Previously, IBA metal would have been reported as ‘recovery’ of waste, rather than recycling.

The total waste arisings for the whole of the UK in 2017 came to 26.9 million tonnes, representing a slight fall from 2016, when 27.3 million tonnes of waste were generated. Of this total, around 12.3 million tonnes were counted as recycled. Given the size of England compared to the other UK nations, the figures are heavily influenced by England’s performance. England’s total waste arisings fell from 22.8 million tonnes in 2016 to 22.4 million tonnes in 2017.

In terms of BMW, the UK sent 7.4 million tonnes to landfill in 2017, down from 7.8 million tonnes in 2016, representing 21 per cent of the 1995 baseline value, against which EU targets are set – the UK has to send no more than 35 per cent of BMW to landfill by 2020.

UK recycling rate increases to 45.7 per centThe figures also include data for the UK’s packaging waste. The UK’s total packaging recycling or recovery rate fell to 70.2 per cent in 2017, down from 71.4 per cent in 2016. Despite the fall, this is still comfortably ahead of the EU target of 60 per cent for 2020. Of the 11.5 million tonnes of packaging waste generated in 2017, 7.4 million tonnes was recycled, with a further 0.7 million tonnes being sent for recovery in energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities.

Recycling rates for all individual packaging material streams remained above their EU targets in 2017: 71.3 per cent for metal (EU target of 50 per cent), 79 per cent for paper and cardboard (60 per cent), 67.6 per cent for glass (60 per cent), 46.2 per cent for plastic (22.5 per cent) and 31.4 per cent for wood (15 per cent). The highest waste arisings came from paper and cardboard at 4.7 million tonnes, and the amount of paper and cardboard packaging recovered for recycling fell from 3.9 million tonnes in 2016 to 3.8 million tonnes in 2017. Total amounts of waste recovered for recycling for the other packaging material streams all increased slightly.

In terms of UK commercial and industrial (C&I) waste, though figures are not available for the whole of the UK, updated figures are available for England, which saw 37.9 million tonnes of C&I waste waste generated in 2017, up from 33.1 million tonnes in 2016. According to the statistical release, one third of this increase is driven by improvements in underlying Environment Agency (EA) data for incineration and refuse derived fuel exported, while another third can be accounted for by some treatment categories that were omitted by the EA in previous years.

Defra’s full ‘UK Statistics on Waste’ report for 2019 can be viewed on the government’s website.

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