UK recycling rate lags behind Europe’s best performers

The UK’s municipal recycling rate falls some way short of Europe’s best recycling nations, according to municipal waste data from Eurostat.

43.8 per cent of municipal waste was recycled by the UK in 2017, as recorded by the EU’s statistical body based on municipal waste data submitted by the 28 EU member states. This is some way behind the results of Germany (67.6 per cent), Slovenia (57.8 per cent) and Austria (57.7 per cent) and just over 2.5 per cent behind the EU average (46.4 per cent).

The UK, which ranks 11th in the EU member state recycling table, came in ahead of countries such as France (42.9 per cent), Norway (38.8 per cent) and Spain (33.5 per cent). The total amount of waste sent for recycling in the EU was 116 million tonnes in 2017, an increase of 77 million tonnes since 1995.

UK recycling rate lags behind Europe’s best performersThe story for waste generation is mixed, with the UK producing the third highest total amount of waste at 31 million tonnes in 2017, though it registered the 15th highest amount of waste generated per capita, at 468 kilogrammes (kg) per capita – just below the EU average of 486kg.

Across the EU, which saw 248.7 million tonnes of waste generated in 2017, Germany produced the most waste with 52.3 million tonnes, while Denmark produced the most waste per capita at 781kg, with Romania propping up the table with 272kg per capita.

Despite the UK’s middling recycling performance, it performs far better in terms of waste sent to landfill, with just 79kg per capita sent to landfill, below the EU average of 113kg per capita. Malta leads the way with 520kg per capita sent to landfill, while Sweden sent just 2kg per capita to landfill.

Sweden’s exceptional performance in landfill diversion can be explained by its sending most of its residual waste for incineration and energy recovery, treating 239kg per capita via this route, while Denmark and Norway lead the way on 413kg per capita and 396kg per capita respectively. The UK sent 176kg per capita for energy recovery in 2017, above the EU average of 137kg per capita.

Landfilling of waste fell across the EU despite the total increase in waste generated, with 58 million tonnes of waste landfilled across all EU member states in 2017, down two million tonnes from 2016, and down 88 million tonnes from 145 million tonnes since 1995, representing a total fall of 60 per cent in that time.

Making up ground

All EU member states are currently striving to reach the 2020 recycling target of 50 per cent, with the EU Circular Economy Package (CEP) setting incremental targets beyond that date of 55 per cent by 2025, 60 per cent by 2030 and 65 per cent by 2035.

The CEP also sets specific targets for packaging and separate requirements for bio-waste and landfill. EU member states will be expected to achieve stated recycling rates by 2030 for all packaging (70 per cent), plastic (55 per cent), wood (30 per cent), ferrous metals (80 per cent), aluminium (60 per cent), glass (75 per cent) and paper and cardboard (85 per cent).

In addition to this, member states will have until 1 January 2025 to set up separate collections of textiles waste and hazardous waste from households, while they must ensure that bio-waste is either collected separately or recycled at source through home composting, for example, by 31 December 2023.

With regard to landfill, member states will be expected to ensure that all waste suitable for recycling or recovery shall not be sent to landfill by 2030, except for waste for which landfill is the best environmental outcome. On top of that, member states will have to ensure that by 2035, less than 10 per cent of the total amount of municipal waste generated is sent to landfill.

The UK currently lags some way behind the 2020 target of 50 per cent and looks unlikely to meet it. Despite the country’s impending departure from the EU, the UK Government previously indicated in its Resources and Waste Strategy that it would remain committed to the targets contained in the EU’s CEP, and there has been no suggestion as of yet of a change of direction since Boris Johnson’s appointment as Prime Minister.

The full EU municipal waste statistics can be viewed on the Eurostat website.

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