Resource Use

NI recycling rate slows as landfill decreases


Northern Ireland’s latest figures on local authority collected municipal waste show the lowest increase in recycling rates in over a decade,  despite a considerable decrease in total waste sent for landfill.

The ‘Northern Ireland (NI) Local Authority Collected (LAC) Municipal Waste Management Statistics’ report for the financial year 2012/13 was published on Friday (28 November) based on returns made to WasteDataFlow.

The fourth annual report of its kind reveals that waste arisings fell to a ‘new low’ of 913,546 tonnes between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2013, down by 3.8 per cent on 2011/12. Of this, 38.7 per cent was sent for recycling (including composting), 53.6 per cent was sent to landfill with 6.9 per cent being sent for energy recovery.

District recycling ranking

According to the statistics, Magherafelt District Council remained the best performing district council for recycling, with 55.4 per cent being sent for recycling or composting in 2012/13. However, the council also saw the largest drop in its recycling rate – falling 4.1 per cent on the year before.

Ballymena District Council showed the largest year-on-year improvement, increasing the percentage of household waste sent for recycling by 6.4 per cent between 2011/12 and 2012/13.

However, during the same period, 16 councils reported a decreased recycling percentage, with the greatest drop occurring in Magherafelt (4.1 per cent).

Derry City Council had the lowest rate of both recycling and composting (28.1 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively), while Banbridge Council had the best composting rate, with levels coming in at 33 per cent.

Waste arisings reduction

Looking at waste arisings, Carrickfergus Borough Council experienced the largest reduction in municipal waste arisings, collecting 11.5 per cent less than the year before.

As well achieving the highest recycling rate, Magherafelt District Council was also the best performing district council in terms of the percentage of LAC municipal waste it sent to landfill; only 25.8 per cent in 2012/13.

However not all district councils reduced LAC municipal waste arisings over this period; two district councils saw increases, with Down District Council seeing its waste levels increasing by three per cent. This council also sent the most amount of waste to landfill (65.7 per cent).

Lowest recycling increase in over a decade

Despite the NI recycling (including composting) rate for 2012/13 being 0.4 per cent higher than the previous year, this was the lowest rate of increase in the recycling rate since 2002 and was ‘significantly lower’ than the almost three percent growth achieved in 2011/12.

Further, the 38.7 recycling rate was 0.3 per cent less than what was forecast in the last quarterly report and saw the country fall just short of its last Northern Ireland Programme for Government (PfG) target of 41 per cent in March 2013.

NI now needs to deliver a 4.3 per cent improvement to reach the March 2014 target (43 per cent).

Northern Ireland ‘cannot afford to be complacent’

The Department of the Environment said that the ‘levelling off’ of recycling rates may be in part due to the severe weather conditions experienced across Northern Ireland in the final quarter of this reporting period, ‘impacting on local authority waste kerbside collections, access to recycling facilities and early plant growth, so reducing organic garden waste normally sent for composting’.

It added that the same reasons would also appear to be ‘partly responsible’ for the 3.8 per cent drop in waste arisings.

Speaking of the figures, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: “Although there continues to be a reduction in waste being produced, a slowdown in the growth of recycling rates demonstrates we cannot afford to be complacent – all of us can easily convert our waste to a resource by simply using the kerbside recycling service provided by councils.

“The recent publication of the revised Waste Management Strategy – ‘Delivering Resource Efficiency’ sets out a coherent long term plan of actions in which we can all participate. I call on both householders and local industry to look at how they can save on landfill tax costs and increase their profitability by re-examining their business and not creating waste in the first place. It’s in everyone’s best interest.”

Recycling stagnation a national trend

The slowing in recycling rates marks a growing trend in the UK, as recent figures from Scotland tell a similar story. Data published last month showed that in Scotland, the proportion of household waste that was recycled in 2012/13 stood at 41.2 per cent, representing an increase of just 1.1 per cent on 2011 figures.

Further, recent figures released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show thatin England, the household waste recycling rate (which accounts for 90 per cent of the 25.3 million tonnes of refuse managed by local authorities in England) reached 43.2 per cent in 2012/13  - just 0.2 per cent more than the year before.

This marks the second time in two years that England has achieved its lowest year-on-year increase (in 2011/12, England saw the lowest year-on-year increase in a decade, with recycling rates increasing by 1.5 per cent on 2010/11) and has led Defra to warn that ‘the rate of increase in the last year is insufficient to meet the 50 per cent EU target by 2020’.

Wales remains the only UK nation to have broken the 50 per cent target to date. Welsh councils collectively recycled 55 per cent of their municipal waste in the first quarter of 2013/14. The provisional figures, released in the 'Local authority municipal waste management, April-June 2013' report last Friday, show that the recycling rate is five per cent higher than the quarter before, and two per cent higher than the same quarter in 2012.

Further, the combined reuse, recycling, and composting rate of local authority municipal waste increased to 53 per cent for the 12 months to the end of June 2013, compared to 51 per cent for the 12 months to the end of June 2012.

In a report released last week, environmental consultancy Eunomia warned that an increasing reliance on energy-from-waste infrastructure could limit recycling efforts.

Read the ‘Northern Ireland Local Authority Collected Municipal Waste Management Statistics’ report for the financial year 2012/13.