Resource Use

England recycling ‘insufficient’ to meet EU target

Image: Defra

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has warned that if recycling rates remain at their current level, England’s recycling rate will be ‘insufficient’ to meet the EU’s target of recycling 50 per cent of household waste by 2020.

The warning comes in today’s (7 November) release of annual figures for the management of household waste by local authorities in England.

According to the ‘Local authority collected waste statistics - Local authority data (England) 2012/13’ report, 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’. Despite this warning however,  yesterday (6 November) Resource Minister, Dan Rogerson, announced that from April 2014, the department will be ‘stepping back’ on some of its waste policy work due to budgetary cuts.

The leveling off of recycling figures marks a growing trend, 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. Wales remains the only UK nation to have broken the 50 per cent target to date.

One suggestion from the waste and resources industry is for government to now offer incentives for recycling. Rob Crumbie from recycling reward company Greenredeem, commented: "We believe that giving people a personal incentive to recycle will not only change their attitudes to recycling to make them believe that they do get something out of it for themselves, but ultimately end up changing their behaviour altogether.
"While there are pockets of the UK that are benefitting from incentivised recycling, we’re now calling on local and national Government to embrace this to prevent recycling rates from continuing to decline / plateau. With rates currently stuck at 43.2 per cent, we believe that something has to be done now if the Government’s target for 50 per cent of all waste recycled by 2020 is to be met.”

England recycling figures break down

Notably, although recycling levels in England are appearing to slow down, the volumes of household waste sent for incineration are markedly increasing year-on-year. Between April 2012 and March 2013, local authorities sent 22 per cent of household waste to incineration and energy recovery – 13 per cent more than the year before. This means that the amount of waste sent for management in this route has doubled over the last 10 years.

Defra has said that although generating energy from waste by incineration is ‘preferable’ to landfill, ‘recycling and reuse are preferable to both’.

The figures also found that local authority managed waste going to landfill fell by 11 per cent to 8.5 million tonnes (34 per cent of total refuse collected) in 2012/13, and has fallen over 60 per cent in the last ten years. The government department attributes this to escalating landfill tax.

Local authority performance

Despite the recycling figure for England coming it at around 43 per cent, Defra notes that there is ‘considerable variation’ in the performances of different local authorities. Of the 352 local authorities covered, 73 achieved a recycling rate of 50 per cent or more, with Rochford District Council achieving the highest recycling rate, at 67 per cent (with ‘over 56 per cent recycling comprising of green waste).

At the opposite end of the scale was Ashford Borough Council, recycling just 12 per cent of household waste. This is partly because the local authority does not recycle ‘green waste’ which, for England as a whole, comprises 40 per cent of the total waste ‘recycled, composted and reused’. (Indeed, Defra says that bad weather conditions saw an overall reduction of 27 per cent in the volume of green waste sent for compost in January – March 2013 (relative to this period in 2012)).

End of quarterly regional estimates

Defra has said it intends to stop producing quarterly regional estimates of waste but will continue to produce annual statistics by region and by local authority. This is planned to take effect in the February publication covering April to June 2013.

Further to this, the government department says that it will stop showing annual estimates in financial years, instead moving to calendar years from August 2014 (when estimates of waste for the calendar year 2013 will be released).

Read the ‘Local authority collected waste statistics - Local authority data (England) 2012/13’.