Resource Use

England recycling rate rises by just 0.1 per cent in 2013

England’s annual rate of household waste recycling has remained almost completely flat, new figures have shown, with local authorities recycling just 0.1 per cent more waste in the year ending December 2013 than in 2012.

The ‘Provisional Statistics on waste managed by local authorities in England including October to December 2013’, released today (7 August), show that 44.2 per cent of waste from households was recycled in 2013, only marginally up from 44.1 per cent in 2012.

However, the recycling rate for all local authority managed waste (a combination of waste from households and waste from streets, parks and grounds and some commercial and industrial waste) actually dropped, falling to 42.3 per cent (10.6 million tonnes) in 2013.

The figures appear to show a worrying trend in that increases in recycling rates in England remain low, if they register at all.

Indeed, the stagnation in recycling rate increases led the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to warn last year that if recycling increases remain low, England’s recycling level will be ‘insufficient’ to meet the EU’s target of recycling 50 per cent of household waste by 2020. (Despite these warnings, Defra ‘stepped back’ from some of its waste policy work in April 2014, due to budget cuts.)

Finalised annual results will be released in November 2014.

Figures breakdown

Over the year as a whole, household waste arisings dropped by 1.8 per cent in 2013, to 21.6 million tonnes (or 403 kilogrammes per person).

The majority of waste (45.5 per cent) was either landfilled or incinerated, with 7.1 million tonnes landfilled and 2.7 million tonnes sent for incineration.

Looking to recycling, 40 per cent of household recycling was made up of organic waste (comprising of separately collected food waste and other organics, such as garden waste). Indeed, separately collected food waste increased by 18.7 per cent in 2013 while other organic waste (mainly garden waste) dropped by 6.0 per cent. This could be partly due to weather conditions, or the fact that an increasing number of local authorities are now charging for green waste collections.

Dry recycling increased by a fraction in the year 2013, going up by 0.4 per cent to 5.7 million tonnes.

Paper and card made up the majority of this stream (about 42 per cent of all dry recyclables), however this has fallen by 4.2 per cent since 2012. Glass was the second most commonly recycled material stream at 19 per cent, followed by ‘other recyclables’ (not specified), which accounted for 18 per cent. Plastic recycling grew by 11.9 per cent in 2013 (but still only accounts for seven per cent of household recyling).

Despite the slowdown in annual recycling rates, the new figures show that the quarterly rate of household recycling (for October – December 2013) reached 42.7 per cent, up from 41.5 per cent in the same quarter in 2012.

'UK's recycling rate is in very real danger of entering decline'

Speaking to Resource, SITA UK's Chief Executive Officer, David Palmer-Jones, said that today's figures "confirm [SITA's] prediction that the UK's recycling rate is in very real danger of entering decline unless we can, together, make a step-change to reinvigorate the upward trend".

Indeed, earlier this year, Palmer-Jones told the BBC that he believes that not only is recycling in the UK flatlining, but it will actually fall to around 40 per cent in England in the next few years. This, he said, would be due to a number of reasons, including the fact that glass and newspapers are being used less by householders (as we read more online and packaging shifts to more lightweight options such as plastic), and that an increasing amount of local authorities are choosing to offer paid-for, opt-in garden waste services.

He highlighted today that SITA is now working to encourage government to 're-engage with this important topic', and help develop more circular business models, through its joint study with Keep Britain Tidy which is exploring ways in which recycing could be boosted in England's major towns and cities. 

Read the 'Provisional Statistics on waste managed by local authorities in England including October to December 2013’.