Lack of comprehensive UK-wide policy results in mish-mash of council schemes, says EnviroBuild

Written by: Aidan Bell | Published:

Aidan Bell, director of EnviroBuild, a supplier of recycled landscaping supplies looks at household recycling in England and argues the case for a UK-wide uniform waste collection system

A map commissioned by EnviroBuild ( illustrates which local authorities in England recycled a greater percentage of their household waste in 2015/16 than in 2014/15, and which didn’t.

The local authorities that saw an improvement defy the national downwards trend revealed by Defra's data: the ‘waste from households’ recycling rate for England has dropped from 44.8% in 2014 to 43.9 per cent in 2015. This is the first time that the recycling rate has fallen below 44% since 2011.

There is an EU target for the UK to recycle at least 50% of household waste by 2020.

The statistics from Defra reveal that the UK recycling rate for ‘waste from households’ fell from 44.9% in 2014 to 44.3% in 2015.

While England adds the largest contribution to the UK recycling rate, other nations saw a year-on-year increase. The ‘waste from households’ recycling rate for Wales has increased from 54.8% in 2014 to 55.8% in 2015, and Scotland has also raised its household recycling rate from 41% in 2014 to 42% in 2015.

Northern Ireland follows the nationwide downwards trend, recycling 42.5% in 2014 compared to 42% in 2015.

The lack of comprehensive UK wide policy results in a mish-mash of council schemes that generate huge confusion in the population.

Surveys have continually shown that generally, people don't know how to sort their recycling pre-collection, why it's important to sort and what materials can actually be recycled. A more comprehensive education system would help increase the rates closer to those seen in our European neighbours.

This hasn't been helped by a lack of policy intervention and a decrease in commodity prices through 2015, and is part of a wider plateau in recycling rates since about 2011.

In its England-specific report Defra said: “In 2015 the decrease in the ‘waste from households’ recycling rate was driven by a 4.8% fall in ‘organic recycling’ set against unusually high figures for 2014, particularly for January to March 2015 and April to June 2015 compared to the same quarters in 2014.

There was a smaller decrease of 1.1% in the amount of dry recycling in 2015 compared to 2014.

The UK is recycling less, but it is also creating less household waste. The government data for England also shows that the waste from households totalled 22.2 million tonnes in 2015, or 407kg per person, a decrease of 0.6% on 2014 but very close to the three year average of 409kg per person for 2012 to 2014.

The UK’s waste management sector continues to face a number of obstacles that were a result of the recession and austerity-driven cuts. Local authorities responsible for recycling have faced budget cuts and the government’s main body for increasing recycling and cutting waste, WRAP, has seen its budget cut from £37.7m in 2011 to £17.9m in 2014.

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