UK risks missing recycling targets
The UK is at risk of missing targets to recycle half of household waste by 2020, it has been warned after the latest figures showed England's recycling rates plateaued.
Recycling rates for waste from households alone in 2013 were 44.2%, up only slightly from 2012's figure of 44.1%, official figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) showed.
Figures from English local authorities for household waste and other municipal collections, including street sweeping and park bins, show a large increase from 11% in 2000/2001 to 43% in 2011/2012 but only a slight increase in two years to 43.5% in 2013/2014.
Industry chiefs warned the slowdown increased the risk the UK would miss its European Union target of recycling 50% of household waste by the end of the decade, and fail to unlock the financial benefits of using resources more efficiently.
A Defra spokesman said: "We remain committed to recycling 50% of our household waste by 2020 and continue to support local authorities' efforts to promote recycling.
"We are also working with (waste reduction body) Wrap to see what more we can do and what further measures may be needed to achieve this."
But David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of recycling and resource management company SITA UK, warned the risk of the UK missing its EU target was increasing.
"The slight increase in annual recycling rates is largely a result of greater public participation in some key, heavily populated, urban local authorities, which have made significant improvements from a very low base by seizing the political initiative.
"England still has a long way to go and can look to Wales for inspiration where the latest annual figures show an average recycling rate nearing 55%.
"Welsh local authorities have introduced new systems to collect recyclate from households, using funding made available by the Welsh Government.
"We urge Defra to take ownership of resource policy and to then lead a joined-up approach across all Government departments."
He added: "This is not about hitting targets for their own sake, but to ensure the UK as a whole unlocks the significant economic and social benefits that being more resource-efficient could deliver."
Waste contractor Biffa Municipal also raised concerns that the 50% target would not be met. It welcomed the news that South Oxfordshire District Council - whose waste services it provides - had topped the table with a recycling rate of almost two-thirds (65.7%)
Biffa also highlighted how it had turned Ashford Borough Council's recycling services around, lifting it from the bottom of the table with a less than 12% recycling rate to almost 55% for the 12 months since the new scheme was introduced in July 2013.
The company said it had replaced weekly black bag waste collections and limited recycling in the Kent borough with alternate week collections of a wide range of recycling and residual waste in wheeled bins, along with weekly food waste pick-ups.
Biffa's commercial director Pete Dickson said: "Where feasible and practical, we focus on collecting refuse and dry recyclables on alternate weeks.
"Optimum results are achieved when the dry recyclables are collected from wheeled bins with waste food collections taking place each week. The fact that Biffa-serviced councils account for 40% of the top 10 says it all."
He added: "Possible reasons for the stalling of England's recycling rate include consumers buying less packaged goods and therefore recyclables, downsizing in actual packaging, a move from glass to plastic containers, less paper consumption because of technology, but more cardboard consumption because of increased online buying."
Welsh Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sargeant said: " Wales is the best in the UK for recycling, and local authorities and households continue to make efforts to recycle more, and send less to landfill.
"A Wales average of 54.3% is a long way from 2000/01, when the rate was less than 10%. It shows how an ambitious government can make improvements by working with councils and householders.
"We are still the only UK government that has set statutory recycling targets and this focus is delivering results."