Recycling rates fell in all UK countries in 2020 – except Wales

The UK recycling rate dropped by 1.6% in 2020, according to new figures published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The UK’s overall household recycling rate, including incinerator bottom ash (IBA) was 44.4% in 2020, decreasing from 46.0% in 2019.

The UK household recycling rate (including incinerator bottom ash (IBA) was 44.4% in 2020, decreasing from 46.0% in 2019.

The recycling rate for households decreased in all UK countries in 2020 except Wales. The recycling rate for England was 44.0%, compared with 49.1% in Northern Ireland, 41.0% in Scotland, and 56.5% in Wales.

UK biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) sent to landfill has fallen from approximately 6.6 million tonnes in 2019 to around 6.1 million tonnes in 2020.

Provisional figures for 2021 show that 63.2% of UK packaging waste was recycled, similar to 2020.

It is estimated that the UK generated 43.9 million tonnes of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste in 2018, of which 37.2 million tonnes (85%) was generated in England.

The latest estimates for England only, indicate that C&I waste generation was around 33.8 million tonnes in 2020.

The UK generated 222.2 million tonnes of total waste in 2018, with England responsible for 84% of the UK total.

Defra says these statistics coincides with periods when the COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdowns saw “disruptions and some cancellations” of kerbside collections of recycling and garden waste.

“There were also widespread closures of Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs),” it said.

Pandemic impact

Lee Marshall, Policy and Technical Director at the Chartered Institution of Waste Management (CIWM), said that whilst CIWM would like to see recycling rates increase, the pandemic has “no doubt had an impact” on waste from household recycling.

He said: “The continued decrease in the use of landfill is positive and shows that the sector continues to move towards better treatment and disposal systems. The fact that we still do not have definitive figures for commercial and industrial waste continues to be a concern and we need to establish a data system for ALL waste, as outlined in the recent consultation on digital waste tracking (DWT).

“The figures also demonstrate that we cannot afford further delays in the EPR, DRS, consistent collection in England and DWT policy changes and they should be seen as a call to action for the rest of the UK (apart from Wales).

“Together these new policies will turn this performance around, bring about a more circular economy and make the UK resources sector one to be proud of. CIWM stands ready to work with the governments of all four UK nations to help bring these policy changes to fruition.

“The publication of the UK statistics is timely given that our Welsh conference is next week, come and hear how Wales has been successful in increasing recycling performance and bucked the UK downward trend.”

“Falling short”

Rogier Gerritsen, Head of Recycling at DS Smith said that the figures demonstrate that the UK is “falling short” of its European counterparts when it comes to paper and card recycling.

“While the pandemic has had an impact on collections, even prior to this household recycling rates were in many cases declining. Yet despite this, the UK has set ambitious targets for its overall recycling rates over the next decade.

“The disparity between the ambitious targets set and actual recycling trends suggest a need for us to rethink our recycling infrastructure. Through Source Segregation, where household waste such as paper, glass and plastic are collected separately, there is a golden opportunity to help to increase the quality of recycling in the UK which will help push recycling rates forward.

“It is important that the government has been engaging with the sector on its recent consultations around recycling reform, and indeed we already have pockets of excellence within the UK. We look forward to continuing to work with the government and the recycling sector to make sure we can effect positive change.”

“Greater ambition in Wales”

Wildlife and Countryside Link warn that action on waste in England must be ramped up, and match “greater ambition in Wales”, if Government wants to meet its next target of 65% recycling by 2035.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “We’re getting a lot wrong with how we deal with waste – we’re burning and burying too much, not recycling enough, and still exporting huge amounts overseas.

“Ultimately, the only way to fix this is to stop using so much in the first place. From single-use packaging to throwaway cutlery we’re simply consuming too many raw materials that are damaging to extract, polluting to transport and produce into the things we use, and then harmful once again when we dispose of them.

“We need to turn off the flow of waste at its source. Alongside a target to restore nature, the Government must set a target in the Environment Act to incentivise using fewer resources in production and consumption, so we don’t keep creating and transporting materials all over the world just to be used for a few moments.”

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