UK Set To Miss 50% Household Recycling Rate Target – SUEZ

The UK is set to miss the EU’s target of recycling 50% of household waste by 2020, according to SUEZ recycling and recovery, which says “radical policy change is needed”.

Defra published the latest annual recycling figures for England yesterday (5 December), showing household recycling rates in England rose by 0.6% (year to end-December 2016) to 44.9%, up from 44.3% in 2016.

This rise, however, only occurred after Defra altered the statistical method to included metals recovered post incineration incinerator bottom ash (IBA).

Stripping IBA material and on a like-for-like basis, recycling rates rose to 44.2% from 43.9% in 2015.

Recycling rates peaked at 44.8% in 2014. The England waste from households recycling rate (excluding IBA metal) has risen only 1.1% in the past four years, having reached 44.1% in 2012 and 44.2% in 2013.

“For now, one of the reasons for the decline in recycling rates is that targets remain weight-based rather than being based on the value of resources being captured”

In a statement, David Palmer-Jones, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, one of the UK’s largest resource management firms, said without a sudden increase in recycling rates for England, which accounts for the vast majority of all of the UK’s waste from households, the UK is set to miss the 50% target for household recycling by 2020.

To reverse declines, “radical policy change” is needed, he said, and that this needs to be targeted at the most populous areas – England and in particular London and the South East.

London has the lowest household recycling rate at 33%, the most recent 12 month rolling figures for the financial year ending March 2017 reveal.

“Some areas have shown high performance can be achieved,” he said. “A clear national strategy to end stalling rates of recycling is still required. To increase household recycling rates, government needs to integrate waste and recycling planning into a modern industrial strategy which values the things we throw away as raw materials for manufacturing, and as an energy resource.”

Weight-Based Targets

Mr Palmer-Jones said Britain has an opportunity in Brexit, potentially free from EU “edicts” and chasing “misplaced” weight-based recycling targets. He said the UK could lead the world in resource-efficiency by making sure that producers are responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products and packaging – and are therefore taking a greater interest in what they are made from, how they are made and how they can get them back once the consumer has finished with them.

“For now, one of the reasons for the decline in recycling rates is that targets remain weight-based rather than being based on the value of resources being captured,” he said. “SUEZ believes recycling should be more than just a weight game, so that households can continue to be engaged, whilst ensuring recycling activity and target-setting is focused on capturing materials with high embedded value, both economic and environmental.”

“If manufacturers were required by law to use a certain amount of recycled material in their products, they would quickly take an interest in getting their material back.”

He said the time is right for manufacturers to take more responsibility for their products as part of a radical reform of environmental policy.

“We want to see the producers of sustainable packaging and products incentivised by policy, legislation and the tax system, while those manufacturers who continue to consume virgin raw materials when recyclables are available, should be penalised.

“Producers can currently produce cheap, unsustainable products, that are simply thrown away, while the consumer and environment picks up the disposal cost. If manufacturers were required by law to use a certain amount of recycled material in their products, they would quickly take an interest in getting their material back.

“By making sure that the materials in packaging and products have a value to the manufacturer, we can ensure that it ends up back with them and not in our rubbish bins.

“We applaud measures like the plastic bag tax, or a ban on microbeads, as a step in the right direction but these are piecemeal. Deposit Return Schemes are one such system that aim to return products directly to the manufacturer at the end of their life, to be made into new things, and we support these as part of a wider producer responsibility regime.”


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  1. Good to see recognition that weight based targets are the wrong thinking. You only have to look at how much of the recycling rate of the so called ‘best performers’ is actually generated by garden waste.

    • And what do you suggest as an alternative? Volume-based? Who is going to calculate it (you can’t simply tot up all the containers serviced and assume these were all full.)
      Our landfill tax is weight-based after all.
      And what’s wrong with including tonnages of garden waste? If you don’t compost it at home (and few householders have the time, space and skill to create a usable product) then it has to go to landfill.
      Every is dancing round the elephant in the room that there is a direct correlation between the amount of dedicated funding from central Government, and our Council’s recycling performances. And if you want to see improvements (thankfully now we don’t have to bother with the EU’s aspirations) then lobby for the return of ring-fenced funding for recycling projects.

      • Arbitrary weight based targets aren’t a good measure of performance. For example if I want to ‘improve’ my performance I could do so by introducing a free garden waste service which then attracts tonnage which might otherwise have been composted at home (which is obviously the far better option environmentally). Plastics are very light but have a bigger environmental impact so they are disadvantaged. A carbon based measure would be better.

        Additionally the 50% target is against total waste produced so it doesn’t matter if you produce more waste as long as you recycle half of it. The waste hierarchy is reduce, reuse, recycle – in that order – so it doesn’t encourage waste minimisation which is the better thing to do.

        Performance in the current system has more to do with the relative affluence/deprivation and rural/urban mix of an area than it does the efforts of the LA.

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