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Is UK recycling on the decline?

Recycling appears to be declining in the United Kingdom, as the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) ‘UK Statistics on Waste’ report for 2016 indicates. Household, commercial, and industrial wastes are highest in England. Overall, UK recycling rates are dropping (from 45.9 percent in 2014 to 44.3 percent in 2015) even with the continuing rise of local waste removal companies. However, this does not mean that there is a decline in recycling in every country within the UK. What it means is that the increases in recycling that Scotland and Wales have made are not enough to offset decreases in recycling in England and Northern Ireland.

  • Rising and Falling Household Recycling Rates in the United Kingdom

Recycling rates for households are falling in England (from 44.8 percent in 2014 to 43.9 percent in 2015) and Northern Ireland (from 42.5 percent in 2014 to 42 percent in 2015) but are rising in Scotland and Wales. In fact, Wales is the only country in the UK whose household recycling rate to top out at over 50 percent. In 2015, the rate for household recycling in Wales reached an all-time high of 55.8 percent.

Unfortunately, this statistic is diminished in the overall UK rate due to England generating the majority of household waste. In 2015, England is accountable for a staggering 22.2 million tonnes out of the total 26.7 million tonnes of household waste in the UK. Since Scotland and Wales are responsible for significantly less household waste, their recycling rates are somewhat higher.

  • Some Recycling Councils in England Perform Better Than Others

Specific recycling council districts are reporting high recycling, compost, and reuse rates. South Oxfordshire District Council leads the pack at 66.6 percent, followed closely by East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Rochford District Council.

Most councils, however, report rates that fall below the 60 percent mark.

  • Is the UK Meeting EU Targets?

The UK is currently meeting EU targets for the disposal of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) but is falling behind on packaging waste. This is likely due to a paper and cardboard ‘placed on market’ estimate.

  • What Can Be Done?

Innovative thinking is required to enact positive changes in UK waste recycling. In lieu of Britains ‘Brexit’ from the EU, extended producer responsibility (EPR) and other management methods will have to be considered. New methods must be developed in order to drive recycling rates higher throughout the UK.

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