Recycling rates in England are falling and the government has failed to meet its target to recycle 50% of waste from households by 2020. But Wales has become a world leader, with the country recycling 56.5% of its household waste.
Household recycling rates in England went down from 46% in 2019 to 44% in 2020. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the Covid pandemic had disrupted collections in some areas.
The Welsh government said its high rate of household recycling had prevented more than 400,000 tonnes of CO2 a year from being released into the atmosphere and further accelerating climate change. Data shows that Wales was the only UK nation to reach the minimum 50% recycling target by 2020 set by the European Union.
The minister for climate change in the Welsh government, Julie James, said: “Our recycling stats are world class thanks to a Team Wales effort. Despite the pandemic and all the challenges it bought with it, local authorities managed to prioritize recycling, the collectors worked heroically all the way through, and the fantastic people of Wales continued to recycle.
“We must now continue to raise our ambitions to reach zero waste by 2050 and net zero carbon emissions so we can tackle the climate and nature emergencies in earnest, and pass on a resilient, green and prosperous planet to our future generations.”
The amount of waste generated in the UK continues to rise. UK households produced 27m tonnes of waste in 2020, an increase of 2.1% from 2019. England is responsible for the vast majority of the waste, 22.6m tonnes, or 84% of the UK total. Most household waste is made up of food, paper, cardboard, glass bottles and plastics.
Only 44% of the 2.5m tonnes of plastic packaging waste produced in 2021 was recovered for recycling, according to the data.
The government has yet to introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, which was promised in 2018 to reduce the pollution caused by the public’s use of 13bn plastic drinks bottles a year. He has consulted on a policy to ban more single-use plastic items but has yet to announce when this would come into force.
The government said in a statement: “We want to recycle and reuse more of our waste, and support households to do so. Our Environment Act is transforming the way we deal with waste; we have already responded to our consultation on extended producer responsibility, we are introducing a deposit return scheme and we will shortly respond to our consultation on consistent collections in England.”
In 2018, the government released its resources and waste strategy which said the UK would aim to process more of its waste domestically. Two years ago, Interpol reported an alarming increase in illegal plastic trade pollution across the world.
The UK exports roughly two-thirds of its plastic waste. James Bevan, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, called recently for the UK to impose a complete ban on the export of waste to combat crime.
“Sending certain kinds of waste abroad is legal, but is it right? Is it morally right to dump the waste we create on another country to deal with?” he said. Bevan was criticized by the Recycling Association, which said conflating waste crime with exports was wrong and failed to address the real reasons behind criminal activity.
Bettina Gilbert, head of program delivery at the government’s waste advisory body Wrap, said: “2020 was an unprecedented year with full lockdown and huge disruptions, which likely caused the decline. Priority was given to maintaining residual waste collections for health and safety reasons, while garden waste collections and recycling often had to be suspended or severely curtailed.
“That the levels have not fallen further is testament to the amazing job done by the thousands of key workers continuing to collect our waste and recycling. Recycling helps protect our planet, so it’s crucial that we continue to recycle as much as we can.”