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A tale of two cities

The main reason recycling rates have appeared to improve over recent years is that the total amount of waste produced has declined. The percentage of waste recycled gives a somewhat misleading view on local authorities’ performance.

For instance, Bradford Metropolitan District Council has one of the best rates at 50.78%, whereas nearby Wakefield Council has a below average of 39.03%. (See table below).

But in fact Bradford collects on average less waste per person than Wakefield – 360.16kg compared to 445.78kg. Wakefield’s recycling rate is substantially lower mainly because the amount of residual waste produced per household is much higher.

As it stands, Wakefield does not have to improve its recycling service to leap up the local authority tables next year - if residents were persuaded to throw away less material it could achieve the same effect.

The figures show the difficulties in comparing performance between authorities due to the number of different factors that can affect rates. These include the number of flats collections have to be made from, average household income, type of collections and efforts to educate residents.

The link between waste produced and the overall recycling rate has been noted by Phil Conran, a director at consultancy 360 environmental.

“A lot of local authorities have significantly increased the amount of recycling they do over the last year,” he said. “The question is why the national rate is not going up any quicker at the moment.

“If you look at the numbers the rate is in decline, the only thing that’s keeping the percentage up is that the total amount of waste produced is also in decline. The tonnage is steadily, very slightly going down – you’re only showing an increase because the amount of waste produced is in decline.”

Although remaining positive on the effort councils are putting into recycling, Conran is wary of yet further reductions in local government spending.

“We haven’t seen the full force of council budget cuts, some councils have already talked about cutting down on what they collect,” he said.

“We’re seeing a decline in paper, and a lot of that is clearly to do with a reduction in the amount of newspaper readership. Newspaper has always been the fundamental building block for recycling, if that starts to go down it has a major impact.

“Glass we’ve seen absolutely flat – some councils are talking about stopping separate collection of glass from households and assuming they can do it with bottle banks instead.”

 Bradford MDCWakefield Council
Authority typeUnitaryUnitary
Recycling rate50.78%39.03%
Residual waste produced per household454.43kg601.04kg
Waste and recycling collected per person370.16kg445.78kg
Average weekly h/h income£427£639
Number of households207,268148,190
% flats/high rise15.8%10.13%
Collection frequencyWeekly residual, two weekly dry recyclables, four weekly green wasteAlternate weekly residual, recycling and garden waste on alternate week
Collection methodPaper separated, commingled for glass, cans and plastic bottlesPaper separated, commingled for glass, cans and plastic bottles
% recycling rejected by MRFs<2%2.56%
CommunicationsDoor-to-door, leaflets, schools, road shows, mobile appEngagement team, door-to-door, schools, road shows, events, promotional vehicle




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