Much back slapping followed last month's announcement that England is poised to meet its national recycling and composting target of 17% in 2003/04. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) released the audited Best Value Performance Indicators on January 18 showing local authority recycling and composting rates during 2003/04. As well as recycling more waste, the figures show that the recycling and composting rate increased by three percentage points - the highest rate of increase ever recorded.
"England looks certain to meet its national recycling and composting target, the first time such a target has ever been met," declared Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett. "While there is still a lot of work to do to raise levels of recycling even higher, this is a strong indication that the nation is adjusting to more sustainable waste practices."
However, Beckett also warned that some poor performing councils will face action, as single figure recycling rates are "no longer acceptable". "Environment Minister Elliot Morley will be personally engaging with each of the very poorest performers to ensure they receive the right support or, if they continue to demonstrate no commitment to improvement, to take stronger action," she said.
Lichfield District Council in Staffordshire stole the show, recycling more waste than anyone else in England, recycling or composting over 46% of its waste. Residents in Fylde Borough Council made the biggest leap. Nearly 30% of household waste was recycled or composted, 19% more than in 2002/03, mainly as a result of increased composting. "We did it by moving from a backdoor to an alternate week collection," says Jamie Dixon, operational services manager. "We currently collect paper, glass and cans but we're looking to expand that to include plastic and textiles this year."
In fact Fylde has been so successful that neighbouring council Wyreborough has contracted its services to Fylde and the two councils are looking at how the relationship will work. "It will follow our model but obviously it won't be identical," says Dixon. "It's worth remembering that in September 2002 our recycling rate was 7%, we're now targeting 40%."
Such results make the government's pledge of a "more ambitious, but achievable" national target of recycling and composting of 25% of total household waste for 2005/6 look more achievable than ambitious. Friends of the Earth certainly thinks so. "We are delighted that many local councils have improved their recycling. But this country still languishes a long way behind many of our European neighbours," said recycling campaigner Georgina Bloomfield. "The Government must set more ambitious recycling targets. We should be recycling at least 50% of our rubbish by 2010, an achievable target that would give us a recycling record to be proud of."
Certainly the most improved authorities have shown what can be achieved in 12 months, and eight of the top 10 meet or exceed next year's target. Canterbury City Council not only came in as fifth most improved performer, but was also ninth in the total recycling percentage for all local authorities. An alternate week recycling collection service and a free green waste collection service were chiefly responsible for the council's 10% rise in recycling. "The scheme covered around one third of the district but we rolled it out right across the area," says Ian McKenzie, recycling and waste minimisation officer. "But there is still some way to go. Initial resea