Defra has said “more needs to be done” to boost recycling after its latest figures showed an unprecedented dip in the UK’s performance.
The department’s confirmed figures for 2015 show that national recycling dropped from 44.9% in 2014 to 44.3%, putting the UK even further from meeting the 50% EU target by 2020.
England, which is responsible for the vast majority of UK waste arisings, dropped for the first time since Defra began publishing annual figures in 2010. The rate fell from 44.8% in 2014 to 43.9% in 2015.
Now Defra spokesperson has pledged to “spread best practice” to boost rates.
A spokesperson said: “The slight dip in the household recycling rates clearly shows more needs to be done.
“There are some excellent examples of councils improving recycling rates – we will work with local authorities and industry to build on these successes and encourage best practice across the nation as part of our commitment to protect the environment for future generations.”
Wales and Scotland, both of which have set their own more ambitious recycling strategies, improved their rates by one percentage point.
Wales led the way once again with 55.8%, up from 54.8% the previous year. Scotland drew level with Northern Ireland on 42%, a rise from 41% in 2014.
Responding to an MRW request, Defra said that different demographics were the reason behind the disparity between England and the other home nations.
A spokesperson said: “Compared with the devolved administrations, a much higher proportion of the population in England lives in urban areas where there are unique challenges to recycling.
“This, coupled with the significant fall in other organic waste collected for recycling, had a much greater effect on recycling rates in England compared with Scotland and Wales.”
Industry figures, meanwhile, have commented on the latest data.
Steve Lee, director general of Resources & Waste UK (R&WUK), said: “Ongoing austerity for local councils, who have had to pull back on some waste and recycling services, continued weak markets for recyclates and, most recently, tougher standards for counting and reporting recycling have all made their mark.
“These pressures are likely to continue, and without any additional Government intervention, the 2020 target of recycling half of our household waste will be missed and we could slip back even further.”
The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management chief executive Colin Church said: “Wales and Scotland have demonstrated that clear policies, targets and focused efforts can maintain momentum and indeed provide long-term savings to councils.
“However, with England generating 83% of UK household waste, they cannot do it alone. Firm endorsement of the WRAP consistency work would help, but we now need a strong push from Westminster.”
Richard McIlwain, deputy chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy:
“It seems clear that when governments in Scotland and Wales issue well-crafted waste management plans with clear strategic targets and supporting action to drive up recycling – they get results.
”Contrast this with England, where we have an ineffectual waste plan, little by way of clear government action and over 300 different systems for collection of recycling. Add in charges for DIY waste and garden waste and you start to see why recycling rates might be declining.
“We are clear – government needs to act and they could start by championing clear national targets, developing a framework for consistent collection systems and using some of the £1 billion raised each year in landfill tax to start helping local authorities to keep recycling centres open and free to access.”
Steve Lee, R&WUK director general:
“We now anticipate an important period of strategy development in the UK, including the National Infrastructure Assessment and the UK Industrial Strategy.
“This sector has a huge role to play in supply of feedstock materials for industries in this country, but we will need support and new approaches to be able to deliver on that promise.
“Most importantly we need to see a shift towards greater responsibility on manufacturers and suppliers for wastes arising from their products and services – so-called extended producer responsibility – and a more rigorous application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle.
”That could include moving waste services to a more utility type footing, including direct charging in some form.
“We have an important opportunity to shape Government thinking and future waste and resource management performance in this country. If we fail to seize this opportunity or if the Government fails to support it, we will see more disappointing statistics in the future.”