The industry has responded to England’s unprecedented drop in recycling with a call for extended producer responsibility (EPR) measures.
Defra has published both the annual 2015 UK figures and England’s statistics up until the end of March, the 2015-16 financial year.
Both show a decline for the first time since records began: England’s 2015-2016 recycling rate falling to 43.9% from 44.7% in 2014-15 and 44.5% the year before.
Wales, in contrast, continues to lead the way with a contrasting 4% year-on-year improvement.
Unlike English councils, local authorities in Wales receive ring-fenced funding for recycling services and are set enforceable targets by the devolved administration. A similar system is in place in Scotland, which also improved its recycling rate, although it currently remains behind England.
Responding to an MRW request, the Environmental Services Association (ESA) said such a scheme would work in England but was unlikely to be introduced.
Recycling policy advisor Jakob Rindegren said: ”If English councils benefited from Welsh funding levels for waste and recycling services then I am sure that English recycling rates would be on a firmly upward trajectory.
“The reality is that public finances remain stretched with no signs of easing. The best solution to this is for greater use of producer responsibility.
“This would enable a short term cost transfer from councils to the private sector, while in the long term would put in place the right incentives to drive both efficiency in services and better environmental outcomes.”
586 David Palmer-Jones
Suez UK chief executive David Palmer-Jones (pictured left) also backed extended producer responsibility (EPR) measures to boost England’s rate.
He said: “Placing recycling targets on producers and making them responsible for funding waste collection would incentivise them to reduce post-consumer waste by avoiding unnecessary packaging, and to design products and packaging which are easier to recycle.
“A producer-funded system would take the pressure off local authority budgets and in the long run drive a more resilient and high-performing recycling sector.”
Both Rindegren and Palmer-Jones suggested that councils introducing charges for organic waste collections could have contributed to drop in the latest figures.
The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Board (Larac) also backed EPR, as well as a potential pay-as-you-throw scheme.
andrew bird larac
Chair Andrew Bird (pictured right) said: “When waste services are competing for a reduced budget with adult care, education and social services it is clear something is going to give.
“We need to establish new funding streams into local authorities to ensure the recycling rate increases again.
“As an industry, we need a mature conversation about how we can implement EPR and direct charging systems that provide funds to the relevant parts of the system, enabling Producers to meet their obligations and ensure a step change in the recycling habits of people.”
The organisation added that the increase in food waste collected by councils showed that mandatory targets were not necessary.
While the Recycling Association said any new funding from Defra to boost rates should be used to promote higher quality as well as quantity.
Chief executive Simon Ellin said: “Undoubtedly, at a time when local authorities have had their budgets cut while at the same time having to meet these targets, this has led to increasing levels of substandard product.
“In the interests of making the UK the best market for recycled product, let’s look at quality first ahead of quantity.”
He backed WRAP’s work to promote consistency of collections and questioned whether weight-based targets should be scrapped.
”Surely it is better to have 5,000 tonnes of quality recycled product than 10,000 tonnes of contaminated material that might end up in landfill?” he added.
Lesley Griffiths, Welsh environment and rural affairs cabinet secretary:
“I welcome these figures which show Welsh homes are leading the way in the amount of Waste sent for recycling. We are the only UK nation to set statutory recycling targets and our approach is clearly paying dividends as we lead the way in the UK.
”Welsh local authorities are already meeting the European target of recycling a minimum of 50 per cent by 2020 and we are well on the way to achieving our 70 per cent target by 2025.
”These figures are testament to the commitment of householders and local authorities across Wales.”