Funding would be required if a direct recycling target was introduced for English local authorities, councils have said.
The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (Larac) said Welsh and Scottish councils were more focused on increasing their recycling rates because they had direct targets to reach.
This follows moves by many English councils to introduce charges this month at their household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) for residents’ disposal of construction waste, despite fears this could reduce their recycling rates.
All the councils who have made the changes cited continued funding cuts from central Government as a major factor in their decision, despite the Goverment discouraging such a move.
Leicester City Council, which is currently considering introducing HWRC charges, said in a report the plan could lead to a 2.8% drop in the authority’s recycling rate.
Although councils in England do not have a direct responsibility to hit any recycling targets, the UK’s rate is flatlining at below 45% and could fall short of its 50% EU target by 2020.
Since the referendum vote to leave in June, there has been uncertainty over whether the 2020 target would still apply to the UK. But Larac chief executive Lee Marshall said this had not affected councils’ decision-making and it was their ongoing budget reductions that had influenced change.
“They are now at the point where councils have to make tough decisions about which services they do provide and which services they no longer provide, or maybe they provide to a different level,” he said.
“If they have got other priorities… it means the waste budget might have to make a saving so that other services can keep running.”
The Welsh Government has the power to fine its local authorities if they miss recycling targets.
Marshall said such potential penalties are put into Welsh councils’ business cases about whether to introduce services or not.
The Welsh and Scottish Governments, which have both seen increasing recycling rates, provide extra funding to help support and implement new services, he added.
So would a direct recycling target boost the performance of English councils?
“If you said local authorities in England now have a direct target to achieve, then obviously they would concentrate on doing that.
“But it would mean cutting other services such as day-care centres, leisure centres or others like that. If you just put the target in without the additional funding, it means services in that local area will suffer.”
In August, a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government told MRW the Government was “determined to boost recycling” and HWRC charges were “not the way to do that”.
He said: “There are a number of cost-effective ways to keep HWRCs running, including changing opening times to meet demand and cracking down on businesses that fraudulently dispose of trade waste.
“Councils will have nearly £200bn to spend during the course of this Parliament and should be providing the services that local people want to see.”