Northern Ireland’s household recycling rate has hit 47.1% towards the end of last year, meaning that England could soon be left languishing at the bottom of the home nations’ league.
The rate was achieved during October and December 2017, an increase of 5 percentage points over the same period in the previous year.
A report from the NI Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said that new rules requiring councils to collect food waste separately had led to the large increase.
It leaves the real possibility that England, which currently has a 44.9% household recycling rate, will have the lowest rate in the UK by the end of the year.
NI’s official figure for the 2016-17 financial year is 44.4%, so it will not take a big increase in performance before it overtakes England. Scotland has recorded a 45.2% recycling rate and Wales 63.8%.
Statutory separate food waste collections in NI began in April 2017.
The DAERA report said: “The purpose of this was to reduce the amount of this waste sent for disposal; if not collected separately it becomes contaminated/unrecyclable.
“The impact of this can be seen … where all but one council increased their household recycling rate compared with the same quarter last year.”
Despite appearing to back greater local authority food waste collections, resources minister Therese Coffey has indicated opposition to introducing mandatory measures. Many industry experts think the UK is unlikely to meet the EU 50% target unless separate food waste collections are made compulsory.
A final decision is expected to be taken in Defra’s resources and waste strategy, which will be published in September.