Figures released by the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) have revealed a 2.2 percentage point rise in the household recycling rate in 2016/17 to 44.4%.
It is the first time NI has overtaken England. The rate for England currently stands at 43.9%, with the updated figures for 2016/17 scheduled for release on 5 December.
Last year, the flatlining NI rate was a source of disappointment to ministers. The rate still falls short of the 2015 target to reach a 45% rate.
Waste arisings have increased by 7.9% in the past four years, and this has been put down to a recovery in the economy.
During 2017, there were increased efforts to implement food waste recycling via a collaboration between Daera and councils.
The local authority municipal energy-from-waste recovery rate rose from 17.6% to 18.5%.
The landfill rate for household waste fell three percentage points to 36.7%, the lowest recorded rate. In 2006/07, the landfill rate stood at 72.3%.
Since a local government reorganisation in 2015, eight NI district councils have joined one of two waste management groups – arc21 and the North West Regional Waste Management Group – with the remaining three going it alone.
Selected key figures on NI household waste 2016/17
Local authority collected waste: 985,994 tonnes – 1.7% increase
88.8% of total local authority-collected municipal waste came from households
Amount of household waste sent for recycling: 389,045 tonnes – 7% increase