Latest Defra figures on packaging waste show the UK achieved a recycling rate of 64.1% in 2017.
A further 6.1% of material went to energy-from-waste giving a combined recovery rate of 70.2%, slightly down on the 71.4% the previous year.
This put the UK well ahead of the EU of 55% for recycling and 60% for recycling and recovery.
The tonnages involved were 11.5 million tonnes of material arising, of which 7.4 million tonnes was recycled and 700,000 incinerated.
Defra said the specific recycling targets for materials were also met, with the highest recycling rate achieved in 2017 being 79% for paper and cardboard, followed by 71.3% for metal and 67.6% for glass.
But paper and cardboard collection rates fell, with the amount recovered or recycled down by 3.5% to 3.9 million tonnes.
Sandy Martin, Labour’s shadow minister for waste and recycling, said: “Despite all of Michael Gove’s grandstanding on plastic pollution, the rate of recycling for packaging went down last year.
“The failure of the Government to increase the level of recycling during the past eight years means we are nowhere near meeting the European target of recycling half of all household waste by next year. This is directly linked to the Government’s failed austerity agenda as cash-strapped local councils are forced to make impossible decisions on further cuts.”
Defra also published a number of statistics to which it has made minor revisions.
These showed the UK recycling rate for waste from households was 45.7% in 2017, increasing from 45.2% in 2016. The recycling rate for England was 45.2%, compared with 46.3% in Northern Ireland, 43.5% in Scotland and 57.6% in Wales.
Biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill fell from approximately 7.8 million tonnes in 2016 to around 7.4 million tonnes in 2017, which Defra said put the UK still on track to meet the EU target to restrict landfilling of this waste to 35% of the 1995 baseline by 2020.
The UK was estimated to have generated 41.1 million tonnes of commercial & industrial waste in 2016 and around 37.9 million tonnes in 2017.
‘Recycling and other recovery’ was the most common final waste treatment type in the UK, accounting for 104 million tonnes in 2016, equivalent to 48.5%. Landfill came second at 52.3 million tonnes of waste (24.4%).
Energy recovery increased sharply to 7.3 million tonnes in 2016 from 1.9 million tonnes two years earlier.