The UK’s annual household recycling rate has fallen for the first time since records began.
Revised figures for 2015 show that national recycling dropped from 44.9% in 2014 to 44.3%, putting the UK further away from meeting the 50% EU target by 2020.
England, which is responsible for the vast majority of UK waste arisings, dropped for the first time since Defra began publishing annual figures in 2010: the rate fell from 44.8% in 2014 to 43.9% in 2015.
Defra says in its England-specific report that a decrease in organic recycling influenced the country’s overall drop.
“In 2015 the decrease in the ‘waste from households’ recycling rate was driven by a 4.8% fall in ‘organic recycling’ set against unusually high figures for 2014, particularly for January to March 2015 and April to June 2015 compared to the same quarters in 2014,” the report said. “There was a smaller decrease of 1.1% in the amount of dry recycling in 2015 compared to 2014.”
The smallest waste producer in the union, Northern Ireland’s rate similarly fell for the first time, from 42.5% to 42%.
Meanwhile Wales and Scotland, countries which have set their own more ambitious recycling strategies, both improved their rates by one percentage point. Wales led the way once again with 55.8%, up from 54.8% the previous year. Scotland drew level with Northern Ireland on 42%, a rise from 41% in 2014.
Household waste generation fell in the UK, and England, following rises for the first time in 2014, from 26.767 million tonnes in 2014 to 26.677 million tonnes in 2015.
It is commonly assumed that waste generation increases with a country’s financial performance, with many commentators putting the slight decrease in waste arisings between 2010 and 2013 down to the economic downturn.
However, a 2013 Defra report, Forecasting 2020 Waste Arisings and Treatment Capacity, predicted that arisings would not increase greatly for the rest of the decade, regardless of economic performance.
The amount of packaging waste recycled or recovered dropped from 72.7% in 2013 to 64.1% in 2014. It still however met its 2014 EU target to recycle or recover 60%.
Although, responding to a written question in the House of Commons, resources minister Therese Coffey said the 2015 rate had risen to 65.1%.
Defra’s stats also show the UK’s construction waste recovery rate rose slightly from 89.8% in 2013 to 89.9% in 2014, the latest recorded year.
The UK is on track to meet its landfill diversion target comfortably, with 22% of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) to landfill in 2015 compared to its 1995 baseline figure, already clearing its 35% target for 2020.