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Wales recycling rate is ‘overstated’

Analysis by consultancy Eunomia has revealed that Wales’ recycling rate is overstated by around 12 percentage points when compared on a like-for-like basis with other countries.

In its second issue of a report ranking countries using a standardised method, Eunomia said the officially stated municipal solid waste recycling rate for Wales of 63.8% shrinks to 52.2% when adjusted.

Eunomia’s adjustments include subtracting incinerator bottom ash and commercial and industrial waste from the figures for recycled materials.

The report used data from Eurostat and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to examine the top 25 recycling countries.

Wales dropped down the league from second to fourth. Germany retained its top spot, but saw a 10 percentage point decrease.

Rob Gillies, Eunomia managing consultant and report author, said: “It’s important to note this research has been carried out so we can identify who the real leaders in recycling are, to share best practice by shining a spotlight on what these countries are doing.

“We also hope that this will help progress the debate on how best to measure ‘real’ recycling, in line with the principles of the waste hierarchy, in a way that is as consistent as possible within Europe and further afield.”

The report was supported by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Stéphane Arditi, policy manager for EEB, said: “The fact that some countries have increased recycling rates by 35 percentage points in under 15 years shows that all member states can achieve the new EU recycling targets.”

MRW analysis: comparing home nations’ household recycling rates

A confusion of data compiling, reporting dates, definitions and general statistical jiggery-pokery means it is not easy to truly compare the rates between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

England’s official figure uses the calendar year from January to December, but Defra also publishes the financial year figures using April to March to match up to local authority reporting. Northern Ireland and Wales use financial years, and Scotland sticks to calendar years.

Then there is the issue of incinerator bottom ash (IBA). Defra decided, for the first time, to include the percentage of metal recovered and recycled within IBA in its figures for England. It also revised the 2015 figure accordingly. If you take IBA out, you get 44.2% – a rise of just 0.3%.

Wales includes all recycled IBA in its stats, as does Scotland. Northern Ireland does not mention IBA in its statistical releases.

Wales also includes all local authority-collected waste in its headline figure, not just from households as England does. The overall official rate the UK has chosen to officially report to the EU cannot include IBA – or at least, the non-metal part – or all local authority collected waste.


Official recycling rate

Reporting period

Calculation includes*


63.8% (up 3.5 from previous year)

2016-17 financial year

Municipal waste (both household and non-household), all IBA, excluding abandoned vehicles


45.2% (up 1)

2016 calendar year

All local authority collected waste and all IBA


44.9% (up 0.6*)


*up 0.3 if IBA metal excluded

2016 calendar year

Kerbside and HWRCs and IBA metal.

Excludes street bins, street sweepings, parks and grounds waste

Northern Ireland

44.4% (up 2.2)

2016-17 financial year

Kerbside and HWRC collections


* All nations exclude soil, rubble and plasterboard

Readers' comments (1)

  • And what exactly is wrong with including recycled IBA in the figures? Surely if it's used then it contributes to the recycling rate? Why do the English Authorities persist in making things difficult for themselves? Is there a hidden anti-thermal recovery agenda? It's rather easy to conclude that there is.......

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