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More waste produced as recycling rates struggle

The UK’s annual household recycling rate has risen to 44.9% but its annual waste arisings have grown for the first time since 2010, according to Defra statistics.

Revised figures for 2014 show the UK’s recycling rose from 44.1% the previous year, but this is still some way off hitting the 50% EU target for 2020.

Scotland had the lowest rate in the UK in 2014, with 41%. The Scottish Government recently announced a voluntary standardised collection charter in an attempt to boost rates.

Wales led the way with 54.8%, an increase of 2.2 percentage points on the previous year. Northern Ireland’s recycling rose from 42.9% to 43.6%.

As previously announced, England’s rate was 44.8%, up from 44.2% in 2013.

But annual waste arisings in the UK increased for the first time since 2010, with 26,797,000 tonnes up from 25,929,000 the previous year.

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 effects from 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.

At the time, Resource Futures warned that a reversal of this trend, as the latest stats have shown, would make the 50% recycling target “even harder to achieve” as the economic recovery gathers strength.

Now Resource Futures principal consultant, Eric Bridgwater has told MRW it is “striking” that arisings increased in all four UK nations in the latest figures, which “may be related” to recent economic recovery.

He said: ”It is also noticeable that the increase is mainly driven by England, with 2014 arisings back at the 2011 level. For Scotland and Wales, arisings were also up in 2014 but they are still lower than in 2012.

”Perhaps this shows the leadership in sustainable waste management from Scotland and Wales having an impact as they have been focused on encouraging their local authorities to think about residual waste reduction.”

Bridgwater added that the introduction of fortnightly recycling collections and more rigorous HWRC trade waste controls were ”significant factors” associated with lower household waste arisings.

Monksleigh director, Andrew Olie said: ”Many commentators looked at the drop in MSW arisings from 2008 to around 2011 as evidence of a potential trend of decoupling of MSW arisings/consumption from economic growth.

”The recent figures, however, seem to suggest an increase in arisings which have lagged economic recovery. This will need close monitoring and review – many projections in waste management plans and MSW contracts assumed a drop of arisings per head of population and if there is indeed a consistent rise into the future the challenge of meeting recycling targets and delivering capacity/infrastructure for recycling and recovery will be harder to achieve than maybe first thought.”

Defra’s stats also show the UK’s construction waste recovery rate for 2012 rose slightly from 86.3% in 2011 to 86.5% in 2012, the latest recorded year.

The UK met its landfill diversion target comfortably, with 26% of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) to landfill in 2012 compared to its 1995 baseline figure, clearing its 50% target.

It easily exceeded its 2013 60% packaging waste target as well, with 72.7% either recycled or recovered compared to 69.1% in 2012.

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) executive director, Jacob Hayler said: “The latest Defra figures on household waste recycling show that the UK is by no means certain to reach the EU’s 50% target by 2020.

“It is interesting to see that while recycling rates in Wales and Scotland have increased by about 2% a year for the last five years, in England – which makes up over 80% of the UK figures – the annual rate of increase in recycling has been below 1%.

”This suggests that more political leadership will be needed to ensure that England makes its due contribution to the UK’s recycling performance over the next five years.”

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