Defra has said “more needs to be done” to boost recycling after its latest figures showed an unprecedented dip in the UK’s performance.
The department’s confirmed figures for 2015 show that national recycling dropped from 44.9% in 2014 to 44.3%, putting the UK even further from meeting the 50% EU target by 2020, LGC’s sister title Materials Recycling World reports.
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.
Now a Defra spokesperson has pledged to “spread best practice” to boost rates.
A spokesperson said: “The slight dip in the household recycling rates clearly shows more needs to be done.
“There are some excellent examples of councils improving recycling rates – we will work with local authorities and industry to build on these successes and encourage best practice across the nation as part of our commitment to protect the environment for future generations.”
Wales and Scotland, both of which have set their own more ambitious recycling strategies, 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.
Responding to an MRW request, Defra said the different demographics were the reason behind the disparity between England and the other home nations.
A spokesperson said: “Compared to the devolved administrations, a much higher proportion of the population in England lives in urban areas where there are unique challenges to recycling.
“This, coupled with the significant fall in other organic waste collected for recycling, had a much greater effect on recycling rates in England compared to Scotland and Wales.”
Industry figures, meanwhile, have commented on the latest figures.
Steve Lee, director general of Recycling and Waste UK, said: “Ongoing austerity for local councils, who have had to pull back on some waste and recycling services, continued weak markets for recyclates and, most recently, tougher standards for counting and reporting recycling have all made their mark.
“These pressures are likely to continue and without any additional government intervention, the 2020 target of recycling half of our household waste will be missed and we could slip back even further.”
The Chartered Institution for Wastes Management chief executive Colin Church said: “Wales and Scotland have demonstrated that clear policies, targets and focussed efforts can maintain momentum and indeed provide long term savings to councils.
“However, with England generating 83% of UK household waste they cannot do it alone. Firm endorsement of the WRAP consistency work would help, but we now need a strong push from the Westminster administration.”