Just 11% of household waste was recycled last year - up from 7% in 1996-7, according to figures released by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
The government has set a target of 17% by 2003-04 and 25% two years later.
North-east councils, with an average of 4.1%, were the worst offenders, while councils in the south-east averaged 16.4%.
Penny Kemp, chair of the Green Party for England & Wales, said: 'Councils must make it easier for people to recycle, that means more kerbside recycling. Everyone has to take responsibility. The consumer, for example, should be questioning why goods come with so much packaging.'
England is still lagging behind its European neighbours - Germany, Holland and Switzerland which all manage to recycle half their waste.
The survey revealed the amount of municipal waste collected increased by 2.7% to 28.2 million tons in the last year. The amount disposed of in landfill fell slightly, in line with European targets.