A year in waste: how did the UK measure up?

Liz Gyekye presents the 2013 waste industry highlights across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and offers a sneak preview of what's in store for 2014


A year in which quality of recycled materials became a constant concern began with a report from Defra about recyclates being processed at material recovery facilities (MRFs).The government proposals will require all MRFs over a certain size to measure the quality of the input and outputs, in order to strengthen the UK’s recycling sector.

Fast forward to August and Defra opened another consultation. But this time the focus was on a waste prevention programme for England. It says this programme will aim to help businesses and householders recognise the savings they could make by cutting waste and reusing products such as household appliances and furniture – another measure to promote high quality recycling. As LAWR went to press, Defra was expected to publish its Waste Prevention Programme later this month.

The media went into overdrive when Defra, or to put it more accurately, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, announced in September that England would be following the rest of the UK in charging for single-use carrier bags. A 5p charge will be made mandatory from autumn 2015.

Figures were also released by Defra to show that England’s household waste recycling rate reached 43.6% in the 2012 calendar year, up 0.6% from the previous 12 months.

Speaking about England’s progress over the year, a Defra spokeswoman told LAWR: “We are investing over £3.5bn in waste infrastructure projects to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill, promote recycling and stimulate economic growth. The amount of waste sent to landfill is at its lowest level while recycling rates have been increasing year on year and are now the highest on record.”

In 2014, the industry will expect more guidance on the Waste (England and Wales Amendments) Regulations 2012, which are due to come into force in 2015. Lord de Mauley’s letter to councils about the impact of amended waste regulations on their collection arrangements has brought a mixed reaction from industry and riled a few councils. It will be interesting to see how local authorities react to the advice in 2014.


Scotland caused waves in the industry this year when it announced that it was trialling a bottle deposit-return scheme, providing £900,000 to fund eight pilots across the country. Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead was inspired to bring the scheme to Scotland after watching it in action during a trip to Sweden.

The bottle-deposit scheme may help to increase Scotland’s recycling rates and reduce the amount of used drinks containers going to landfill. Scotland’s household waste recycling rate reached 41.2% in the 2012 calendar year.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead says that the figures “show that over half of Scotland’s local authorities are above the national recycling average, with nine already hitting the 50% target – two more than last year. We can also see that Scottish households produced 100,000 tonnes less waste than last year”.

Since 2010, £20m has been invested in new household food waste collections. This has resulted in 650,000 households being directly funded by Zero Waste Scotland and there are now over one million households with a food waste collection of some sort in Scotland.

New waste regulations come into force on January 1 2014. The regulations will require all Scottish businesses to separate paper and card, plastic, metal and glass for recycling businesses that produce more than 5kg of food waste per week will also need to separate this for collection.

A new landfill tax could see Scotland replace the UK landfill tax and tackle illegal waste disposal. Earlier this year, finance secretary John Swinney introduced the Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill, which will see Scotland take responsibility from the UK government for administering landfill tax. If passed, the Bill will help tackle the problem of unauthorised dumping activity and encourage the proper disposal and recycling of materials.

Next year Scottish retailers will beat English retailers in their rush to charge a minimum of 5p per carrier bag. This will happen next October. The Scottish government has been consulting on its strategy to tackle Scotland’s litter blight and protect its environment.

Northern Ireland

Recycling rates in Northern Ireland have continued to increase over the past year. However, recycling was affected by severe inclement weather during January to March 2013.

The Northern Ireland Programme for Government (policies and initiatives to develop the country) contains a target to recycle 45% of household waste by March 2015. This dip in recycling activity during the winter months has impacted on progress towards this target. Provisional data shows that household waste recycling rate will be less than the 41% milestone set for 2012-13. However, on the positive side the quarterly provisional estimate for April to June 13 has shown a return to increases on year-on-year quarterly recycling rates.

In October, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan published Northern Ireland’s Waste Management Strategy – Delivering Resource Efficiency. The strategy puts forward a number of actions to develop recycling potential in the future, including proposals for a MRF code of practice.

The Department has also recently completed a consultation exercise seeking views on policy options for a recycling bill and recycling targets for local authority collected municipal waste (LACMW). The minister will consider the responses received before making any decisions on the preferred policy options.


Wales is leading the rest of the UK on recycling. It met its statutory target to recycle 52% of municipal waste in 2012/13.

Minister for Natural Resources and Food Alun Davies says: “Thanks to the efforts of Welsh householders and local authorities, we are now recycling more than half our municipal waste.  In the last decade the amount of black bin waste has decreased by more than 50%, which is a significant improvement. As a government we will continue to support local authorities as they work with us towards zero waste by 2050.  

“In particular, we will be working proactively with those councils that need more support to increase their recycling rates.”

On December 3, the Welsh Government launched the Waste Prevention Programme. The Waste Prevention Programme sets out how businesses and households in Wales can reuse or extend the life of products, and reduce the environmental impact of waste, whilst saving money.  

The Minister launched the Programme in the Terra Nova bar and kitchen, Cardiff Bay, where he met with representatives from Brains and Castell Howell.  At the same time, the Government launched the industrial and commercial waste sector plan.

The latest municipal recycling statistics for Q1 (April-June 2013) are now out, and Welsh recycling rates for this quarter hit 55%. Davies says: “I want us to break the link between waste generation and economic growth.  The Welsh Government is committed to delivering on the economy, and securing a healthy supply of natural resources is key to this.  These are not contradictory aims; there are huge financial savings to be made.”

Liz Gyekye is editor of LAWR

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