England continues to fall behind UK nations in recycling performance

England has fallen to the bottom of an index that ranks home nations on carbon reductions from recycling, after Northern Irish councils displayed a 4.5% increase in CO2 emission reductions in 2014/15.

According to the fourth annual Recycling Carbon Index Report from consultancy firm Eunomia, England’s performance has remained largely unchanged over the past twelve months, with only a 0.4% improvement in carbon savings from waste recycling compared with 2013/14. This is also reflected in the small increase in recycling rate of 0.2%, reaching 44.7% in 2014/15.

Wales’ progress has also stalled this year with an increase in carbon savings of only 0.6%, however recycling rates have increased by 1.9% to 56.2% during this time. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s increase in carbon savings sits alongside a modest recycling rate increase of 0.8%; bringing its overall rate to 41.4%.

Recycling in all three countries resulted in 3.9 million tonnes of CO2 savings in 2014/15, up more than 20,000 tonnes on the previous year. Scotland produces recycling carbon impact figures using a separate method which is not included in the index.

Eunomia’s director Joe Papineschi said: “Progressive waste management policies, devolved Governments and new collection systems are having a positive impact on the CO2 performance of recycling systems. Amidst some mixed results, there are some really outstanding stories. For example, councils collected 8% more food waste last year than in 2013/14 – despite only 37% offering separate food collections.”

Carbon Index

For 2014/15, 47% of English authorities improved their Recycling Carbon Index performance when compared to 2013/14 – down from 64% in the previous year. Despite these poor figures, England still reportedly has the leading carbon saving council, in Cheshire West and Chester.

Northern Ireland overtook England in the rankings after 77% of its authorities showed an upward trend and made total carbon savings of 123,000 tonnes.

Wales still saves around 25% more carbon per person than England and Northern Ireland through recycling, with none of its councils regarded as a ‘poor performer’. The efforts of the Welsh Government to put a focus on trying to improve recycling rate has paid dividends, as 64% of Welsh councils improved their performance in 2014/15.

Overall capture of key recyclable materials increased by 2.4% per head of population across England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the last year. According to Eunomia, paper collection continues to show a decline, in part reflecting the move towards electronic communication. Card continues to increase however, driven by the move to renewable packaging and the growth in internet sales.

The report highlights that separately collected food waste accounts for the largest increase, as more authorities roll out services and public acceptance begins to increase. Small increases in both plastic and metals allegedly demonstrates a slow but continued benefit from the focus on these high value (in carbon and monetary terms) materials.

Long-term strategy

The latest Recycling Carbon Index figures highlight a growing trend of fellow home nation countries overtaking England in terms of waste performance. While recent reports have shown that Wales and Scotland continue to succeed in improving waste strategy, England’s recycling rates have slowed significantly over the past three years. 

Last week, the waste and resource management industry called for a long-term, coherent regulatory framework to increase recycling and re-use rates in England after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request revealed that the quantity of rejected recyclable waste has increased by 84% over the past four years.

Charity Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) recently claimed that England should “hang its head in shame” over its lack of progress on recycling, having failed to increase a 44% recycling rate over the last two years, remaining well below the UK’s 50% target.

George Ogleby

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