Annual household recycling rates in England rose by 0.6% last year, but this is almost entirely due to a decision from Defra to include metals recovered post incineration (IBA).

Stripping out IBA material and on a like-for-like basis, recycling rates at the end of December 2016 stood at 44.2%, which is 0.6% below the peak of 44.8% in 2014.

A “radical” policy change is required to get the UK to its 50% target by 2020, industry warns. It is thought that a targeted approach will be need in the most populous areas such as London, which has the lowest recycling rate at 33%.

“A clear national strategy to end stalling rates of recycling is still required,” said waste firm SUEZ’s chief executive David Palmer-Jones. “To increase household recycling rates, Government needs to integrate waste and recycling planning into a modern Industrial Strategy which values the things we throw away as raw materials for manufacturing, and as an energy resource.”

The weight debate

Palmer-Jones said that recycling rates have stalled in part because of EU targets which are based on weight rather than the value of resources being captured. Brexit offers an opportunity to ensure producers are responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products and packaging, he said.

Suez wants to see incentives given to responsible manufacturers, with punishments handed out to those that who continue to consume virgin raw materials instead of recyclables.

Palmer Jones continued: “Producers can currently produce cheap, unsustainable products, that are simply thrown away, while the consumer and environment picks up the disposal cost. If manufacturers were required by law to use a certain amount of recycled material in their products, they would quickly take an interest in getting their material back.

“By making sure that the materials in packaging and products have a value to the manufacturer, we can ensure that it ends up back with them and not in our rubbish bins.”

Ban on bottles?

A Defra spokesperson said the figures were encouraging but admitted that more needs to be done to reduce avoidable waste.

“We are also working closely with industry, retailers and organisations such as WRAP to make it even easier for householders to recycle as much as possible,” the spokesperson said.

Government measures such as the plastic bag tax and ban on microbeads are seen as a step in the right direction by industry. Suez has joined the Co-op and Iceland in backing a national plastic bottle deposit return scheme, a system it sees playing part of a wider producer responsibility regime.  

Separate figures released this week found that 3.9 million plastic drinking bottles are being used each year by UK businesses. Researchers suggest that a ban on bottles in the workplace would save 156,000 tonnes of plastic a year by 2020.

“Recycling plastic is well and good, but if we didn’t make the things in the first place it just wouldn’t be an issue,” says‘s Jonathan Ratcliffe. “There is a huge push by office providers up and down the country to reduce both waste and energy consumption and we need help. We need the Government to step in.”

Hot topic

Plastic waste is one of the hot topics in the sustainability agenda, thanks to heightened scrutiny from campaigners and politicians concerned about the UK’s languishing recycling rates and damaging build-up of plastic waste in oceans.

The Government has launched a consultation on how a tax system could reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste created by containers such as packaging and polystyrene takeaway boxes. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, meanwhile, has announced a plan to build a network of water fountains in London in a push to reduce the use of plastic bottles.

And yesterday, the UN described plastic pollution a “planetary crisis” as nations gathered at an environment summit in Kenya to commit to stop plastic waste from entering the oceans.

George Ogleby

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