Defra: recycling rate rise will not run out of steam
Provisional figures published by Defra this week show English recycling rates have soared in recent years and the rise shows no sign of slowing.While the British still lag a long way behind several of their European neighbours, with rates for household waste recycling well above 50% in many countries, the department believes becoming one of the leading lights of the EU is not an impossible dream.
"It is realistic and we are catching up," Defra spokesperson Susanne Baker told edie.
"We've tripled the amount we recycle in eight years, and doubled it over the last four.
"We started from an extremely low base and the Europeans have been recycling for a very long time."
She said the UK's industrial legacy and propensity for landfill had historically put us on the back foot but real progress was being made.
"Local authorities are now working extremely hard to encourage more recycling in their regions in the vast majority of cases.
"And we are working with those who have been less successful to help them try to bolster up their figures."
The results released this week indicate that England is now recycling almost 23% of its domestic waste, and should easily meet its target of 30% by 2010.
A significant chunk of the rise comes from the success of doorstep collection schemes, which are now available to some 80% of the population.
While the further roll out of such schemes might now be limited, Ms Baker denied this was likely to cause increases in recycling rates start to tail off.
"There are still opportunities to expand kerbside recycling and to bring in additional materials to be collected," she told edie.
Recycling rates could also see a huge boost with the co-operation of retailers, she added.
"If we make it easier for people to recycle at supermarkets and shops that will provide people with another way to recycle their waste," she said.
Progress was already being made in that area, she said, with most major supermarkets and high street retailers also showing their long-term to reduce packaging by signing up to the waste-slashing Courtauld Commitment earlier in the year (see related story).
Many are also experimenting with making recycling easier and more attractive for their customers (see related story) or even offering loyalty points on store cards for recyclers.
Ms Baker told edie Defra would be announcing a range of schemes in October which would encourage people to watch their waste and that further financial incentives for recycling and composting could be expected over the coming year.
"We want to encourage our dedicated recyclers to do a bit more and persuade those who aren't so good at recycling to change their ways," she said.
The official, audited municipal recycling figures for England are expected to be published in January 2006.
Local Environmental Quality Minister, Ben Bradshaw, said: "These figures prove how much more people understand the importance of recycling compared to even just four years ago.
"There's no doubt we can be proud of our progress to date, but now it's time to build on that and start catching up with some of Europe's top recyclers."
By Sam Bond