Tide turns on waste as rates fall for first time
Encouraging figures released by the Government this week show households are producing less waste and recycling more.But there is still a long way to topple landfill from its traditional spot as the most common final destination for our household rubbish.
The results of the national Municipal Waste Management Survey also highlight regional differences and includes a district-by-district breakdown.
The figures, which date back to 2003-2004 and were released as raw data back in March, have now been fully audited and show an encouraging trend.
The headline-grabbing figure is that the total amount of municipal waste in England has fallen slightly from an estimated 29.4 million tonnes in 2002/03 to 29.1 million tonnes in 2003/04.
While only a decrease of one per cent, the reduction is significant as it is the first time in recent years that the amount of waste has not continued to rise.
The amount of waste going to landfill - both as a percentage and the total mass - has also fallen, from 74% to 71% or 22.1 million tonnes to 20.9 million tonnes.
Households have, on average, cut their waste by 1.5%, equivalent to 1.2 tonnes, since the preceding year.
As well as putting a small dent in the total rubbish produced, the average household has also increased its recycling rate from 14.5% in 2002/03 to 17.7% for 2003/04, a marked improvement and achieving the national target of 17% but still a long way behind many of our European neighbours, some of whom boast rates of 50% or more.
Kerbside recycling has proved a major success story, now provided by almost all local authorities and fast outstripping the recycling points dotted around the nation's supermarket car parks as the most popular way to recycle domestic waste.
Compostable material had already overtaken those recyclable stalwarts cardboard and paper as the most common waste to be recycled and increased its lead over the year.
In terms of regions, the East became the leader of the league table for the first time, recycling 23.4% of its waste followed by 22.8% for the South East.
The North East had the worst rate, managing to recycle just 12.3% of its municipal waste, followed by London where only 13.3% of the capital's waste was recycled.
Looking at separate authorities, the East London borough of Newham has the worst recycling record in England, recycling just two per cent of its municipal waste, whilst Staffordshire's Lichfield District Council has the best, recycling 46% of its waste last year.
A detailed breakdown of the results can be found on the Defra website. The release of the figures was quickly followed by a call from Friends of the Earth for new recycling targets for authorities.
Although last year's target was achieved, the environmental pressure group has raised concerns that a lack of a fresh target may slow, or even halt, progress.
Georgina Bloomfield, recycling campaigner at FoE said: "Recycling in England has been improving, but we need to ensure that the momentum for providing better services continues.
"The Government should set further statutory targets for local authorities as a matter of urgency to ensure collection services continue to improve.
"We should be aiming to recycle at least half our waste by 2010, so that we become one of the best recyclers in Europe."
By Sam Bond