Recycle Week 2019: The state of UK household recycling in 8 charts

This week is Recycle Week 2019 - an event hosted by WRAP, with the aim making the circular economy "the new norm" for UK Government, businesses and residents. Here, edie sets the scene by charting national recycling statistics.

Recycle Week 2019: The state of UK household recycling in 8 charts

The UK is currently off-track to meet the EU's waste from households recycling target of 50% by 2020.

WRAP has said that 2018 was the year that “Britain woke up to recycling”.

Indeed, in the wake of Blue Planet 2 at the end of 2017, not a week has passed without a business, local authority or even national government making an announcement about new efforts to reduce, reuse or recycle – with most of this attention focussed on plastics.

During that timeframe, however, concerns have continued to be raised about whether policy gaps and a lack of investment and infrastructure are preventing the UK from being a world-leader in the recycling space, trapping it into exporting recycling streams to developing nations. There is an EU target for the UK to recycle at least 50% of waste generated by households by 2020, but rates to date have stagnated between 43% and 46%.

The UK Government’s response to these concerns is its Resources and Waste Strategy – a 146-page policy framework which, when implemented, will be the first major change to national policy in this field for more than a decade.

Ongoing consultations around the strategy will soon determine what the UK’s national deposit return scheme for drinks containers will look like; whether weekly food waste collections will be made mandatory for local authorities; and how the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system should be altered to boost recycling and reuse rates as well as funding for new infrastructure.

While the results of these emerging policies remain to be seen, WRAP insists that 2019 is the year in which all stakeholders are “taking action” to foster a more circular economy.

With this in mind, edie has charted the current state of recycling in the UK. These eight charts serve to highlight past successes and failures in the recycling space, and to give a feel for what efforts are now needed to meet future targets.

Rates of waste from households generation – as well as the proportions of this waste which are sent for recycling, or to landfill or incineration, have largely plateaued since 2013.

Recycling rates for all waste from households have climbed almost 1% since 2013, but the UK is still off-track to meet the EU’s 2020 target of 50% in this space.

Paper and card represented almost two-fifths of the UK’s recycled waste from households in 2017, with glass accounting for one-fifth. Streams such as plastics, metals, e-waste and textiles, however, accounted for far lower proportions.

Of England’s nine regions, recycling rates for waste from households were lowest in London during 2017. The worst-performing area in London was Newham (14%), but below-average rates were recorded in at least one local authority in each region.

On the flipside, the best-performing regions were the East and the South West. In the East, the highest recycling rate was recorded in Rochford (63%), while the highest in the South West was documented in Stroud (61%).

WRAP has been lobbying for local authorities to disclose recycling-related information to residents, arguing that transparency can bring about both behavioural-level and systemic changes. This disclosure does seem to be on the rise.

Confusion over recycling labels is often cited as a barrier to positive behaviour change at the household level. However, WRAP data shows that awareness around what the most common logo, the “Recycle Now Swoosh”, is rising.

Sarah George

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