UK bottom of European recycling league

The UK recycles the least container glass and steel packaging in Europe and is near the bottom on aluminium cans, according to a new study by the European Commission.

The UK is failing on recycling of glass, aluminium and steel despite the 1994 Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive’s targets for member states to have a minimum recycling rate for valuable materials like aluminium of 45% by this year. Only Spain and France recycle less aluminium than the UK’s 38%, with the former on 21% and the latter, just 19%. Switzerland tops the list for aluminium cans, recycling 89%, two more than Sweden.

Figures on glass are also telling – Switzerland recycles 95% of its glass, while the UK recycles just 25%, far below the next lowest, Ireland, on 35%. For steel, Germany heads the league with 80% being recycled, while the UK pips Spain to bottom post with just 30%.

Recycling of municipal waste in the UK grew from 9% to an average of 11% between 1999 and 2000, but this still leaves the country trailing well behind other European nations – Switzerland, Germany and Austria all recycle over half their waste.

A review of recycling targets, published this week, has concluded that even more ambitious recovery targets would be economically feasible.

The new European Commission study, by consultants RDC and Pira, proposes ambitious increases in all recycling rates to between 50% and 68%.

Although the UK’s Labour government set a target of trebling the recycling rate to 33% by 2015, it has been criticised by the Friends of the Earth as too low, and likely to result in the construction of scores of incinerators, which have stirred recent controversy over health worries (see related story and related story). However, even a 33% target would leave the UK far behind other European countries.

“These latest [UK] government recycling figures are shameful,” commented Sarah Oppenheimer, Friends of the Earth UK’s waste campaigner. “But it need not be like this. Some of our European neighbours recycle half their waste. The next government must do more to ensure that every household has a doorstep recycling collection service. Recycling should be as easy as putting the rubbish out.”

The UK government is due to release the full recycling figures for individual local authorities in July. These are likely to show wide local variations – some authorities have achieved 50% recycling rates while others are only recycling 3% of their waste.

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