Household recycling “certain” to miss target

Just six councils in Essex have seen their kerbside recycling rates increase in the past nine years, according to most recent Government data.

Chelmsford, which saw its recycling rates increase from 39.1 to 46 per cent between 2010/2011 and 2019/2020, was one of the best performers.

Basildon went from 44.7 per cent to 46 per cent, Castle Point went from 39.8 per cent to 50.9 per cent and Colchester from 40.2 per cent to 58.7 per cent.

Meanwhile Brentwood saw its household recycling rates down from 44.8 per cent to 42.1 per cent in the same period.

On average overall recycling rates in Essex hit an all time high – but was only up fractionally from figures nine years previously.

In 2019/20, councils in the county dealt with 731,925 tonnes of waste collected from households. Of this, 52.8 per cent was reused, recycled or composted.

That is the highest rate since records began but the proportion has only increased from 49.1 per cent in 2010/11 and was only up from 50.1 per cent in 2018/19.

However, the council area is still doing better than England as a whole.

Local authorities in England dealt with 23 million tonnes of waste collected from households in 2019/20. Of that, 43.8 per cent was recycled.

England’s performance means the UK is far from a target to recycle at least 50 per cent of household waste by 2020 .

Greenpeace UK’s political campaigner Sam Chetan-Welsh said: “The UK is now all but certain to miss its 2020 recycling target and that is just another sign of how broken our waste system is.

“The root of the problem is that we’re still producing way more rubbish than our recycling sector can cope with.

“As well as investing in better recycling and making it easier for people to sort their waste, we also need to turn off the tap at the source.

“That’s why the UK Government must set legally binding targets to cut single-use plastic in half by 2025, ban exports of plastic waste, and introduce an all-inclusive deposit return scheme for drinks containers. Bottling it is no longer an option – it’s time for ministers to show some bottle.”

Local government also backed further action to cut non-recyclable waste at source.

David Renard, environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “Households have made a real shift over the past decade to ensure they are recycling as much as possible and councils work hard to share information on what can and can’t be recycled.

“This has resulted in an increase in recycling rates over the past decade.

“The next step in reducing unnecessary waste is to work with the government to address the responsibility of manufacturers of plastic packaging who continue to create and sell packaging that cannot be recycled and will be put in the recycling bin by people in good faith.

“The burden then falls on councils to not only collect it and dispose of it, but to pay the extra cost of disposing of it.

“We will be working with the government and the waste industry as part of the Environment Bill to ensure this issue is addressed and to understand the impact of the ban on exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries.”

The Environment Bill, currently going through Parliament, includes measures to make producers cover the cost of collecting and recycling packaging waste and to introduce deposit return schemes and charges for single-use plastic items, and will ensure consistent recycling schemes for households across England.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Recycling and reusing more of our waste, and ensuring we get the most out of our precious resources, are central to our ambition to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.

“We are making positive progress, with less than 10 per cent of household waste now going to landfill and the amount of food waste being recycled increasing by over 40 per cent since 2015.

“But there is still a lot more to do, and that’s why we have brought forward major reforms for packaging and kerbside collections which will boost recycling, step up our war on plastic pollution and reduce litter.”

Of the councils listed as having recycling rates that have decreased – Brentwood’s rate has fallen by the smallest amount at 2.9 per cent.

  • Rochford – 4.7% down
  • Epping – 4.9% down
  • Brentwood – 2.9% down
  • Braintree – 5.6% down
  • Thurrock (unitary) – 10.2% down

Brentwood Borough Council was asked for comment.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter