2020 UK recycling rates fall everywhere except Wales

According to official figures released by Defra, the UK’s recycling rate fell by a total 1.6% in 2020.

The data shows a fall from 46% in 2019 to 44.4% in 2020 for the UK as a whole, with a decrease in recycling in all four nations, except Wales. Scotland produced the lowest rate at 41%, followed by England at 44% and 49.1% for Northern Ireland. Wales, in keeping with previous years, was far ahead at 56.5%.

The total UK biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill however fell by around 0.5 million tonnes, to 6.1 million tonnes. This is waste that will decompose to produce the potent greenhouse gas methane and this decrease perhaps indicates that the UK is moving toward better treatment systems, in line with the waste hierarchy.

Defra state that the latest recycling results are in line the “disruptions and some cancellations” to waste collection services, including widespread closures of Household Waste Recycling Centres owing to COVID-19 measures. You can view the UK government statistics on waste here.

Ambitious recycling targets

We cannot compare 2020’s recycling rate with total waste arisings, as the data has not yet been updated. To give an idea, in 2019 the UK produced 222.2 million tonnes of waste overall, and it remains to be seen whether various measures relating to the pandemic produced decreased tonnages.

The data was published shortly after the European Commission announced similar statistics for member states. Comparatively, the UK would rank 10th in Europe in 2020. Although the impacts of the pandemic were perhaps unavoidable, ambitious recycling targets announced in the government’s response to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for the packaging regime, mean that the UK can’t afford falling recycling rates.

Hopefully, the combined impacts of reforms such as EPR and consistent national recycling collections mean we will only see year-on-year increases moving forward, as infrastructure is improved.

Find out more here about upcoming EPR reforms for packaging, including the status of government consultations and a timeline of EPR implementation.

Louisa Goodfellow

Policy Manager

As Policy advisor Louisa provides key support to our team, including preparing reports on environmental policy issues and maintaining awareness of new developments. As such she will often be found coordinating responses to policy consultations, advocating policy positions and providing internal guidance to current legislation.

Written by Louisa Goodfellow Published 13/05/2022 Topics Sustainability
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