The four countries that make up the UK all have their own recycling commitments as the decision making is not centralised. This therefore makes UK recycling as a whole misleading because one country is heavily outperforming the other three at present and that is Wales.
The Welsh government has been committed to recycling over the past decade which has seen its recycling statistics tower over England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Experts are even predicting they may overtake Germany for top worldwide recycling nation in 2018.
The UK government Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs produced a report on UK recycling statistics in February 2018 which details how each country has performed with household recycling, waste sent to landfill and more in 2016.
With an EU target for the UK to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020, only Wales is currently hitting the mark. Wales comes out a whole 12.4% higher than closest challengers England with 57.3%; this is going above and beyond the EU’s expectations. England’s household recycling rate was 44.9%, Northern Ireland 43.0% and Scotland 42.8% – clearly there is work to be done here.
On a more positive note, the UK as a whole is hitting the EU’s target of no more than 35% of biodegradable waste going to landfill. This target was hit by all UK nations in 2014 and has got lower since. Again Wales dominates the UK statistics here with just over 15% of biodegradable waste ending up in landfill in 2016.
If the rest of the UK was to be as committed as Wales then we could be proud of our recycling record. It is good therefore that environmental consultants, Eunomia, separate the UK into the four nations in their 2018 world recycling report, which sits Wales at number four and the others not even in the top ten.
In terms of recycling at UK businesses, awareness and the urge to recycle is becoming more and more popular. Landfill tax rises occur every April, the cost of which gets passed to the customer by waste collection companies. A combination of wanting to become greener and to save money has meant businesses are turning to recycling equipment rather than using bins and skips. Admittedly many businesses use recycling bins now but they run the risk of overflowing which ultimately means a portion of recyclable waste will still enter the general waste stream.
The rising popularity of recycling equipment is clear from this next statistic. 71.4% of UK packaging waste was recycled or recovered in 2016 compared to 64.7% in 2015. Today this statistic is sure to be even higher. The increasing reputation of recycling equipment alongside the rise of packaging recycling is surely no coincidence. Cardboard and plastic are the two main packaging waste types that businesses produce and these two materials are ideal for recycling equipment. These machines turn loose cardboard and plastic into bales which recyclers will then collect and the materials can be reused.
As four developed nations it could be argued the UK is underperforming compared to other first world countries. If we took high-performing Wales out of the equation then especially in terms of household recycling, the UK appears to be struggling. Whilst it is important to continue sending low levels of biodegradable waste to landfill, it is time for the UK to start concentrating and improving household recycling through easy methods such as using more recycling equipment.