Ongoing efforts to ensure ambitious UK recycling targets are met seem to be having little to no effect. Once again, evidence suggests that recycling levels remain worse than they were back in 2014.  

Councils across the UK have promised major efforts to improve UK recycling standards. Unfortunately, critics claim that the system is still too complex, inaccessible or even expensive for the average household.

A Small Yet Significant Slide

The latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) paint a somewhat gloomy picture of UK recycling standards in general.  In 2018, the approximate total combined amount of household rubbish being recycled was 44.7%. This was down from the 45.2% average in at 2017, along with the 44.9% recorded in 2014.

As a result, it is now almost impossible for longstanding UK recycling targets to be met. UK recycling was previously on track to reach a minimum of 50% by 2020 – something that simply didn’t happen.

Critics have once again pointed the finger of blame at the UK’s unnecessarily complex recycling system. Public support for improved UK recycling standards is high, but it remains too difficult or expensive for many households to recycle their waste more efficiently.

One of the biggest criticisms being the way in which households are expected to do too much sorting and separation. Many of which simply do not have the available space to accommodate their segregated waste.

“After a long period standing still, we’ve now started to go backwards. Recycling alone won’t solve this crisis, so long as we’re producing more and more waste,” said Louise Edge, head of Greenpeace UK’s ocean plastics campaign.

“Our report this week showed how supermarkets are churning out more plastic than ever, despite commitments to cut down. Much of this is single-use, and difficult or impossible to recycle.

“We need to move away from a model that clearly isn’t working and urgently shift our focus to reusable and refillable packaging, which will drastically reduce the amount of waste that is produced in the first place.”

Lingering Inconsistencies with UK Recycling

Remarkably, there is still no specific national recycling strategy in the UK.  Instead, local authorities across the country impose their own rules, restrictions and policies – all accepting and processing recyclable materials in different ways.

It’s these inconsistencies that are being blamed for the continuously poor UK recycling rate. Not to mention, additional factors including the following:

  • All disposable and reusable plastic bags can be recycled, but very few local councils accept them. As a result, 82% of UK households cannot recycle their plastic bags.
  • Approximately 90% of households in the UK are unable to recycle plant pots or cling film.
  • An astonishing 99% of UK homes cannot recycle expanded polystyrene packaging, which is a common material used to make takeaway containers.

The fact that there are different rules for different homes in different regions is making things unnecessarily difficult for UK households. It’s also led to a huge disparity in the recycling performance between certain regions.

For example, while East Riding of Yorkshire has an impressive 65% average household recycling rate, the average home in the London borough of Newham recycles less than 17% of its waste. If UK recycling targets are to be met in the future, these are the kinds of inconsistencies that need to be addressed.