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Flatline on recycling rates puts pressure on for 2035 65% recycling target

11 May 2022

  • Official figures confirm the UK household recycling rate has fallen by 1.6%.
  • The UK household waste recycling rate for 2020 was 44.4%, decreasing from 46.0% in 2019.
  • While England’s recycling rate fell by 1.5% between 2019 and 2020, in Wales, the recycling rate rose by 0.1% to 56.5%, a figure significantly higher than England’s at 44% and Scotland’s at 41%.

England was supposed to hit 50% recycling rates by 2020, but today’s figures confirm we failed to hit the mark. While issues around COVID may have affected rates in England, Wales still saw a slight rise in recycling rates despite the pandemic impact in 2020. Environment experts are warning that action on waste in England must be ramped up, and match greater ambition in Wales, if Government wants to meet its next target of 65% recycling by 2035.[1]

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:
“We’re getting a lot wrong with how we deal with waste – we're burning and burying too much, not recycling enough, and still exporting huge amounts overseas. Ultimately, the only way to fix this is to stop using so much in the first place. From single-use packaging to throwaway cutlery we’re simply consuming too many raw materials that are damaging to extract, polluting to transport and produce into the things we use, and then harmful once again when we dispose of them.

“We need to turn off the flow of waste at its source. Alongside a target to restore nature, the Government must set a target in the Environment Act to incentivise using fewer resources in production and consumption, so we don’t keep creating and transporting materials all over the world just to be used for a few moments.”

Commenting further on how methods like a Deposit Return Scheme and Extended Producer Responsibility could help cut use of resources, [3] Dr Benwell said:

“The introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme would be a great way to stimulate more recycling by consumers, with many examples of other countries introducing them and seeing a big increase in recycling levels. We’re calling for an ambitious scheme to be introduced here – one that includes multiple materials such as glass alongside plastic.

“We’re also calling for Extended Producer Responsibility to come into effect. This would legally oblige companies to take more responsibility for the materials they put onto the market, and would encourage systems innovation so that fewer materials are used in the first place.”

Wildlife and Countryside Link is calling for the below targets to be set in law by the Environment Act. Read full briefing here.

  • Increase the abundance of species (marine and terrestrial) by at least 20% by 2042 over 2022 levels.
  • Make 75% of our key wildlife sites healthy by 2042. Currently only 38% are.
  • Our rivers are being choked by pollution. We need a long-term target for the overall condition of freshwater bodies.
  • PM2.5 #airpollution should be lower than 10μg/m3 by 2030. We all have the right to breathe clean air.
  • Reduce the extraction and consumption of raw materials driven by economic activity in England.


    Notes to Editors:

    1. The ambition laid out in the Resources and Waste Strategy is for recycling at least 65% of municipal waste by 2035, with a maximum of 10% being landfilled. Ministers also committed to eliminating all avoidable waste by 2050.

    2. The Welsh government has said it will introduce a “polluter pays” system to make producers responsible for costs. Alongside Scotland, Wales will make producers responsible for the most commonly littered items that “scourge streets, communities and the countryside”, and cover the clean-up costs..

    3. On proposed UK Deposit Return Schemes, the UK’s first deposit return scheme will go live across Scotland on 16 August 2023, however England has announced that the DRS will be delayed until the end of 2024. The Scottish and Welsh schemes will include glass bottles which will not be included in the English DRS.

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