Recycling Progress in the United Kingdom

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The EU Waste Framework Directive requires all the EU countries to achieve 50 percent recycling rate of all household wastes by 2020. Although many EU countries may fail to achieve that recycling rate, UK is well on target with 43 percent household waste recycling rate in 2012.

UK Recycling Facts

Before we go on to other aspects of recycling in UK, let’s have a look on some key UK recycling facts:

Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affair (Defra) statistics show that in 2001, the recycling rates for all municipal waste in UK were 12 percent whereas by 2010, it had risen to 39 percent.

An Independent article, published on May 2013, states that in 1980, the UK recycled almost no waste it generated, however by 1995, it recycled 7.5 percent of household waste generation. The article mentions that every year, UK creates 290 million tonnes of waste, of which just 22.9 million tonnes are household waste. While only a decade prior there was almost no economic activity with respect to the UK recycling industry, by 2012, the UK recycling industry generated over 10 billion GBP in sales, while employing over 30,000 people. During this period, markets for recycled materials such as plastics, metals and paper have increased. The article notes that although UK recycles 43 percent of its household waste, it sends around 70 percent of that recovered amount to China. But under the EU law, exporting waste is completely illegal. Figures show that out of 610,000 tonnes of plastic recycled in 2011; nearly 427,000 tonnes were exported to China.

A Guardian article on November 2014, shows how recycling of household waste in England has increased from 2001 to 2013. In 2001, household waste recycling rate was 12.5 percent and in 2013 it rose to 44.2 percent. On the other hand, household recycling rate in Wales in 2013 was 54.3 percent. The article also illustrates the recycling rates in different parts of England.

The article strongly criticizes the slow progress of recycling rates in last 2 to 3 years as household waste recycling rate increased just 0.1 percent from 2012 to 2013.   

UK government website reveals that only England alone produces 177 million tonnes of waste every year, including 55 million waste motor vehicle tires.  

Commercial and Industrial (C&I) wastes constitute a large portion of UK’s waste stream. In 2009, 52 percent of England’s C&I waste was recycled compared to 42 percent in 2002/3.

Recycling Laws in UK

The EU Waste Framework Directive provides complete guidelines for waste collection, recovery, transportation and disposal. It requires all EU states to take essential steps to ensure proper disposal and recycling of waste without causing any harm to the environment and human health. Apart from the EU Waste Framework Directive, a range of other policies and laws apply to UK recycling industry which include Hazardous waste regulations, Landfill directive, Batteries directive, End-of-life vehicles (ELVs) Regulation 2003, UK Ship recycling strategy, Waste shipment regulations etc. The European Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive also plays a major part in UK’s e-waste recycling industry.

Recycling Businesses and Industry Associations in UK

UK has a number of recycling industry associations including British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), Textile Recycling Association (TRA), Oil Recycling Association (ORA), the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER), The Organics Recycling Group (ORG), The United Kingdom Cartridge Remanufacturers Association (UKCRA), The Environmental Services Association (ESA), British Plastics Federation (BPF) etc. The BMRA represents 340 UK metal recycling businesses involved in the  £5.6 billion UK metal recycling industry. BPF, established in 1933, has more than 400 members across plastics recycling industry including plastics processors, recyclers, and end users.