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Government urged to renew efforts to improve recycling rates in the UK

A new report has urged the government to take the issue of recycling more seriously and to redouble its efforts to persuade consumers to avoid landfill.

With tight targets fast looming for 2020, the UK looks set to fail with the growth rate of recycling almost coming to an abrupt halt.


Cut backs in recycling activity

In November 2013, Minister Dan Rogerson announced that the government would be scaling back its recycling activity education programme in areas where there was no clear need to carry on and where businesses could grasp the reins.

It’s this planned reduction that MPs are urging to be reconsidered with the survey results showing that more people in the UK than ever are confused about what they can and can’t recycle.


A lack of recycling affects us all

Stalling recycling growth

The report released by a committee for the department of the environment, food and rural affairs warned that the government still needs to be taking the lead over recycling to try and inject some life into flagging interest in green waste disposal.

In 2001, recycling rates stood at just 12.5% but over the following 10 years increased significantly, reaching 43% by 2011. However, since then recycling rates have stagnated, barely moving at all and sparking fears that the UK is going to miss a vital 2020 target.

The committee said these figures prove that there’s an increasing need for the government to drive the recycling culture in the UK, rather than pull back from the campaign just at the time it needs the most support.

The chair of the committee, Anne McIntosh insisted, “We need government to step in and pick up the pieces if needs be.” She went on to add, “Obviously I’m very much in favour of the market but where we seem to have been slow in this country is in recognising waste as a resource; it’s an economic commodity. There well may be a time when government can stand back, but at such an early stage, when we could be missing opportunities and councils need guidance, the evidence we heard is that Defra should take a lead role”.

These views were echoed by Keep Britain Tidy who said it was ‘deeply concerned’ and waste management firm SITA UK who described the planned move as ‘premature’.

What the report said

According to the report from the committee, only a quarter of household waste is being recycled correctly with many people still unsure about what they can and can’t do.

Across the UK there are as many as 400 different recycling schemes in place, one of the facts which the report highlighted as being a particular problem. These variations mean that every time a household moves, or goes on holiday in the UK, they need to learn new rules or else risk not recycling correctly.

Five times a person’s body weight is thrown away by every person in the UK every year, a combined total of 22.6 tons annually. The committee says this figure needs to be tackled in order to improve recycling and waste disposal in Britain.


Recycling such as plastic is essential in the future

A current EU target stipulates that a minimum of 50% of waste must be recycled by 2020 with a potential 70% recycled by 2030, an ambitious aim.

The committee has suggested that a dedicated minister is appointed to deal with the issue of waste management, coordinating the efforts from several different departments. It also highlighted the success seen in Wales where recycling currently stands at 54%.

A Defra spokeswoman insisted the department was committed to reaching the 2020 targets and pointed to the progress made over the past decade as proof of its dedication to the cause. However, they declined to provide a more detailed response, saying they would address the points raised in the report in due course.

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