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Recycling rates in UK fall for first time on record

Recycling rates in the UK have fallen for the first time on record, prompting calls for a new tax on packaging as the country now faces an uphill task to meet its EU targets.

Official statistics released by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) show that the rate of household recycling – the amount of rubbish sent to recycling plants by householders – has fallen to 43.9% from 44.8% in 2015.

The fallback comes as an embarrassment to the government, who sought to be the ‘greenest’ government under David Cameron’s premiership, and means that the UK will likely miss its target of recycling at least 50% of its household waste by 2020.

Experts have blamed cuts to council budgets for the fall in recycling as local authorities face limited funding to improve infrastructure and communicate with householders about the benefits of recycling. The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) has called for a fundamental review of funding, suggesting the implementation of EPR (extended producer responsibility) schemes to boost income.

Andrew Bird, chair of LARAC, said: “We are obviously disappointed that the rates have gone down for the first time. But when waste services are competing for a reduced budget with adult care, education and social services it is clear something is going to give.

“We need to establish new funding streams into local authorities to ensure the recycling rate increases again.”

DEFRA’s figures revealed that South Oxfordshire District Council has maintained its title as England’s best recycling council for the third year in a row. The council, whose recycling and refuse is collected by municipal contractor Biffa, had a recycling rate of 66.6% for 2015-16.

Biffa Municipal’s managing director Roger Edwards was unsurprised by the stall, attributing it to a greater focus on quality of recyclables and increased rejection of recyclables due to contamination.

“We should all work harder to ensure that household recyclables such as paper, card, plastics, and metal and glass containers are as clean as possible when put out for collection, and that they aren’t adulterated,” Edwards said.

“Contamination can cause entire lorry-loads of recyclables to be rejected, at high cost to already-stretched councils.”

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the total amount of waste generated by homes was slightly down in 2015, averaging at 22 million tonnes in total, equivalent to 407kg per person. The lowest recycling rate in England was in Newham borough in London, which managed a mere 15%.

A DEFRA spokesman stressed that households are still recycling four times as much as they were in 2000, although the dip in recycling shows that more needs to be done.

“There are some excellent examples of councils improving recycling rates – we will work with local authorities and industry to build on these successes and encourage best practice across the nation as part of our commitment to protect the environment for future generations,” he said.

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