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Recycling rates decline amid falling budgets

A new analysis by BBC News has found that household recycling rates have fallen in 14 million homes – and half of local authorities in England are now recycling a lower proportion of waste than in 2011-12. The news has caused experts to predict that the UK will now miss its target of recycling 50% of all waste by 2020, but several of the stats suggest that it’s not all doom and gloom for council waste management departments.

Breaking down the stats

Despite the number of councils registering a decline, big improvements in the North West, South East and South West mean that actual recycling rates across England have in fact risen by 0.7% since 2011-12. This means 43.7% of household waste is now recycled.

The Local Government Association has also highlighted that rates have actually quadrupled when you take a long-term view of the past ten years – a figure that’s even more impressive when considered against the current financial backdrop.

Counting costs

Thanks to falling funding, the amount English councils budgeted to spend on recycling has dropped by 10% from its peak of £630m in 2013-14. Last year, the figure was just £569m.

Local authorities are also being forced into increasingly tough decisions over funding for front-line services. A recent survey by thinktank LGiU found that 60% of councils identified adult social care, children and education services as the most pressing areas of funding, compared to just 10% worrying about waste and environmental issues.

Alternative solutions

Given that authorities are stretched and Westminster appears unwilling to boost budgets, it may be useful to push for progress on other promises. In particular, banning disposable plastic drinking straws and demanding supermarkets cut down on plastic packaging could reduce the load on council waste processing facilities.

The recent increase in grass roots movements among residents may also prove helpful if councils can collaborate with them. Even reaching out with thanks for their efforts, as Cotswold District Council and Copeland Borough Council did recently, can encourage change. With the public more aware of the pressure on councils, it could also become easier to fine the worst waste offenders, a move currently being explored by Chichester District.

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