Concern over laggard councils tempers national recycling progress

As reported by ENDS in October, more than four in ten English authorities failed to meet their statutory recycling targets for 2003/04. In spite of this, the Government met its national recycling and composting target for England of 17% - and maintains that its 25% target for 2005/06 is "achievable". Friends of the Earth wants the Government to raise the targets for 2010 and 2015.

Statutory targets for household waste recycling and composting were set four years ago under the Best Value regime. The targets for 2003/04, designed to ensure that England’s average recycling rate reached 17%, generally required:

  • Authorities with 1998/99 recycling and composting rates of under 5% to achieve at least 10%.

  • Those with rates between 5% and 15% to at least double their rates.

  • Remaining authorities to recycle or compost at least 33%.

    The Government just scraped through, achieving a national recycling rate for England of 17%, up from 14.5% the previous year and 12.5 % in 2001/02. But the rate of increase will have to speed up if it is to achieve 25% in 2005/06.

    FoE points out that the UK "still languishes a long way behind many of our European neighbours." It called for the Government to set a recycling target of 50% for 2010 - a much tougher challenge than the Government’s current targets of 30% by 2010 and 33% by 2015.

    Among the authorities that missed their targets were Derby - the constituency of Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett - and Lewes, the constituency of Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Norman Baker.

    The data show that the authorities that had to achieve 33% found the going particularly tough. Of the 31 councils facing this target, only two - St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath - succeeded, while three - Purbeck, Castle Morpeth and Test Valley - were unable to achieve a recycling rate half this size. Even well-performing authorities like Cambridgeshire - which increased its rate by five percentage points to a respectable 29% - fell short of the target.

    For this reason, and to ease budgetary pressure on local authorities, the Environment Department (DEFRA) announced in December that it was capping authorities’ 2005/06 targets at 30% (ENDS Report 359, pp 32-35 ).

    The decision lowers the targets of 103 authorities - roughly a quarter of the total in England - which had faced 2005/06 targets of up to 40%. It also leaves the 13 authorities which already recycle at least 30% with little to aspire to - at least until the waste strategy is reviewed later this year.

    Nonetheless, six councils managed to get their recycling rates above 33% over the four years since the targets were set (see table).

    The biggest improvements compared with the previous year were achieved by Fylde, up 19 percentage points, and Breckland, up 18.

    Of the worst-performing councils, perhaps Kettering has most cause for embarrassment, given that all the others contain large areas of social deprivation and have other, more pressing claims on their budgets. Some 34 authorities - around one in twelve - are still recycling less than 10% of household waste. Mrs Beckett described such a level as "no longer acceptable" and said Environment Minister Elliot Morley will "personally engage" with the poorest performers to ensure they receive the right support or, if they continue to demonstrate no commitment to improvement, to take "stronger action".

    The Government has the power to take away an authority’s waste collection and management responsibilities - but in practice, it is unlikely to do so except in isolated cases.

    Some councils in the table have targets below 10% because of pooling arrangements with neighbouring authorities designed to achieve the same overall result for the area in question through the sharing of resources.