Pandemic blamed for fall in recycling rates in England

DEFRA has blamed a 1.7 percentage point fall in England's recycling rate on the effects of the pandemic.

The figures were published this week and show the rolling 12-month ‘waste from households’ recycling rate was 43.8% at the end of March 2021.

This represents a 1.7 percentage point reduction compared to the previous financial year, when it stood at 44.5%.

DEFRA also published the recycling rate for the calendar year 2020, which was 44%, down 1.5 percentage points from 45.5% in 2019.

Incineration levels also continued to rise, with 48.2% of all local authority waste incinerated in 2020/21. This was a total of 12.5 million tonnes, and an increase of 0.8 million tonnes (7.2%) from 2019/20, according to DEFRA.

The department said this increase reflected a further reduction in waste sent to landfill and increased household waste residual (black bin bag) arisings. Can ‘residual arisings’ be explained?

DEFRA noted that during the reporting period some local authorities had been unable to maintain collections of dry recyclate, some garden waste collections were suspended and there was widespread closure of household waste recycling centres.

The department said that this disruption was due to staff shortages and the introduction of changes to working practice.

DEFRA noted that lockdown restrictions eased through the summer and into the autumn of 2020.

In a statement it said: “Local authorities and businesses acclimatised to working under lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result there was less disruption to waste collection operations during the remainder of 2020. Notably the second national lockdown commencing in November 2020 had less of an impact on waste and recycling tonnages reported in these statistics.”

Last week, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) also blamed a 2.9 percentage point reduction in household recycling rates in 2020 in Scotland on the pandemic.