How Does The UK Compare To The Rest Of The World For Recycling?

Recycling In Egypt Image by imordaf CC0

Recycling In Egypt Image by imordaf CC0

Guest post by Dean Willshee*

After last year’s disappointing recycling statistics were released, showing that the UK’s recycling rate had actually fallen between the 2014/15 period and the 2015/16 period, it is important to put it into perspective. The period of 2000 to 2017 has been one of significant growth for UK recycling rates. The UK is the 16th in the world in terms of recycling, with a recycling rate of 43.5%.

Comparison with other European countries

The UK has seen one of the largest increases in recycling rates over the period of 2004 to 2014 out of all of the European countries. In 2004, we were recycling 23% of all of our waste and in 2014 this had almost doubled to 44%. The country that saw the biggest increase was Lithunia, which saw its recycling rate increase from 2% in 2004 to 30% in 2014.

The best performing country in Europe and the world as a whole is Germany which, in 2015 recycled 66.1% of its entire waste, a very impressive feat and one that the UK should be aiming for.

Comparison with the rest of the world

The UK comes 16th in terms of world recycling rates, but incredibly, Wales by itself is 3rd, sitting behind only Singapore and Germany. Outside of Europe, the country with the highest recycling rate is Singapore, which recycles 60.6% of its waste. Several major world powers are much further down the list, with the US in 25th place – a recycling rate of 34.6%. Russia, China and India do not appear in the top 25.

The publication of Waste Strategy 2000

This was the UK’s first big push for recycling. The targets set out in WS2000 were bold, but they offered the UK some concrete goals to aspire to. For example, there were aims to be recycling 40% of municipal waste by 2005 (the actual figure for 2005 was 26.7%), 45% by 2010 (the actual figure was 40.2%), 67% by 2015 (actual figure: 43.5%).

The WS2000 was a direct result of EU recycling directives. The 1999 Landfill Directive demanded a reduction in the amount of waste being dumped in landfills from 11.2 million tonnes in 2010 to 7.46 million.

If you split up the UK, the progress that Wales has made is absolutely stunning. By itself, Wales is recycling 62% of its waste and is considering setting a new 80% target. Scotland is slightly higher than the UK, with 44.2%, whereas England’s is 42.4% and Northern Ireland’s is 41.8%. The incredible progress made by Wales is a direct result of the devolved government’s Towards Zero Waste policy in 2010.

The national league table

We might not be on top of the world, but this list shows which local authorities are doing their part to push the UK up the rankings. It shows the top 10 local authorities in the UK for waste recycling in 2015/16. Check where your local authority ranks.

Rank       Local Authority                   Recycling, Reuse and Composting Rates

1               South Oxfordshire District Council           66.6%

2               East Riding of Yorkshire Council                66.1%

3               Rochford District Council                            66%

4               Vale of White Horse District Council         64.8%

5               Surrey Heath Borough Council                  62.1%

6               West Oxfordshire District Council             60.8%

7               Stratford-on-Avon District Council             60.4%

8               Trafford MBC                                                 60.4%

9               Three Rivers District Council                        59.4%

10            Stockport MBC                                               59.4%


As you can see, the UK certainly has room for improvement when it comes to recycling, but the improvement over the last ten to fifteen years is promising. Hopefully, the fall last year is merely an anomaly in a period of growth. Luckily, the rest of the UK has a nearby role model in Wales to look to if we require inspiration.

*Please note that the views are that of the author, not necessarily that of en-form.


Author Bio

Dean Willshee runs Willshee’s Skip Hire, an eco-conscious company based in Burton. The company has a dedicated onsite recycling facility with a zero landfill policy which ensures that as much as possible can be put to new use.


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