Last updated: 15 November 2017

In 2014 the European Commission adopted an ambitious “Circular Economy Package”, which included several measures concerning waste, and set a target of recycling 65% of all municipal waste by 2030. Now that the Brexit strategy is well under way, the UK has to decide whether it wants to abide by the EU’s objectives or adopt a more lenient legislation on the matter.

To shed light on the issues of waste generation, treatment and recycling in the UK, GreenMatch has decided to conduct research on the figures for recycled municipal waste on local, regional, and national level.

The data was collected from the OECD and the governmental institutions of the four UK countries: England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland. First, local authorities were identified within the UK, and then information on total waste generated and total waste recycled was retrieved from their data centers. Further information about the population and demographics was also collected through the official data centers of each country. One map is based on the analysis of waste recycling rates from local councils. The same data was then elaborated on to create a second map, which shows recycling levels on a regional scale.

The second step of the research focused on a wider perspective, through the collection of data inherent to other EU countries and their comparison to both national UK recycling rates and country rates for each of the four countries within the UK.

Billions of tonnes of waste are produced every day but what is done with that waste is not always clear. Some ends up in landfills, other waste is burned to produce energy, and some is reused, recycled, or composted. Recycling can reduce the amount of waste significantly, yet it is still not a generally adopted practice. This report focuses on municipal waste, not to be confused with general waste produced by the public. Municipal waste consists of the total waste generated by households, commerce, offices, institutions, and municipal services.

Best and Worst Performing Local Waste Authorities by Recycling

On the interactive map below, the best and worst performing local waste authorities per country are highlighted based on the percentage of municipal waste recycled. By clicking on a location on the map, you can see the numbers of total waste, total recycled waste, and the percentage of waste recycled for a particular local authority.

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<iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1rEAUV2Ms2MAgNNqPdecW-RpC7Mcn7ak5&ll=54.603777228269664%2C-4.959758640624955&z=6" width="100%" height="770"></iframe><p>Created by <a href="https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/">GreenMatch</a></p>

The map presents the 10 best and 10 worst performing local authorities in England, and the 5 best and 5 worst performers in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, respectively. Comparing the best performing local authorities in each country gives an insight into the distribution of recycling efforts.

In England, the 10 best performing authorities recycle a median of 57.4% of their waste. In contrast, the bottom 10 performers only reach the median of 23%. Interestingly, the lowest recycling authorities are clustered within the large cities. London has a low rate in particular, where Westminster City Council reached only 15.5% in the year of 2015/2016 (the latest year data was published by the government).

In Wales, the top 5 authorities recycle a median of 63.2% of their waste, while the bottom 5 still perform well by recycling almost half of their waste (48.2%). Clearly, the recycling efforts are more consistent in Wales than in England.

Scotland’s median amongst the 5 highest recycling local authorities amounts to 57.9%, and the 5 bottom performers score around 40%. As even the least recycling authorities manage a fair amount of their waste, calculating with a median on a country level, Scotland has the highest recycling rate in the UK at 53.7%.

The median of Northern Ireland’s 5 highest recycling authorities is 47.8% against a median of 37.5% for the lowest. Of course, the distribution of recycling depends on a multitude of variables, such as population density, urbanisation, and community awareness. It is, however, clear that England’s recycling efforts are falling behind on the rest of the UK.

Recycling Rates by Regions in the UK

Obviously, just looking at the local authorities would not suffice to draw any significant conclusions. Some consist mostly of urban areas, like London, whereas others comprise mainly countryside. For this reason, the following map summarises the data on regional level; regions marked with green shading are above the national recycling rate for the entire UK (44.7%), while those marked with red are below that value. Regions consist of multiple local and waste authorities. This is supposed to average out the significant differences that some local authorities might have, or to give a more holistic view.

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<iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1jMznABToEG8ttikw7uKKu-WNl0JoQfVD&ll=54.603777228269664%2C-4.959758640624955&z=6" width="100%" height="770"></iframe><p>Created by <a href="https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/">GreenMatch</a></p>

On a country level (as opposed to the waste authority level), the scene is somewhat different. Wales achieved to outperform all other countries in the UK, as all five of its regions recycle more than the national rate of 44.7%. Even when calculating for the entire country of Wales, they recycle a whopping 10.6% more than UK in total.

Scotland also reached a similar result with its country-level rate of 52.5%, and with having 12 out of 15 regions performing better than the national percentage. The situation is much more similar between England (42.4%) and Northern Ireland (42.0%), as neither countries reached the national value. Actually, only 3 out of 9 English regions and 2 out of 4 Northern Irish regions scored above the national rate.

UK vs. EU: A Comparison of Recycling Rates

So how does the UK compare to the EU mainland? Combined, the four UK countries managed to recycle around 44.7% of its total collected municipal waste. In the EU, this number averages out to a mere 42% of all European OECD countries combined.

None of the four countries scores lower than the average of the EU. As a collective, they beat the average by 2.5%. The comparison might leave some room for misinterpretation as the amount of countries in the EU is considerably higher than in the UK. For that reason, the following graph shows all individual countries with their level of recycling in 2015. The UK average of 44.7% has been highlighted by the blue line, and the 2030 target of 65% by the yellow line.

If you would like to share this interactive chart, use the code below:

<iframe width="770" height="465" seamless frameborder="0" scrolling="yes" src="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vQ-HpcuzE6UM3zxkyluZRl0w8ymFg_g-F6T7uGZ0XG3kfp9LRI8xiQuf3gTaWEEJKMY8tBzOy0GBg8Z/pubchart?oid=220792752&format=interactive"></iframe><p>Created by <a href="https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/">GreenMatch</a></p>

Visibly, the UK is scoring higher than most European countries. The distribution around the EU and UK is quite clustered around the 40-45% mark, with a few exceptions. The current UK level is not alarming, yet. However, the EU target of 65% by 2030 seems to be challenging. Only Germany has already fulfilled that promise.

In the next 13 years, the UK needs to increase their efforts to be able to reach the goal. Whether Brexit has an impact on the progress remains to be seen. In any case, they will not be alone in the fight to greener waste management in Europe.

Recycling Rates by Local Waste Authorities in the UK

In the following table, the complete dataset can be seen, detailing how much municipal waste was generated, how much each individual local waste authority recycled of that, and the percentage of recycled waste, broken down per country, region, and local authority.

Country Region Local authority Population Reused, recycled, composted (tonnes) Total waste generated (tonnes) Percentage of waste recycled
England Yorkshire and Humber East Riding of Yorkshire Council 337,700 128,079 192,796 66.4%
England East Midlands Rutland County Council 38,600 12,617 20,707 60.9%
England North West Cheshire West and Chester 335,700 103,903 172,638 60.2%
England South West North Somerset Council 211,700 63,868 107,357 59.5%
England Eastern Cambridgeshire County Council 651,900 190,409 329,558 57.8%
England North West Cheshire East 376,700 112,439 197,198 57.0%
England South East Oxfordshire County Council 683,200 182,155 319,726 57.0%
England South West Dorset Waste Partnership 422,700 124,313 218,942 56.8%
England South West Bath and North East Somerset Council 187,800 49,713 87,922 56.5%
England South East Surrey County Council 1,176,500 319,528 587,299 54.4%
England South West Devon County Council 779,800 202,656 375,739 53.9%
England West Midlands Shropshire 313,400 86,890 161,667 53.7%
England North West Warrington Borough Council 208,800 52,435 97,795 53.6%
England South East West Berkshire District Council 156,800 46,341 86,509 53.6%
England West Midlands Warwickshire County Council 556,800 150,315 283,116 53.1%
England South East Buckinghamshire County Council 534,700 137,579 265,630 51.8%
England South East Milton Keynes Council 264,500 68,825 133,931 51.4%
England Eastern Suffolk County Council 745,300 202,118 397,093 50.9%
England West Midlands Staffordshire County Council 867,100 224,847 443,366 50.7%
England South West Somerset County Council 549,400 137,720 271,884 50.7%
England Eastern Hertfordshire County Council 1,176,700 267,986 530,477 50.5%
England South West Bournemouth Borough Council 197,700 49,165 98,781 49.8%
England South West South Gloucestershire Council 277,600 62,270 125,167 49.7%
England Yorkshire and Humber Calderdale MBC 209,800 43,290 87,601 49.4%
England Yorkshire and Humber North Lincolnshire Council 170,800 45,986 93,935 49.0%
England South East Isle of Wight Council 139,800 34,959 71,920 48.6%
England Eastern Essex County Council 1,455,300 359,746 740,219 48.6%
England East Midlands Leicestershire County Council 683,000 172,915 361,261 47.9%
England London Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames 176,100 31,432 65,818 47.8%
England North West Lancashire County Council 1,198,800 292,890 615,664 47.6%
England South West Gloucestershire County Council 623,100 142,874 301,096 47.5%
England South East Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Council 148,800 33,053 69,787 47.4%
England Yorkshire and Humber Kingston-upon-Hull City Council 260,200 58,956 124,538 47.3%
England West Midlands Telford and Wrekin Council 173,000 41,225 87,096 47.3%
England East Midlands Lincolnshire County Council 743,400 170,288 359,990 47.3%
England East Midlands Northamptonshire County Council 733,100 170,858 361,972 47.2%
England London Bexley LB 244,800 57,133 121,299 47.1%
England Eastern Southend-on-Sea Borough Council 179,800 36,455 77,509 47.0%
England Eastern Central Bedfordshire 278,900 56,157 119,719 46.9%
England South East Medway Borough Council 278,500 60,094 128,990 46.6%
England South East Kent County Council 1,541,900 331,433 717,363 46.2%
England East Midlands Derbyshire County Council 785,800 184,445 399,517 46.2%
England West Midlands Solihull MBC 211,800 44,691 97,783 45.7%
England Yorkshire and Humber Doncaster MBC 306,400 72,382 158,507 45.7%
England South West Poole Borough Council 151,500 36,404 79,820 45.6%
England North West Cumbria County Council 497,900 124,133 272,500 45.6%
England North West Wigan MBC 323,100 65,890 144,757 45.5%
England South West Bristol City Council 454,200 82,845 182,201 45.5%
England Eastern Norfolk County Council 892,900 189,284 416,304 45.5%
England Yorkshire and Humber Barnsley MBC 241,200 49,862 110,901 45.0%
England Yorkshire and Humber North Yorkshire County Council 604,900 148,288 330,556 44.9%
England South East West Sussex County Council 843,800 198,046 447,288 44.3%
England East Midlands Leicester City Council 348,300 56,368 128,552 43.8%
England North West Greater Manchester WDA (MBC) 2,782,100 478,416 1,100,936 43.5%
England South East East Sussex County Council 547,800 112,288 260,038 43.2%
England North West Halton Borough Council 126,900 25,774 59,904 43.0%
England North West Merseyside WDA (MBC) 1,406,400 308,484 717,783 43.0%
England Yorkshire and Humber Rotherham MBC 261,900 51,364 119,703 42.9%
England West Midlands Worcestershire County Council 583,100 131,098 305,808 42.9%
England East Midlands Nottinghamshire County Council 810,700 178,409 416,591 42.8%
England West Midlands Herefordshire Council 1,176,700 37,450 88,004 42.6%
England Eastern Peterborough City Council 197,100 36,806 86,629 42.5%
England North West Blackpool Borough Council 139,200 30,688 72,342 42.4%
England South East Wokingham Council 161,900 32,866 79,248 41.5%
England South West Torbay Council 133,900 27,952 67,551 41.4%
England North East County Durham 522,100 101,689 247,478 41.1%
England South West Swindon Borough Council 217,900 41,646 101,386 41.1%
England London Croydon LB 382,300 68,857 167,914 41.0%
England South West Wiltshire 488,400 100,967 246,438 41.0%
England West Midlands Walsall MBC 278,700 49,685 121,567 40.9%
England Yorkshire and Humber York City Council 208,400 40,628 99,765 40.7%
England South East Hampshire County Council 1,360,400 267,129 658,270 40.6%
England South East Bracknell Forest Borough Council 119,400 21,766 54,102 40.2%
England North East South Tyneside MBC 149,400 31,912 79,729 40.0%
England Eastern Thurrock Council 167,000 31,327 78,762 39.8%
England North East Northumberland 316,000 64,538 163,551 39.5%
England Yorkshire and Humber Bradford City MDC (MBC) 534,300 91,879 233,262 39.4%
England London Bromley LB 326,900 57,247 146,237 39.1%
England West Midlands Sandwell MBC 322,700 55,301 142,147 38.9%
England North East Darlington Borough Council 105,600 22,947 60,221 38.1%
England North East North Tyneside Council 203,300 39,898 105,284 37.9%
England North East Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council 135,400 26,684 71,000 37.6%
England West Midlands Wolverhampton MBC 256,600 46,775 125,760 37.2%
England West Midlands Dudley MBC 317,600 51,752 139,307 37.1%
England South West Plymouth City Council 264,200 45,562 123,846 36.8%
England North East Middlesbrough Borough Council 140,400 26,171 71,360 36.7%
England Yorkshire and Humber Leeds City Council MBC 781,700 121,256 331,043 36.6%
England Eastern Bedford 168,800 30,600 84,661 36.1%
England London Greenwich LB 279,800 40,633 113,325 35.9%
England North East Hartlepool Borough Council 92,800 16,753 46,913 35.7%
England London Southwark LB 313,200 42,587 120,504 35.3%
England Yorkshire and Humber Wakefield City MDC 336,800 59,765 169,442 35.3%
England London West London Waste Authority 1,689,700 229,987 654,190 35.2%
England London Sutton LB 202,200 29,343 84,101 34.9%
England London Merton LB 205,000 29,589 84,976 34.8%
England North East Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council 195,700 35,431 102,609 34.5%
England South West Cornwall 553,700 90,026 263,288 34.2%
England North East Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Council MBC 296,500 48,363 141,724 34.1%
England West Midlands Stoke-on-Trent City Council 253,200 43,082 126,527 34.0%
England North East Gateshead MBC 201,600 31,825 95,440 33.3%
England Eastern Luton Borough Council 216,800 31,113 94,216 33.0%
England North West Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council 147,000 21,598 65,588 32.9%
England South West Council of the Isles of Scilly 2,300 653 2,003 32.6%
England South East Reading Borough Council 162,700 23,678 73,855 32.1%
England Yorkshire and Humber Kirklees MBC 437,000 66,009 208,136 31.7%
England East Midlands Nottingham City Council 325,300 50,349 162,700 30.9%
England West Midlands Coventry City Council 352,900 50,727 164,380 30.9%
England North East Sunderland City Council 278,000 41,183 134,712 30.6%
England Yorkshire and Humber North East Lincolnshire Council 159,100 23,196 76,875 30.2%
England East Midlands Derby City Council 256,200 35,214 116,947 30.1%
England London City of London 9,400 1,180 3,936 30.0%
England London North London Waste Authority 2,024,400 252,431 853,716 29.6%
England Yorkshire and Humber Sheffield City Council 575,400 56,804 202,461 28.1%
England South East Southampton City Council 254,300 29,878 112,485 26.6%
England South East Brighton and Hove Council 289,200 28,082 108,727 25.8%
England South East Slough Borough Council 147,200 15,150 59,314 25.5%
England South East Portsmouth City Council 214,800 21,054 82,629 25.5%
England West Midlands Birmingham City Council 1,124,600 115,498 502,332 23.0%
England London East London Waste Authority 252,800 103,086 448,515 23.0%
England London Tower Hamlets LB 304,900 24,243 114,088 21.2%
England London Western Riverside Waste Authority 316,100 76,511 401,046 19.1%
England London Lewisham LB 301,900 21,591 130,048 16.6%
England London Westminster City Council 247,600 30,232 194,867 15.5%
Northern Ireland Antrim Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council 141,032 41,677 85,058 49.0%
Northern Ireland Armagh Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council 210,260 50,308 102,948 48.9%
Northern Ireland Tyrone Mid Ulster Council 145,389 37,058 77,561 47.8%
Northern Ireland Fermanagh Fermanagh & Omagh District Council 115,799 24,533 53,215 46.1%
Northern Ireland Antrim Mid & East Antrim Borough Council 137,821 33,589 75,541 44.5%
Northern Ireland Antrim Lisburn & Castlereagh 141,181 30,240 70,486 42.9%
Northern Ireland Down Ards & North Down Borough Council 159,593 41,405 99,766 41.5%
Northern Ireland Londonderry Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council 143,525 30,807 78,732 39.1%
Northern Ireland Armagh Newry, Mourne & Down District Council 177,816 30,844 82,243 37.5%
Northern Ireland Antrim Belfast City Council 339,579 60,684 169,740 35.8%
Northern Ireland Londonderry Derry City & Strabane District Council 150,142 24,747 70,902 34.9%
Scotland Dundee & Angus Angus Council 116,500 66,680 113,283 58.9%
Scotland Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley Inverclyde Council 79,200 123,545 212,981 58.0%
Scotland Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley East Renfrewshire 93,800 98,039 169,224 57.9%
Scotland The Highlands Moray Council 96,100 49,742 85,943 57.9%
Scotland Ayrshire & Arran North Ayrshire Council 135,900 81,923 142,762 57.4%
Scotland Loch Lomond, The Trossachs, Stirling & Forth Valley Stirling 93,800 54,178 95,920 56.5%
Scotland Outer Hebrides Na h-Eileanan Siar 26,900 112,158 200,606 55.9%
Scotland Perthshire Perth and Kinross 150,700 69,384 124,134 55.9%
Scotland The Kingdom of Fife Clackmannanshire 51,400 47,658 86,206 55.3%
Scotland Ayrshire & Arran East Ayrshire 122,200 52,890 95,722 55.3%
Scotland Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley East Dunbartonshire 107,500 59,712 109,319 54.6%
Scotland The Highlands Highland 234,800 256,680 470,066 54.6%
Scotland Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire Aberdeenshire 262,200 262,400 481,438 54.5%
Scotland The Kingdom of Fife Fife 370,300 159,147 292,292 54.4%
Scotland Loch Lomond, The Trossachs, Stirling & Forth Valley Falkirk 159,400 39,631 73,388 54.0%
Scotland Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire Aberdeen City 229,800 223,630 414,734 53.9%
Scotland Edinburgh & the Lothians West Lothian 180,100 87,403 163,398 53.5%
Scotland Ayrshire & Arran South Ayrshire 112,500 38,162 71,904 53.1%
Scotland Edinburgh & the Lothians East Lothian 104,100 31,206 59,525 52.4%
Scotland Edinburgh & the Lothians Midlothian 88,600 32,063 62,459 51.3%
Scotland Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley Glasgow City 615,100 503,114 983,228 51.2%
Scotland Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley South Lanarkshire 317,100 100,846 197,123 51.2%
Scotland Orkney Orkney Islands 21,900 24,687 48,480 50.9%
Scotland Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley West Dunbartonshire 89,900 32,772 65,352 50.1%
Scotland Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley Renfrewshire 175,900 70,373 141,081 49.9%
Scotland The Scottish Borders Scottish Borders 114,500 55,444 112,813 49.1%
Scotland Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley North Lanarkshire 339,400 131,246 273,699 48.0%
Scotland Edinburgh & the Lothians City of Edinburgh Council 507,200 91,176 208,452 43.7%
Scotland Argyll & The Isles Argyll and Bute Council 87,100 36,928 85,024 43.4%
Scotland Dundee & Angus Dundee City Council 148,300 36,601 91,497 40.0%
Scotland Dumfries & Galloway Dumfries and Galloway Council 149,500 45,922 118,237 38.8%
Scotland Shetland Shetland Islands Council 23,200 9,704 25,229 38.5%
Wales South East Monmouthshire County Counil 92,800 32,343 50,097 64.6%
Wales North West Denbighshire County Council 94,800 26,912 42,333 63.6%
Wales South East Caerphilly County Borough Council 180,500 64,923 102,756 63.2%
Wales South West Carmarthenshire County Council 185,600 49,364 78,540 62.9%
Wales South East Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council 59,800 20,271 32,366 62.6%
Wales Mid Wales Powys 132,200 42,758 68,882 62.1%
Wales South East Rhondda Cynon Taf 238,300 71,659 118,240 60.6%
Wales South East Vale of Glamorgan 128,500 34,552 58,621 58.9%
Wales North West Flintshire 154,400 50,021 85,456 58.5%
Wales South West Swansea 244,500 65,911 118,219 55.8%
Wales North East Wrexham 136,700 44,960 83,271 54.0%
Wales Mid Wales Ceredigion 74,100 18,384 35,203 52.2%
Wales Mid Wales Pembrokeshire 124,000 36,383 69,808 52.1%
Wales South East Cardiff 361,500 91,514 177,457 51.6%
Wales North West Gwynedd 123,600 37,538 73,259 51.2%
Wales South East Newport 149,100 36,355 71,453 50.9%
Wales North West Conwy 116,500 32,067 63,523 50.5%
Wales South West Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council 141,600 35,863 72,367 49.6%
Wales North West Isle of Anglesey County Council 69,700 19,889 40,268 49.4%
Wales South East Torfaen County Borough Council 92,100 21,495 44,637 48.2%
Wales South East Bridgend County Borough Council 143,200 33,119 74,568 44.4%
Wales South East Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council 69,600 13,518 30,853 43.8%

 

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