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Last updated: 13 March 2024

Recycling Municipal Waste for a Greener UK

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.

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.

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.

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.

CountryRegionLocal authorityPopulationReused, recycled, composted (tonnes)Total waste generated (tonnes)Percentage of waste recycled
EnglandYorkshire and HumberEast Riding of Yorkshire Council337,700128,079192,79666.4%
EnglandEast MidlandsRutland County Council38,60012,61720,70760.9%
EnglandNorth WestCheshire West and Chester335,700103,903172,63860.2%
EnglandSouth WestNorth Somerset Council211,70063,868107,35759.5%
EnglandEasternCambridgeshire County Council651,900190,409329,55857.8%
EnglandNorth WestCheshire East376,700112,439197,19857.0%
EnglandSouth EastOxfordshire County Council683,200182,155319,72657.0%
EnglandSouth WestDorset Waste Partnership422,700124,313218,94256.8%
EnglandSouth WestBath and North East Somerset Council187,80049,71387,92256.5%
EnglandSouth EastSurrey County Council1,176,500319,528587,29954.4%
EnglandSouth WestDevon County Council779,800202,656375,73953.9%
EnglandWest MidlandsShropshire313,40086,890161,66753.7%
EnglandNorth WestWarrington Borough Council208,80052,43597,79553.6%
EnglandSouth EastWest Berkshire District Council156,80046,34186,50953.6%
EnglandWest MidlandsWarwickshire County Council556,800150,315283,11653.1%
EnglandSouth EastBuckinghamshire County Council534,700137,579265,63051.8%
EnglandSouth EastMilton Keynes Council264,50068,825133,93151.4%
EnglandEasternSuffolk County Council745,300202,118397,09350.9%
EnglandWest MidlandsStaffordshire County Council867,100224,847443,36650.7%
EnglandSouth WestSomerset County Council549,400137,720271,88450.7%
EnglandEasternHertfordshire County Council1,176,700267,986530,47750.5%
EnglandSouth WestBournemouth Borough Council197,70049,16598,78149.8%
EnglandSouth WestSouth Gloucestershire Council277,60062,270125,16749.7%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberCalderdale MBC209,80043,29087,60149.4%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberNorth Lincolnshire Council170,80045,98693,93549.0%
EnglandSouth EastIsle of Wight Council139,80034,95971,92048.6%
EnglandEasternEssex County Council1,455,300359,746740,21948.6%
EnglandEast MidlandsLeicestershire County Council683,000172,915361,26147.9%
EnglandLondonRoyal Borough of Kingston upon Thames176,10031,43265,81847.8%
EnglandNorth WestLancashire County Council1,198,800292,890615,66447.6%
EnglandSouth WestGloucestershire County Council623,100142,874301,09647.5%
EnglandSouth EastWindsor and Maidenhead Borough Council148,80033,05369,78747.4%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberKingston-upon-Hull City Council260,20058,956124,53847.3%
EnglandWest MidlandsTelford and Wrekin Council173,00041,22587,09647.3%
EnglandEast MidlandsLincolnshire County Council743,400170,288359,99047.3%
EnglandEast MidlandsNorthamptonshire County Council733,100170,858361,97247.2%
EnglandLondonBexley LB244,80057,133121,29947.1%
EnglandEasternSouthend-on-Sea Borough Council179,80036,45577,50947.0%
EnglandEasternCentral Bedfordshire278,90056,157119,71946.9%
EnglandSouth EastMedway Borough Council278,50060,094128,99046.6%
EnglandSouth EastKent County Council1,541,900331,433717,36346.2%
EnglandEast MidlandsDerbyshire County Council785,800184,445399,51746.2%
EnglandWest MidlandsSolihull MBC211,80044,69197,78345.7%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberDoncaster MBC306,40072,382158,50745.7%
EnglandSouth WestPoole Borough Council151,50036,40479,82045.6%
EnglandNorth WestCumbria County Council497,900124,133272,50045.6%
EnglandNorth WestWigan MBC323,10065,890144,75745.5%
EnglandSouth WestBristol City Council454,20082,845182,20145.5%
EnglandEasternNorfolk County Council892,900189,284416,30445.5%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberBarnsley MBC241,20049,862110,90145.0%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberNorth Yorkshire County Council604,900148,288330,55644.9%
EnglandSouth EastWest Sussex County Council843,800198,046447,28844.3%
EnglandEast MidlandsLeicester City Council348,30056,368128,55243.8%
EnglandNorth WestGreater Manchester WDA (MBC)2,782,100478,4161,100,93643.5%
EnglandSouth EastEast Sussex County Council547,800112,288260,03843.2%
EnglandNorth WestHalton Borough Council126,90025,77459,90443.0%
EnglandNorth WestMerseyside WDA (MBC)1,406,400308,484717,78343.0%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberRotherham MBC261,90051,364119,70342.9%
EnglandWest MidlandsWorcestershire County Council583,100131,098305,80842.9%
EnglandEast MidlandsNottinghamshire County Council810,700178,409416,59142.8%
EnglandWest MidlandsHerefordshire Council1,176,70037,45088,00442.6%
EnglandEasternPeterborough City Council197,10036,80686,62942.5%
EnglandNorth WestBlackpool Borough Council139,20030,68872,34242.4%
EnglandSouth EastWokingham Council161,90032,86679,24841.5%
EnglandSouth WestTorbay Council133,90027,95267,55141.4%
EnglandNorth EastCounty Durham522,100101,689247,47841.1%
EnglandSouth WestSwindon Borough Council217,90041,646101,38641.1%
EnglandLondonCroydon LB382,30068,857167,91441.0%
EnglandSouth WestWiltshire488,400100,967246,43841.0%
EnglandWest MidlandsWalsall MBC278,70049,685121,56740.9%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberYork City Council208,40040,62899,76540.7%
EnglandSouth EastHampshire County Council1,360,400267,129658,27040.6%
EnglandSouth EastBracknell Forest Borough Council119,40021,76654,10240.2%
EnglandNorth EastSouth Tyneside MBC149,40031,91279,72940.0%
EnglandEasternThurrock Council167,00031,32778,76239.8%
EnglandNorth EastNorthumberland316,00064,538163,55139.5%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberBradford City MDC (MBC)534,30091,879233,26239.4%
EnglandLondonBromley LB326,90057,247146,23739.1%
EnglandWest MidlandsSandwell MBC322,70055,301142,14738.9%
EnglandNorth EastDarlington Borough Council105,60022,94760,22138.1%
EnglandNorth EastNorth Tyneside Council203,30039,898105,28437.9%
EnglandNorth EastRedcar and Cleveland Borough Council135,40026,68471,00037.6%
EnglandWest MidlandsWolverhampton MBC256,60046,775125,76037.2%
EnglandWest MidlandsDudley MBC317,60051,752139,30737.1%
EnglandSouth WestPlymouth City Council264,20045,562123,84636.8%
EnglandNorth EastMiddlesbrough Borough Council140,40026,17171,36036.7%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberLeeds City Council MBC781,700121,256331,04336.6%
EnglandLondonGreenwich LB279,80040,633113,32535.9%
EnglandNorth EastHartlepool Borough Council92,80016,75346,91335.7%
EnglandLondonSouthwark LB313,20042,587120,50435.3%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberWakefield City MDC336,80059,765169,44235.3%
EnglandLondonWest London Waste Authority1,689,700229,987654,19035.2%
EnglandLondonSutton LB202,20029,34384,10134.9%
EnglandLondonMerton LB205,00029,58984,97634.8%
EnglandNorth EastStockton-on-Tees Borough Council195,70035,431102,60934.5%
EnglandSouth WestCornwall553,70090,026263,28834.2%
EnglandNorth EastNewcastle-upon-Tyne City Council MBC296,50048,363141,72434.1%
EnglandWest MidlandsStoke-on-Trent City Council253,20043,082126,52734.0%
EnglandNorth EastGateshead MBC201,60031,82595,44033.3%
EnglandEasternLuton Borough Council216,80031,11394,21633.0%
EnglandNorth WestBlackburn with Darwen Borough Council147,00021,59865,58832.9%
EnglandSouth WestCouncil of the Isles of Scilly2,3006532,00332.6%
EnglandSouth EastReading Borough Council162,70023,67873,85532.1%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberKirklees MBC437,00066,009208,13631.7%
EnglandEast MidlandsNottingham City Council325,30050,349162,70030.9%
EnglandWest MidlandsCoventry City Council352,90050,727164,38030.9%
EnglandNorth EastSunderland City Council278,00041,183134,71230.6%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberNorth East Lincolnshire Council159,10023,19676,87530.2%
EnglandEast MidlandsDerby City Council256,20035,214116,94730.1%
EnglandLondonCity of London9,4001,1803,93630.0%
EnglandLondonNorth London Waste Authority2,024,400252,431853,71629.6%
EnglandYorkshire and HumberSheffield City Council575,40056,804202,46128.1%
EnglandSouth EastSouthampton City Council254,30029,878112,48526.6%
EnglandSouth EastBrighton and Hove Council289,20028,082108,72725.8%
EnglandSouth EastSlough Borough Council147,20015,15059,31425.5%
EnglandSouth EastPortsmouth City Council214,80021,05482,62925.5%
EnglandWest MidlandsBirmingham City Council1,124,600115,498502,33223.0%
EnglandLondonEast London Waste Authority252,800103,086448,51523.0%
EnglandLondonTower Hamlets LB304,90024,243114,08821.2%
EnglandLondonWestern Riverside Waste Authority316,10076,511401,04619.1%
EnglandLondonLewisham LB301,90021,591130,04816.6%
EnglandLondonWestminster City Council247,60030,232194,86715.5%
Northern IrelandAntrimAntrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council141,03241,67785,05849.0%
Northern IrelandArmaghArmagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council210,26050,308102,94848.9%
Northern IrelandTyroneMid Ulster Council145,38937,05877,56147.8%
Northern IrelandFermanaghFermanagh & Omagh District Council115,79924,53353,21546.1%
Northern IrelandAntrimMid & East Antrim Borough Council137,82133,58975,54144.5%
Northern IrelandAntrimLisburn & Castlereagh141,18130,24070,48642.9%
Northern IrelandDownArds & North Down Borough Council159,59341,40599,76641.5%
Northern IrelandLondonderryCauseway Coast & Glens Borough Council143,52530,80778,73239.1%
Northern IrelandArmaghNewry, Mourne & Down District Council177,81630,84482,24337.5%
Northern IrelandAntrimBelfast City Council339,57960,684169,74035.8%
Northern IrelandLondonderryDerry City & Strabane District Council150,14224,74770,90234.9%
ScotlandDundee & AngusAngus Council116,50066,680113,28358.9%
ScotlandGreater Glasgow & The Clyde ValleyInverclyde Council79,200123,545212,98158.0%
ScotlandGreater Glasgow & The Clyde ValleyEast Renfrewshire93,80098,039169,22457.9%
ScotlandThe HighlandsMoray Council96,10049,74285,94357.9%
ScotlandAyrshire & ArranNorth Ayrshire Council135,90081,923142,76257.4%
ScotlandLoch Lomond, The Trossachs, Stirling & Forth ValleyStirling93,80054,17895,92056.5%
ScotlandOuter HebridesNa h-Eileanan Siar26,900112,158200,60655.9%
ScotlandPerthshirePerth and Kinross150,70069,384124,13455.9%
ScotlandThe Kingdom of FifeClackmannanshire51,40047,65886,20655.3%
ScotlandAyrshire & ArranEast Ayrshire122,20052,89095,72255.3%
ScotlandGreater Glasgow & The Clyde ValleyEast Dunbartonshire107,50059,712109,31954.6%
ScotlandThe HighlandsHighland234,800256,680470,06654.6%
ScotlandAberdeen & AberdeenshireAberdeenshire262,200262,400481,43854.5%
ScotlandThe Kingdom of FifeFife370,300159,147292,29254.4%
ScotlandLoch Lomond, The Trossachs, Stirling & Forth ValleyFalkirk159,40039,63173,38854.0%
ScotlandAberdeen & AberdeenshireAberdeen City229,800223,630414,73453.9%
ScotlandEdinburgh & the LothiansWest Lothian180,10087,403163,39853.5%
ScotlandAyrshire & ArranSouth Ayrshire112,50038,16271,90453.1%
ScotlandEdinburgh & the LothiansEast Lothian104,10031,20659,52552.4%
ScotlandEdinburgh & the LothiansMidlothian88,60032,06362,45951.3%
ScotlandGreater Glasgow & The Clyde ValleyGlasgow City615,100503,114983,22851.2%
ScotlandGreater Glasgow & The Clyde ValleySouth Lanarkshire317,100100,846197,12351.2%
ScotlandOrkneyOrkney Islands21,90024,68748,48050.9%
ScotlandGreater Glasgow & The Clyde ValleyWest Dunbartonshire89,90032,77265,35250.1%
ScotlandGreater Glasgow & The Clyde ValleyRenfrewshire175,90070,373141,08149.9%
ScotlandThe Scottish BordersScottish Borders114,50055,444112,81349.1%
ScotlandGreater Glasgow & The Clyde ValleyNorth Lanarkshire339,400131,246273,69948.0%
ScotlandEdinburgh & the LothiansCity of Edinburgh Council507,20091,176208,45243.7%
ScotlandArgyll & The IslesArgyll and Bute Council87,10036,92885,02443.4%
ScotlandDundee & AngusDundee City Council148,30036,60191,49740.0%
ScotlandDumfries & GallowayDumfries and Galloway Council149,50045,922118,23738.8%
ScotlandShetlandShetland Islands Council23,2009,70425,22938.5%
WalesSouth EastMonmouthshire County Counil92,80032,34350,09764.6%
WalesNorth WestDenbighshire County Council94,80026,91242,33363.6%
WalesSouth EastCaerphilly County Borough Council180,50064,923102,75663.2%
WalesSouth WestCarmarthenshire County Council185,60049,36478,54062.9%
WalesSouth EastMerthyr Tydfil County Borough Council59,80020,27132,36662.6%
WalesMid WalesPowys132,20042,75868,88262.1%
WalesSouth EastRhondda Cynon Taf238,30071,659118,24060.6%
WalesSouth EastVale of Glamorgan128,50034,55258,62158.9%
WalesNorth WestFlintshire154,40050,02185,45658.5%
WalesSouth WestSwansea244,50065,911118,21955.8%
WalesNorth EastWrexham136,70044,96083,27154.0%
WalesMid WalesCeredigion74,10018,38435,20352.2%
WalesMid WalesPembrokeshire124,00036,38369,80852.1%
WalesSouth EastCardiff361,50091,514177,45751.6%
WalesNorth WestGwynedd123,60037,53873,25951.2%
WalesSouth EastNewport149,10036,35571,45350.9%
WalesNorth WestConwy116,50032,06763,52350.5%
WalesSouth WestNeath Port Talbot County Borough Council141,60035,86372,36749.6%
WalesNorth WestIsle of Anglesey County Council69,70019,88940,26849.4%
WalesSouth EastTorfaen County Borough Council92,10021,49544,63748.2%
WalesSouth EastBridgend County Borough Council143,20033,11974,56844.4%
WalesSouth EastBlaenau Gwent County Borough Council69,60013,51830,85343.8%


Attila Tamas Vekony
Written by Attila Tamas Vekony, Former Writer

Attila was the Front-End Developer at GreenMatch. He holds a degree in international marketing and has several years of experience in web development and user experience. Attila likes to write about solar energy, heating technology, environmental protection, and sustainability. His and his team’s articles appeared in well-known sites such as The Conversation, Earth911, EcoWatch, and Gizmodo.

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