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Rochford District Council’s remarkable recycling rates

17th September 2013 Posted by

According to performance data collected by Letsrecycle.com (30 August 2013), Rochford District Council should anticipate top position in the English household waste recycling league for 2012/13 – a contract operated by SITA UK. The Council is expected to achieve a recycling and composting rate of 66.78 per cent, down from 67.4 per cent in 2011/12.

Despite complaints from some quarters that the UK’s recycling performance lacks ambition, one should not gainsay our achievement in going from single-digit recycling in 1999/2000 to around 45 per cent today, doing in a dozen years what high recyclers in Northern Europe have taken 25 years to attain. Against this background, Rochford’s performance over the past two years is all the more remarkable.

Letsrecycle.com’s article prompts a few observations. Firstly, depicting a fall of around two per cent in the recycling performance of Rochford and a few other high-achieving Councils as a “slump” is rather bizarre, but is nevertheless indicative of how expectations have changed in recent years. Once high recycling rates have been reached, householders and commentators expect them to be held, if not increased. Falling recycling rates suggest that the hard work householders have put into separating their waste has not been reciprocated by the council, and committed recyclers could fall away.

Secondly, the extent to which green waste collections contribute to overall recycling performance is striking. For Rochford, dry recycling (paper, plastics, etc) totals 29 per cent while composting contributes 38 per cent to the overall rounded-up performance of 67 per cent. Another case is Three Rivers – 20 per cent dry recycling and 42 per cent composting to total 62 per cent. Rural councils would appear to have an advantage over their urban colleagues – London, for example – when it comes to hitting high household recycling rates. With the large majority of the nation’s population located in urban settings, a few high-achieving rural and semi-rural councils will be insufficient to enable the UK to achieve a recycling rate similar to Rochford’s.

Thirdly, a number of high-achieving councils are reporting that their recycling schemes are flat-lining, making further increases more challenging. It is far harder raising recycling from 45 per cent to 70 per cent (the target in Scotland and Wales) than to go from 10 per cent to 45 per cent. A far more disciplined, consistent approach to waste collection is called for if these high targets are to be achieved – and maintained.

Finally, the experience of Rochford provides important evidence supporting a particular feature of its waste collection system – co-mingled collection of dry recyclates can work! Defra’s defense of this system in judicial review is justified.

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