Defra Report Reveals Pandemic’s Impact On Recycling Rates

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has released a progress report on recycling rates in England for 2020, which reveals the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, as recycling centres were forced to shut and reduce kerbside collections.

According to the report, recycling rates for ‘waste from households’ dropped by 1.5 per cent in 2020. It also makes the distinction between ‘waste from households’ and ‘municipal waste’, with the latter including street sweepings and material collected at household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs).

The report revealed that England missed its target to recycling 50 per cent of ‘waste from households’ by 2020, as the recycling rate in 2020 dropped to 44 per cent, versus 45.5 per cent in 2019.

This was equivalent to 399kg per person, up from 392kg per person in 2019, an increase of 1.8 per cent.

The total amount of ‘waste from households’ recycled decreased to 9.9 million tonnes in 2020, from 10.1 million tonnes in 2019, which Defra again ascribed to service disruptions caused by the pandemic.

There was a 5.1 per cent increase in the tonnage of residual waste treated, from 12 million tonnes in 2019 to 12.6 million tonnes in 2020, and residual waste accounted for 55.7 per cent of ‘waste from households’.

Despite the disruption the pandemic caused to kerbside collections, there were some large increases in the tonnage of materials recycled as lockdown saw people increase their consumption of food and drink at home rather than in hospitality venues, said Defra

Plastics increased by 26,000 tonnes, equivalent to 5.2 per cent, metals by 21,000 tonnes (8.4 per cent) and glass by 209,000 tonnes (17 per cent). Paper and card decreased by 5,000 (0.2 per cent).

However, the closure of HWRCs and charity shops in 2020 due to the lockdown restrictions means that recyclable materials usually collected at these sites could not be done, and the usual significant contribution to recycling tonnages was not made.

Defra said that the closures also had ‘a notable negative impact on recycling of WEEE and textiles’.

During the first national lockdown in 2020, from April to June, and when many HWRCs were closed, residual waste collected at the sites fell by 58 per cent, dry recycling by 65 per cent, and organics by 59 per cent, compared with the same period in 2019.

But Defra said that the 2020 non-hazardous construction and demolition waste target of 70 per cent recovery was achieved for 2018 when the recovery rate was 93.8 per cent. Data for 2019 and 2020 is not yet available.

In 2018, England generated 61.4 million tonnes of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste, of which 57.5 million tonnes was recovered.

Defra pointed to the forthcoming imposition of consistent collections of recyclables on local authorities, a deposit return scheme for drinks containers and extended producer responsibility for packaging as measures that would help to meet recycling targets.


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