Councils ‘unlikely to hit ambitious recycling targets’

3 Jun 19

Local authorities are likely to miss recycling targets set out in the government’s waste disposal strategy, say academics.

English councils will have to recycle 50% of household waste by the end of 2020 and 65% by the end of 2035.

Government figures show recycling rates in England have risen from 11% in 2000-01 to about 45% by March 2018.

But academics, appearing before a select committee last month, said they believed these targets were too ambitious for many councils, which are unlikely to have the resources to meet them.

Nicky Gregson, professor at the University of Durham, told the housing, communities and local government committee: “I think the targets are extremely ambitious – it is laudable to be aiming for 65%, but the majority of councils are going to struggle to get anywhere near there.”

Gregson warned that there will be a “regional effect” on whether councils can meet these targets, with urban councils more likely to miss them.

Recycling rates tend to be lower where there are a higher number of flats. “There’s a strong relationship between type of housing and the recycling rate – the more urban the environment, the lower the recycling rate,” she told MPs.

Also appearing before the committee, Sherilyn MacGregor from the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester called for clarity.

“The strategy has very high aspirations, but I don’t see a very clear sense of how it will be paid for.”

Martin Tett, environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association, urged the government to “ensure that any changes to waste services, including consistent, standardised services and additional cost burdens on councils, will be fully funded”.

London boroughs are particularly worried about hitting environment secretary Michael Gove’s target.

A letter to Gove from umbrella group London Councils and London Environment Directors’ Network (LEDNet), seen by PF, claims that boroughs in the capital will be “significantly and unfairly disadvantaged”.

This is partly owing to smaller London homes lacking space for recycling.

Tim Mitchell, cabinet member for environment and city management at Westminster City Council and vice-chair of London Councils’ transport and environment committee, told PF: “We will contribute but we are unlikely to be able to reach the target.”

The consultation period for the government’s Waste and Resources Strategy ended on 13 May.

A Defra spokesperson said the government is “committed to recycling more” and that the strategy will help the country’s recycling “go further and faster”.

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