Last reviewed 13 January 2022

Recycling rates for England’s household waste fell in 2020 because of pressure on the system from the Covid pandemic. But construction and demolition waste recovery are improving, according to latest data published by Defra.

England’s recycling rate fell to 44% in 2020, down from 45.5% in 2019 and still well below the 50% target for “waste from households” set out originally in the EU 2008 Waste Framework Directive. By contrast, Wales is on course to reach 70% municipal waste recycling by 2025, according to the Government.

Defra claims the impact of the Covid pandemic is largely to blame for the fall in recycling rates, arguing that lockdown measures and working from home increased household waste at a time when some household waste recycling centres (HWRC) were closed.

Overall, the total amount of waste generated by English households rose by half a million tonnes, from 22.1 million tonnes in 2019 to 22.6 million tonnes in 2020. Alongside this, the total amount of recycled “waste from households” decreased by 1.2%.

According to Defra, recyclables collected at HWRCs make a significant contribution to overall recycling tonnages from households and temporary closures of some sites. This meant organics and dry recycling collected at HWRCs were around 0.8 million tonnes lower in 2020. The closures also had “a notable negative impact on recycling of WEEE and textiles”, Defra said.

In contrast, recovery rates of construction and demolition waste has shown some improvement and surpassed targets. In 2018 (the most recent data year available), England generated 61.4 million tonnes of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste, of which 57.5 million tonnes was recovered. This represents a recovery rate of 93.8% — significantly higher than the 70% target.

In terms of improving recycling overall, the Government is pinning its hopes on the Waste and Resources Strategy and the introduction of a more consistent set of recyclable material for collection, funded by industry through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging, which the Government estimates will raise between £0.5bn–£1bn a year for recycling and disposal.