Last reviewed 6 December 2021

Over 50% of residual waste sent to landfill or incinerators could be recycled, according to Defra.

The latest figures released by Defra, shows that in 2017 an estimated 53% of residual waste consisted of readily recyclable materials, with only 8% being unavoidable residual waste.

The data came from recent National Waste Composition studies undertaken by WRAP, which analyses the compositional breakdown of materials within residual and recycling waste from household and other sources.

Food waste represents the largest material category in England’s waste stream, with approximately 9.5 million tonnes generated in the UK in 2018, of which 70%, by weight, was made up of household food waste and 30% supply chain waste.

Garden waste represents the second largest material category, but most of this is recycled and only a small amount is treated as residual waste.

Of residual plastic waste, 25% consisted of readily recyclable plastics with a further 31% that has the potential to be recycled with technologies in development.

Paper collected for recycling has the highest “capture rate”, with an estimated 77% coming from kerbside collections. Plastic bottles have the highest capture rate (59%) at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs), which are also much more effective at recycling clothing, shoes, bags and belts.

For businesses, the proportion of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste that is recovered, rose from 92.2% in 2010 to 93.6% in 2018. The report also points out that the majority of packaging waste is recycled.

Paper and cardboard collectively constitute the most common packaging material, and most of this is recycled, but warns there has been significant growth in the amount of paper/board packaging placed on the market without a corresponding increase in the amount treated.

The amount of waste disposed of by landfill or incineration (with or without energy recovery) has also risen slightly in recent years, from a total of 29 million tonnes in 2018 to 30 million tonnes in 2019.

The data forms part of Defra’s latest Monitoring Progress Report, which sets out the framework of national indicators for tracking progress towards the government’s long-term target of zero avoidable waste by 2050. According to Defra, the latest data represents a significant opportunity to further decrease the amount of residual waste produced in England.