Wales has come second in the ranking of the world’s best recyclers of household waste. 

The country’s household recycling rates have soared in the past 20 years, from just under 5% to nearly 64% — and it’s well on course to be the best in the world by next year. 

The success is largely due to new government policies, and an ambition to be completely zero-waste by 2050. Wales is well on track to meet its target of 70% recycling by 2025. 

Only Germany, with its recycling rate of 66%, beat Wales in the league tables, compiled with new research from the environmental analysts Eunomia, with the European Environmental Bureau (EBB). 

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“We are always looking at how we can continue to improve,” said a spokesperson for the Welsh government. “Earlier this year, Cabinet secretary Lesley Griffiths announced her plans to halve food waste by 2050. We are confident this is achievable thanks to the enthusiasm that exists in Wales to recycle.” 

England, meanwhile, is languishing in 18th place — far behind most other European countries, and also behind South Korea, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. 

In fact, among European countries, only Poland, Northern Ireland, and France performed worse than England. 

Just a decade ago, England and Wales were fairly level with recycling rates at around 35%, but while Wales has improved dramatically, England has stalled at 43% — with hardly any improvement since 2010. 

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Shockingly, the English recycling rate actually fell for the first time since records began between 2014 and 2015, reported the Independent, and it only rose 0.6% between 2015 and 2016. 

“It’s great to see the ambition of the Welsh bearing fruit, with their recycling rates close to the top of the table,” said Dominic Hogg, chairman of Eunomia. “It’s embarrassing for England, which… is standing still in terms of performance and dropping in the rankings as others continue to progress.”

He added: “We know that the public is concerned about the growing problem of waste, especially the way plastics are dealt with.” 

All of the top 10 countries had recycling rates higher than 50% according to the research, which also highlighted the policies they have in common — which other countries, like England, can learn from. 

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Particularly successful policies highlighted by the research are: 

  • Mandatory separate collection of key dry recyclable materials. 
  • Mandatory separate collection of bio waste.
  • Pay-as-you-throw charges. 
  • Taxes on landfill. 
  • Deposit refund systems. 
  • Producer responsibility schemes, where producers fund the collection of key recyclables. 

So far, England has just two of these policies in place: a tax on landfill, and separate collection of dry recyclable materials, reported the Guardian

However, environment minister Michael Gove is considering further steps including a deposit refund system, where consumers pay a small amount more when buying a drink, which is then returned when they recycle their plastic bottle. 

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A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, said: “We are taking significant steps to tackle plastic waste including… a call for evidence around deposit reward and return schemes for plastic bottles.”

“We recognise there is more to do in this area,” they added, “and we will be working with industry experts to explore how we can further reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste.” 

The news comes after Greenpeace released a report this week examining how the Chinese decision to stop importing recycled plastic from other countries will impact the UK recycling system. 

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Britain currently sends around two-thirds of its used plastic to China — more than 2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong since 2012, according to Greenpeace’s analysis. 

China’s ban threatens to “tip Britain’s already stretched recycling sector into crisis,” it said. 

“A chronic shortage of capacity to recycle plastics in the UK collides with the near-total closure of the world’s biggest market for waste household plastics,” read the report. 

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Defend the Planet

Wales Is Second Best in the World at Recycling Household Waste

By Jana Sepehr  and  Imogen Calderwood