Recycling down – blame Covid

Why are the government hiding the fact that English local authorities now burn far more of your household waste than they recycle? A few weeks ago the government put out pages of statistics on the decline of recycling in 2020 and blamed Covid. Some journalists printed it, most ignored it, none looked at how it fitted a long term trend of recycling flat lining because incineration has increased.

Meanwhile, buried away on the much more tricky to find DEFRA page for local authority waste management statistics, you can find incineration on the 3rd dataset down and click table 2a. It shows that recycling dropped down to 44% of waste, while 48% is now incinerated.

Incineration has increased dramatically because there are so many more of these polluting towers being built. They are meant to only treat residual waste that cannot be recycled, but in many parts of the country that lie has been completely exposed.

As well as being local source of air pollution, these energy from waste incinerators have become a significant source of greenhouse gases in England. They are only marginally better than a managed landfill site and with coal being phased out, incineration has become the most carbon intensive source of electricity production. New incinerators, built today, will be pumping out greenhouse gases in 2050, when the rest of the country has gone net zero.

Incinerators make no sense, yet Labour councillors in 7 north London local authorities have committed to replacing the Edmonton Incinerator with a new one. Conservative and even, a Lib Dem council, have signed them off and blown any environmental credentials they might try to promote.

The only reason why recycling has not dropped further is because the amount we send to landfill has been steadily declining and the new incinerators have been feeding off this as their main source of material to burn. However, landfill is coming to an end and with more incinerators in the planning pipeline the only thing left to burn will soon be the material that currently goes to recycling. That is when recycling goes into a more rapid decline in local authorities throughout the country.

Please remember that low rates of recycling rarely have anything to do with local people not doing it. People will recycle if you make it convenient for them. It is purely down to how much local councillors care about their environment and anyone approving the building of a new incinerator, really doesn’t care that much.