LGA – Clearer labelling and higher charges for hard to recycle products needed to help boost recycling rates

7 Nov 2019 09:47 AM

Clearer labelling on all products, increased charges for hard to recycle products and measures to force producers to pay the full cost of disposing of their waste are needed to help councils boost recycling rates and tackle a growing environmental crisis, the Local Government Association says today.

The LGA said councils have used successful initiatives to try and help increase recycling rates in their local areas, maintaining them at the current national rate of around 45 per cent in recent years, against a target of recycling at least 50 per cent of household waste by 2020.

It says recycling labels on packaging are often unclear and conflicting, resulting in many recyclables ending up in landfill and preventing manufacturers being able to use recyclable materials.

Research by one council alone shows that more than 40 per cent of household rubbish it sends to landfill could be recycled, but there are more than 20 different recycling labels in the UK that can appear on packaging. The LGA says that clearer labelling would make it easier for people to know what can be recycled and increase recycling rates.

The LGA is also calling for the next government to commit to measures to charge manufacturers more to cover the end of life costs to councils of packaging that is more difficult to recycle, which would encourage manufacturers to switch to recyclable alternatives.

The resulting revenue could be invested in waste collection and recycling services, and green initiatives such as recycling communication campaigns, greater enforcement of fly-tipping offences and more electric charging points.

Manufacturers also need to pay the full cost of recycling their packaging to incentivise them to use packaging that is fully and easily recyclable. The next government also needs to ensure councils are adequately funded so they can expand their services.

Cllr David Renard, LGA Environment spokesman, said:

“Councils want to increase recycling rates. Clearer labelling and increased charges for hard to recycle products would help councils, manufacturers and the public be part of a vital recycling revolution.

“Councils are doing all they can to improve recycling rates, which is why all councils in England collect paper and cans for recycling, and almost all councils collect plastic bottles, card and glass.

“If we are serious about improving recycling rates, then the next government needs to commit to reforms that ensure producers pay the full cost of recycling packaging. More importantly, manufacturers need to reduce waste at the point of source to stop unnecessary and unrecyclable material becoming an issue in the first place.”

Case studies

East Riding of Yorkshire Council has achieved the highest recycling rate of any council in the country for two years running – which has helped its waste and recycling team win a national award in September 2019. The council recycled, reused or composted 64.5 per cent of all household waste in 2017/18 – the national average was 44.8 per cent. The council also ran successful campaigns which increased the recycling of metal packaging in residents’ blue bins by 22 tonnes – and led to a 15 per cent rise in the amount of small electrical items being taken to household waste recycling sites. The council’s waste and recycling team was named the Best Service Team of the Year for Waste Management and Recycling at the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) Service Awards 2019.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council has secured £2.4 million in government funding to set up a seafront visitor centre dedicated to reducing plastic waste along the coast. The Environmental Innovation Hub, to be built on the site of a council waste transfer station, is to be partly created from plastic harvested from the ocean, along with recycled tropical hardwoods under early council plans. It is also set to feature interactive displays, with further interactive “touchpoints” along 10 miles of coastline. More than 1,300 tonnes of waste are removed from the beaches of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch every year. The council aims to encourage a change in behaviour among the seven million annual visitors to the area.

Lewes District Council reached an all-time high of its recycling rate 43 per cent in May this year. It achieved this by replacing its old system of boxes and bags with a single wheelie bin. This change was accompanied by a comprehensive communications campaign which has meant recycling contamination rates are typically as low as 1 per cent. Year on year, refuse collected in May was 150 tonnes less and kerbside recycling 44 tonnes more. The kerbside food waste collection service also increased from 77 tonnes to 98 tonnes over the same period.

Swindon Borough Council has become one of the first councils in the country to implement a compulsory recycling policy. The policy encourages households, who are struggling to recycle, to dispose of their waste responsibly with the support of dedicated Waste Wardens who provide helpful advice and support. Any households who continually refuse to recycle will have their collections suspended under Section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. To support the policy, the council produced a refreshed recycling guide and distributed it to more than 97,000 households. In April 2019 the council’s recycling rate was 38 per cent, but the latest figures from August show that the recycling rate has risen to 42 per cent. 

Hackney Council implemented 13 actions over 13 months since the 2018 London council elections as part of its war on plastic. These include producing a Sustainable Procurement Strategy, introducing more public water fountains and removing single-use plastic bottles from the Hackney Half Marathon – now the UK’s largest plastic bottle-free running event – which has prevented the use of 225,000 bottles in just one day. The council also helped to launch the Real Nappies Bill – which incentivises local authorities to provide reusable nappy vouchers and more information for parents - which has helped Hackney avoid 1,300 tonnes of disposable nappies in the borough and save families £1.5 million. It is also set to be the first local authority in England to install a reverse vending machine on an estate to encourage residents to recycle cans and plastic bottles.

Notes to editors

  1. Local authority collected waste management annual results
  2. In the UK, Recycle Now lists more than 20 different recycling labels that can appear on packaging. 
  3. A total of 41 per cent of rubbish that ends up in household dustbins could be recycled, according to a survey by Devon County Council.