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Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM)

106-109 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QS  
Tel: 020 7831 3110   Fax: 020 7405 4967



This Policy Position Statement reviews the importance of recycling in modern integrated waste management and treatment.  CIWEM supports action to advance, promote and enhance recycling and its performance, and identifies key actions for policy-makers. The political, regulatory, technical and practical aspects are discussed in their broadest sense in the overall context of recycling developments within the UK.

CIWEM calls for:

  1. All government institutions to consider recycling in all aspects of their work.
  2. Waste management organisations to promote good practice in recycling.
  3. Efforts to improve the effectiveness of poorly-performing kerbside collection schemes.
  4. Action to improve the quality and diversity of materials collected for recycling while protecting against cross-contamination.
  5. Ongoing emphasis, through a national campaign, on public education and awareness to encourage householders to minimise, sort and store their waste for optimal kerbside recycling.
  6. A risk-based approach to be applied in identifying and tackling opportunities in recycling.
  7. The formal encouragement of "green procurement" policies within central and local government to assist in establishing a stable, secure market for recycled and recovered products.
  8. Consideration of methods to incentivise recycling and materials recovery.
  9. Action to improve the knowledge base for making policy decisions about recycling.
  10. Full consideration of the energy balance of recycling, with greater emphasis placed upon the importance of waste minimisation and reuse in accordance with the waste hierarchy.


Approximately 100 million tonnes of waste from households, commerce and industry are produced annually in the UK. Municipal waste represents approximately 30% of this total and is experiencing an annual growth rate of 3%, which will result in almost double the current amount of waste arisings by the year 2020. Most of this waste is currently landfilled, which is not only a wasted opportunity to recover value but results in the production of greenhouse gases and is an unsustainable practice. To address this issue the UK has agreed with its European partners tough targets to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill through the Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC). This Directive, incorporated into UK Law under the Landfill Regulations 2002  and enforced in England under the Waste Emissions Trading Act 2003, sets strict targets for landfilling of Biodegradable Municipal Waste (BMW):

  • By 2010 to reduce BMW to 75% (by weight) of that produced in 1995
  • By 2013 to reduce BMW to 50% (by weight) of that produced in 1995
  • By 2020 to reduce BMW to 35% (by weight) of that produced in 1995

In meeting these targets, focus must be on recovering value from waste and reducing environmental impacts, which means not only putting waste materials to better use, but also tackling growth in waste. In its Waste Strategy 2000 the Government set the following national targets to increase the recycling of household waste.

  • To recycle or compost at least 25% of household waste by 2005
  • To recycle or compost at least 30% of household waste by 2010
  • To recycle or compost at least 33% of household waste by 2015

Local authorities are responsible for delivering these targets as they have the obligation to collect and dispose of municipal waste.

The challenge facing the waste industry is to develop future waste management facilities that meet the UK and European targets while minimising exposure to rising costs. Solutions also need to be flexible to change in response to future developments in legislation and variation in consumer behaviour.

Key Issues

Recycling is important

Since the publication of the Waste Strategy 2000 and the Strategy Unit Report Waste Not Want Not in 2002, the Government has implemented several of the identified drivers for achieving its vision, which includes:

  • The establishment of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), to overcome market barriers to re-use and recycling and to enhance the market for secondary materials;
  • Increasing (in 2005/06) the Landfill Tax escalator from £1 per tonne to £3 per tonne up to a maximum long-term rate of £35 per tonne, bringing it in line with the rest of Europe;
  • A reform of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme to support sustainable waste management activities, particularly re-use and recycling through diversion of £84/92/92 million to be redirected to a new Sustainable Waste Management Programme in England in 2003/04, 2004/05, 2005/06 respectively;
  • Introduction of tradable permits for local authorities to restrict the amount of biodegradable municipal waste landfilled through the Waste Emissions Trading Act (December 2003).
  • Bringing regulatory controls on all landfill sites under an integrated system of controls, under the Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations (July 2001).
  • Distribution of Government funding to local authorities via the Waste Minimisation and Recycling Fund, which will see £135m provided to local authorities (with £90m available in 2004/05 and £45m in 2005/06i ).

It was estimated in Waste Not Want Not that waste growth could be slowed from 3% to 2% per annum; recycling would be boosted raising national rates to 45% by 2015; significant amounts of waste would be diverted from landfill; and there would be increased choice from industry, local authorities and households over how waste is to be managed. The Waste Implementation Programme (WIP) responds to the package of strategic measures recommended in Waste Not Want Not in order to assist the UK in meeting the legally binding targets under Article 5 of the Landfill Directive.  This £174m three-year programme aims to move waste treatment up the waste hierarchy, above landfill.

Recycling is legislated

Two key pieces of legislation are the Waste Emissions and Trading (WET) Act 2003 and the Household Waste Recycling (HWR) Act 2003. The WET Act aims to address two major environmental challenges - climate change and sustainable waste management. This will therefore  assist the UK in delivering on its commitments for both the Kyoto Protocol and the Landfill Directive. It takes an innovative approach, using economic instruments to deliver economically optimal solutions. The WET Act provides the legislative framework for trading schemes that aim to allow the required reductions to be made in the most cost effective way, whether in BMW going to landfill or in emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The HWR Act will require all Waste Collection Authorities in England to collect at least two recyclable materials separate from the remainder of the waste by 2010.  Both Acts will impact upon how local authorities deliver their recycling programmes in order to meet the Government and EU targetsii.

A range of producer responsibility tools have been introduced to implement various EC Directives, including the EC Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and End of Life Vehicles (ELV) Directives.  Central to producer responsibility is the encouragement of higher rates of recycling.  Under the Packaging Waste Directive, producers are set recycling and recovery targets each year in line with European targets, which require an overall recovery rate of 60% by 2008, 95% of which must be achieved by recycling.

Recycling implementation is increasing

The amount of recycled material collected in England through kerbside schemes rose from 1.3 million tonnes in 2002/03 to 1.9 million tonnes in 2003/04.  Recycling of household waste increased from 7.5% in 1996/97 to 22.7% in 2004/05.

It is anticipated that kerbside collection costs will increase significantly as segregation of recyclables at source begins to take effect. In general the following criteria are suggested for consideration in approaching the collection of recyclables:

  • Promotion of user responsibility through pre-sorting of materials;
  • Provision of an operationally effective and efficient system;
  • Provision of flexibility to changes in demand and circumstances;
  • Affordability in terms of collection and processing.

Although local authorities are now bound to collect recyclable materials separately, studies on household recycling behaviour indicate that residents feel there is not enough space in which to store receptacles for recycling, which can result in reduced effectiveness of recycling schemes. There will therefore need to  be an increasing emphasis on education and awareness programmes to obtain support and commitment from the householder if progress toward meeting the challenging targets for recycling is to be achieved.  New approaches to be considered may involve higher levels of direct marketing using recycling advisors to provide advice on householders' doorsteps, and helplines.  The ease with which people may be able to store seggregated waste should also be a consideration when designing new dwellings, in particular high-density, multi-occupancy buildings.

Recycling potential

Defra 1 sets out the following characteristics of current household waste composition and recycling potential:

  • Households in England produce 25 million tonnes of waste every year, over half of which is garden waste, waste paper and board, and kitchen waste.
  • Household waste consists of: Garden Waste 20%, Scrap metal/White goods 5%, Wood 5%, Dense plastic 4%, Plastic film 4%, Textiles 3%, Metal packaging 3%, Nappies 2%, Soil 3%, Paper and Board 18%, Kitchen Waste 17%, General Household Sweepings 9% and Glass 7%
  • Around 20% of food purchased in supermarkets ends up in the bin, on average £424 of wasted food each year.
  • Over 40 per cent of household waste is retail packaging, totalling 4.5 million tonnes.

Depending on the level of public participation in segregating recyclable materials at source (e.g. through box schemes), the total proportion that could be recycled is between 32% of the total waste weight (assuming 55% public participation in segregation) and 60% (assuming 100% public participation).

If centralised facilities are used to separate just the main biodegradable waste using a brown bin service (i.e. paper, cardboard and organics) then the recycling proportion is between 59% (with 55% public participation in other recyclables) and 68% (with 100% public participation in other recyclables).

The obvious alternative competitor to source separation is using a recycling bin and a materials recycling facility (MRF). Depending upon appropriate public participation, levels of comtamination and facility type, this option can result in poorer quality biodegradable product resulting from the processing of mixed waste and higher cross-contamination in dry recyclable materials. However with appropriate pre-biotreatment segregation, the quality of the final output from the process can closely approach the one from separately collected materials.


CIWEM recognises the importance of recycling in enabling the UK to meet its targets for diversion of BMW under the Landfill Directive and for local authorities to meet Government targets for recycling and composting. It also recognises the wider contribution of recycling to sustainable management of waste.

In this context it supports the efforts of all stakeholders in the waste industry to promote sustainable management of waste in accordance with the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle.  Whilst recycling is a positive contribution to sustainable waste management, careful consideration must be given to the overall energy balance of the process and recycling should not be undertaken purely for recycling's sake.  It is important that transportation of materials for recycling, for example, is minimised.  It is also important to recognise that recycling is an 'end of pipe' solution - the most desirable solution should be minimisation of waste at source by producers and this should be encouraged accordingly.

Overall the data suggests that recycling and composting of municipal waste in England increased in 2003/04 by five percentage points to nearly 23%. However, a high rate of kerbside collection in England has not yielded similarly high weights of recyclable materials collected - probably due to low public participation. So there is much room for improvement of the many poorly-performing kerbside services, with the use of appropriate incentive and education schemes which, due to the scale and commonality of the issue, may best be led by a national campaign.

Above and beyond the installation of recycling collection arrangements and waste treatment technologies, it is probable that significant expenditure will be needed (both locally and nationally) to tackle the social and behavioral issues associated with increasing recycling levels (particularly in inner cities).  As yet, this is an area of work where limited research has been conducted.

The long term contracts assigned by local authorities for recycling and waste operators to provide separate kerbside collection services depend on household behaviour and result in an unpredictable tonnage of materials collected. These contracts will only be renewed and justified if the costs of kerbside recycling services are able to meet similar and stable recovery targets to MRFs. In order to improve and maintain high materials recovery targets in kerbside services, so they are comparable to MRFs, it is necessary to use various incentive and education schemes targeting the communities served. As in many other aspects of daily activities, society in the UK can be effectively educated in modern waste and resource management, using incentives as one of the common tools in promotional marketing.

Should these approaches take longer to deliver than anticipated (i.e. achieving an immediate uplift in recycling rates) further steps, such as moving to alternate weekly collection arrangements and the use of direction upon householders, may have to be considered. The UK Government will face significant fines from the EU for non-compliance with the Landfill Directive unless significant progress is made in improving rates of recycling.  With this in mind, the development and administration of high quality recycling services is likely to prove a cost effective option.


i) A variation on this approach exists for Northern Ireland whereby the DOE(NI) provides an annual grant for local authorities to spend on capital and/or revenue waste management systems and infrastructure.  This is in place of WIP, although this situation may be changing.
ii) The HWR has not been legislated for in Northern Ireland. The forthcoming review of the Northern Ireland Waste Strategy, due to start in September, may consider this matter further.


1.  Defra, New Figures Reveal Surge in Recycling - News Release 14 September 2005

February 2006

Note: CIWEM Policy Position Statements (PPS) represents the Institution's views on issues at a particular point in time.  It is accepted that situations change as research provides new evidence.  It should be understood, therefore, that CIWEM PPS's are under constant review, that previously held views may alter and lead to revised PPS's.


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Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM)

106-109 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QS  
Tel: 020 7831 3110   Fax: 020 7405 4967