Just what happened to the ‘Greenest government ever’?
The latest government statistics for the recycling of waste managed by local authorities show that the UK is in danger of missing its 50% target set for the year 2020.
While the figures show a slight rise in the rate of recycled household waste, they have remained in the low forties for the entirety of the 2010-2015 coalition government, despite Prime Minister David Cameron declaring in May 2010 that we would see ‘the greenest government ever’, a nationwide waste and recycling company says.
The Big Green company, which specialises in commercial waste management on an environmentally and sustainable basis, says that much has gone wrong in the last five years, and blames ‘Green Fatigue’ in national and local government, which has been reflected in public attitudes to recycling.
“It’s clear that the coalition gave up on green policies the moment they realised the way the political wind was blowing,” says BigGreen.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall.
“The appointment of climate change-sceptic ministers in the second half of the government showed that they thought green policies were a vote loser. They might even have thought that the average voter didn’t care about the environment and recycling, and we think the UK is worse off for that.”
Statistics for the year ending September 2014, released by DEFRA and National Statistics show:
• The rate of recycled waste from households, year-ending Sept 2014 was 45.0%
• The figure for year-ending Sept 2013 was 43.9%
• British households produced 4% more waste in 2014 compared to 2013
• Between Sept 2011 and Sept 2014, the amount of household waste sent to recycling rose by only 268,000 tonnes from 22,085,000 to 22,353,000 tonnes
• The only recycling sector to have significantly increased between 2011-2014 is food waste, which rose by about 50% to only 294,000 tonnes
• Between 2012 and the beginning of 2014, household recycling rates actually declined
BigGreen.co.uk says there are a number of factors which explain why household and business recycling rates have effectively stalled in the last five years.
“The first of these is simple,” says BigGreen.co.uk ‘s Mark Hall, “It’s government-driven austerity.”
Hall says that reduced budgets for local authorities have meant that there is less to spend on everyday services such as refuse collection, and councils would rather concentrate on their statutory requirement to collect waste before embarking on the expense of recycling projects.
“This explains why some councils underperformed so badly,” says Hall, “They’re busy playing catch-up after posting recycling rates of less than 25%.”
With no uniform standard for the collection of waste for recycling in England and Wales, it’s little surprise that there are vast variations up and down the country. It’s when you go north of the border to Scotland, where commercial collections are governed by law, and domestic recycling is openly encouraged, that you see far higher recycling rates.
“While England and Wales are struggling to hit that 50% recycling target by 2020, Scotland’s assembly is already talking about being a 100% recycled economy,” Hall says.
BigGreen.co.uk thinks that the UK government’s case of ‘Green Fatigue’ is rubbing off on the public at large, with increasing numbers choosing to believe climate sceptics, and thinking that recycling is a “big con”.
“Climate sceptics are wrong, a view backed by 100% of climate change scientists,” says Big Green, “And recycling isn’t simply about stopping climate change anyway.
“Recycling makes financial sense for the UK as a whole. It’s cheaper than mining and constantly manufacturing new materials, and far, far better than burying waste or sending it for incineration.”
With the myth that recycling doesn’t benefit the everyday life of the average man on the street in England and Wales well-and-truly busted, Big Green asks why we don’t all recycle as much as possible.
“Every bottle or tin you recycle becomes another bottle or tin eventually”, says Hall. “It’s not a waste of time or money, it’s actually saving British companies millions of pounds and creating jobs every year.”
“As our American friends say: Get with the programme. It’s a great programme.”