English Local Authority Recycling Limited to 60%

28th November 2013

The Fifth Issue of Eunomia’s Residual Waste Infrastructure Review, published today, shows that residual waste treatment facilities already in the pipeline could limit the rate of recycling in 2020 for local authority collected (LAC) wastes in England to no more than 60%.

This is on the conservative assumption that only the 2 million tonnes per annum (tpa) of residual waste treatment capacity commissioned by local authorities that has reached at least ‘preferred bidder’ status reaches financial close. The finding is in stark contrast to the potential recycling rates for LAC waste in the devolved administrations, which the report shows could reach 82% in Scotland and 79% in Wales.

Adam Baddeley, the report’s lead author said:

“It’s worrying that we are already in danger of limiting how far we can go with recycling in England. If we genuinely aspire to develop a circular economy, then we must shift the focus of investment away from residual waste towards options further up the hierarchy.”

Eunomia’s Review also shows that, whilst Scotland and Wales have previously received criticism for not moving forward sufficiently quickly with new residual treatment capacity, this might now prove to have been a wise approach. Had they moved further and faster, they could have faced greater difficulties in meeting their policy objectives in terms of recycling and waste prevention, which are more ambitious than those that exist in England.


LA Constraint


The headline results show that local authorities have reached preferred bidder status for around 3 million tonnes per annum (tpa) of contracted capacity. As shown in Figure 1, this will add to the existing 8.3 million tpa of contracted LAC capacity already operational or under construction. Assuming the 0.5% per annum LAC waste growth modelled by Eunomia, this limits future additional recycling (or composting/AD) to the remaining tonnage of residual waste of 4.6 million tpa, i.e. a potential further 17.6% recycling to add to the existing 42.4% achieved in 2012-13.

Baddeley added:

“The residual waste treatment plants we have built, and are building, will be with us for many years to come. Rather than making production and consumption sustainable, we are putting in place infrastructure that needs existing consumption patterns to continue in order to sustain it.”

The report is based on local authorities’ annual WasteDataFlow returns to Defra, and Eunomia’s Facilities Database, which holds information on all residual treatment facilities in the UK (both operating and under development) to model the balance between the two. Data is analysed on both a national and regional basis, to provide a detailed picture of where insufficient or excess capacity is anticipated.

The report focuses entirely on waste which is suitable for treatment by residual treatment plant, i.e. incinerators, mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) facilities, and gasifiers. This is unlike the recent work on behalf of CIWM, which suggested that around 15 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste, much of it presumably inert, should be taken into consideration. Such material is unlikely to be well suited to residual waste treatment.