You are here: Homepage > The Environment > Green economy, green business > Waste and recycling

Waste and recycling

Recycling bins

The UK consumes natural resources at an unsustainable rate and contributes unnecessarily to climate change. Each year we generate over 80 million tonnes of waste from households, commerce and industry.

The case for government action

  • Excessive or poorly-managed waste leads to environmental damage, and the loss of valuable resources that could be put to better use, saving businesses and consumers money
  • Biodegradable waste in landfill produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas; this is addressed in both carbon budgets and EU landfill directive limits

Latest news

Key facts and figures

  • 37% of household waste was recycled in 2008/09, compared to 14% in 2000/01. Over the same period, the proportion land filled fell from 78% to 50%.
  • The landfill rate for business waste in 2003 was around 40%, though recent regional surveys provide some evidence of improvement since. A new national survey of business waste is currently underway.
  • The waste management sector in the UK accounted for 3.6% of the UK’s total estimated emissions of greenhouse gases in 2008, or 22.7 Mt CO2e compared to 52.9 Mt CO2e in 1990. Of the 2008 total, 89% arises from landfill, 9% from waste-water handling and 2% from waste incineration
  • UK produces about 100 million tonnes of waste suitable for anaerobic digestion each year. Of this the large majority is manures and slurries (about 80-90 million tonnes), and 12-20 million tonnes are food waste. This could generate at least 10-20 TWh of heat and electricity per year by 2020 (3.8-7.5% of the estimated renewable energy required by 2020 to meet the UK’s obligations under the Renewable Energy Directive) or 27TWh per year if converted to biomethane for injection to the gas grid (27 TWh represents 7% of current domestic gas demand).
  • The diversion of biodegradable wastes to AD can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfill. For example, capturing the biogas from one tonne of food waste will save between 0.5 and 1 tonne of CO2 equivalent.
  • The UK water industry treats 66% of sewage sludge by AD, generating 0.7TWh per year of electricity in 2008.

The current situation and background

The government’s Coalition Document outlines our aim for a ‘zero waste’ economy encouraging councils to pay people to recycle, and work to reduce littering. We will introduce measures to promote a huge increase in energy from waste through anaerobic digestion.

Defra’s Structural Reform Plan outlines our plans to support a strong and sustainable green economy, resilient to climate change. Encouraging businesses, people and communities to manage and use natural resources in a sustainable manner and to reduce waste; and work to ensure that the UK economy is resilient to climate change.

The plan outlines our drive towards a ‘zero waste’ agenda, agreeing goals for 2014/2020 and set the path towards a thorough review of waste policies. Exploring voluntary responsibility deal on waste among businesses; repealing Climate Change Act powers for household charging and setting out steps to promote increased energy from waste through anaerobic digestion.

Relevant legislation and regulations

Key publications and documents

The government will also undertake a full review of waste policy in England.

Page last modified: 31 December 2010