Inconsistency and confusion is preventing UK households from recycling says Biffa

Biffa truck in London
Biffa truck

A new report from waste management firm Biffa has said that inconsistency and confusion in labelling, sorting and collection are stopping UK households and firms from turning waste into raw materials.  

Recycling rates have stalled to around 45%, yet the Government’s new Resources & Waste Strategy aims to recycle at least 65% of municipal waste by 2035, which includes both household and similar business waste. Both generate volumes of around 30 million tonnes annually in the UK, said Biffa. 


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Biffa chief executive Michael Topham said: “The way we organise our recycling efforts as a society is of fundamental importance. We need a system that is environmentally ambitious, easy to use and cost effective.” 

The firm argued that collections do not take place in isolation from the rest of the waste management process, and there needs to be a “holistic change” to increase recycling rates.  

Its recommendations include: 

  • Be clear on what can and can’t be recycled – labelling at source is vital 
  • Simplify sorting methods and collection frequency for households 
  • Don’t be over prescriptive for businesses 
  • Keep food waste separate as there is a huge opportunity to recycle it and generate energy.  

Biffa head of environmental and external affairs Jeff Rhodes said: “There needs to be simpler and more consistent packaging at source, designed for recyclability and using more recycled content, together with clear and consistent labelling for consumers. This will feed into consistency at the collection end, reducing confusion about what can and can’t be recycled across the board. Personal responsibility is as important as producer responsibility.” 

Business recycling needs vary massively by sector, and as a result, recycling rates range from over 80% to 0% where a business does not have a recycling service, said Biffa. 

Unlike Scotland; Wales and Northern Ireland, in England compliance currently sits with the waste collector to offer recycling services, while the waste producer is under no obligation to take up the service.  

This responsibility for compliance needs to be addressed in order to drive participation and increase business waste recycling, which the Government wants to see, said the waste firm. 

Michael Topham added: “Each year Biffa collects and recycles over 4.1m tonnes of waste and recycling from UK households, businesses and industry. Put simply, when it comes to waste management, we know what works and what doesn’t. We firmly believe that these realistic and practical recommendations, if implemented, will help Government deliver a system that can drive much needed change.” 

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