Recycling rates lower in England’s poorest areas

Recycling rates lower in England's poorest areas thumbnail

Birmingham and Liverpool among local authorities with lowest rates, analysis shows

A bag of recycling. In Newham, east London, just 16% of household waste is sent for reuse, recycling or composting, the lowest rate in England.
Photograph: Richard Baker/Corbis/Getty Images

Recycling rates for household waste are significantly lower in the most deprived areas of England, a Guardian analysis has found.

A breakdown of data from 303 local authorities in England has found that for 2018-19 85% of local authorities that are among the top 20% most deprived have household recycling rates below the overall average of 42%.

By contrast, just one in five of the 20% least deprived areashave a below-average recycling rate.

Deprivation is calculated using the English indices of deprivation, which ranks local authorities from the most deprived to the least deprived. The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) publishes data on household recycling rates, which includes waste sent for reuse, recycling or composting. County councils were not included in the analysis to avoid overlap.


In the borough of Newham in east London, just 16% of household waste falls into this category – the lowest proportion across all local authorities in England.

The local authorities of Birmingham, Liverpool, and Barking and Dagenham are among the 10 local authorities with the lowest rates of household recycling, and are also among the six most deprived local authorities in England.

By contrast, the local authorities of South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse, St Albans City and Surrey Heath are among the least deprived local authorities, and all have household recycling rates of more than 60%, putting them in the top six local authorities measured.

Chaitanya Kumar, the head of environment and green transition at the New Economics Foundation, said the relationship between recycling rates and social deprivation was well established, but that the reasons were complex.

He said: “Access to storage space for waste, high density housing, lack of clear and tailored communication, a more mobile population and the inability to prioritise recycling as a result of poverty are just a few of the structural reasons behind low recycling rates.

“Improving economic wellbeing plus a more focused communications strategy is the way forward to improve recycling rates in underserved communities.”

Cllr David Renard, the environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, said types of housing and whether the local authority was in the city or country had an impact on recycling rates. “Councils will consider a wide range of factors in determining the most effective type of service,” he said.

“Councils should be free to decide how to deliver their waste services locally and we support the call by the housing, communities and local government committee for councils to have the flexibility and extra funding to ensure they meet the recycling challenges under the waste strategy.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that we go further and faster to reduce, reuse and recycle more of our resources – and our landmark resources and waste strategy will ensure 65% of municipal waste is recycled by 2035.

“We have published guidance to help local authorities boost recycling rates, especially for those who live in flats, and we encourage councils across the country to promote and maintain a consistent recycling service to all their residents.”

Recycling rates have been falling for the past few years despite a longstanding EU target to reach 50% for household waste recycling by 2020, which the UK looks almost certain to have missed.