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Closing in on recycling target – but half still heads to landfill

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Workers sorting papers on factory assembly line for recycling at recycling plant.
Workers sorting papers on factory assembly line for recycling at recycling plant.

Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are well on track to exceed a European Union target of recycling 50 per cent of all household waste by 2020.

The two areas combined their waste collection services last year and have been busy working to improve their recycling figures.

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s recycled 57.7 per cent of household waste in 2015-16, whereas Cambridge City Council managed only 42.7 per cent.

New figures show that, taken together, 46 per cent of all rubbish from the area’s households was recycled, reused or composed in the year to March 2017 – 4 percentage points below the EU target.

But Cllr Mark Howell, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s cabinet member for environmental services, pointed out: “The collection percentage is misleading when compared to previous years in South Cambridgeshire as we now run a shared service with Cambridge City Council.

“Thanks to the hard work of residents to slim their black bins, and our efforts to raise awareness, a difference is being made. Figures for the last six months show almost 53 per cent of waste in the area is now being recycled.”

Since the merger, South Cambridgeshire has implemented a number of initiatives to increase the amount of recycling.

It now offers an extra blue or green bin free of charge to residents and it ran a recycling week in conjunction with Monkfield Park Primary School in Cambourne. At Eddington, the new community being created by the University of Cambridge, the biggest underground bin system in the UK has been created, which encourages residents to recycle and means collections are only carried out there when needed.

Cllr Rosy Moore, Cambridge City Council’s executive councillor for environmental services and city centre, said the authority has more campaigns planned.

“Most of us are really good at recycling in the kitchen, but perhaps less so from other areas of the house,” she said. “So this year we plan to run focused campaigns to get people recycling more from different areas of the home.”

The figures from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) show that 118,031 tonnes of rubbish were cleared away in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire in the year to March 2017 – 91 per cent from households.

Of the 49,403 tonnes from homes that were recycled or reused, 40 per cent was dry recycling and the rest was compost – food and garden waste. The recycling weighed about the same amount as the water in 20 Olympic swimming pools.

Each household threw out on average 487kg of rubbish that was not recycled – about the same weight as a grand piano.

The average proportion of household waste recycled in England was 44 per cent, lower than in Wales where 55 per cent was reused. That put Wales only second after Germany in the world for recycling household waste, according to environmental analysts Eunomia.

England sits behind South Korea, Slovenia and Italy in 18th place.

Figures show the worst performing council in the country was the east London borough of Newham, which recycled just 14 per cent of its household waste during the period.

There has been growing concern over the amount of plastic ending up in our oceans, with David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II shining a light on how plastic is affecting our marine wildlife. It is thought more than eight million tonnes is dumped into the world’s oceans annually.

Recently, China indicated it may stop importing plastic from foreign countries including the UK, which may impact local authorities.

According to the environmental organisation Greenpeace, in the last year Britain shipped more than 2.7 million tonnes to China and Hong Kong.

Some fear the restrictions could prompt councils to stop recycling certain types of plastic, as fees at sorting plants are likely to increase.

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