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North vs. South – The Great Recycling Divide

The divide between the north and the south of England has always been a prominent one, from culture to politics; house prices to historical tradition. Now the world of recycling has presented a further gulf, with the north coming under pressure over its poor record when it comes to processing its waste in an eco-friendly manner.

New statistics from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have shown that, between October and December last year, the North East region recycled just 34.6% of the household waste it produced. While this is still higher than London’s rate (32.3%), and up on the North East’s figures from the same period in 2011, it is still dramatically lower than elsewhere in the country.

Recycling statistics for October-December, 2012.

–          Eastern UK: 46.2%

–          South West: 45.4%

–          East Midlands: 43.6%

–          North West: 42.4%

–          South East: 41.9%

–          North East: 34.6%

–          London: 32.3%

Although overall nationwide trends show an upsurge in recycling in recent years, with global drives for environmental responsibility in the developed world changing the public consciousness, the discrepancy presented by the North East shows that there is still a long way to go to reach green targets set by many governing bodies.

So what has caused the figures to be so low in this region?

DEFRA suggests a number of reasons for the shortfall in the North East. For example, the quality of the local authority’s collection service for recycled waste may not be up to scratch with the rest of the country, while the period from which the statistics came may suggest seasonal conditions may be a factor, with similar research from summer months potentially producing different results.

Landfill tax could also have been an issue during this period. Introduced in 1996 by Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, the levy was the first step on the UK’s path towards meeting the EU-derived Landfill Directive, aimed at enforcing a reduction in the “negative effects” of waste sent to landfill. By putting a charge on this waste, the intention was to make more environmentally friendly, material-specific recycling services more appealing to businesses looking to process the waste they dispose of. The knock on effect of this is meant that the cost of recycling is increased, and could explain some of the shortfall in recycling figures for the North East last year.

With England alone generating 228 million tonnes of waste every year, recycling has never been more important.

“Up to 80% of the waste we produce could be recycled, therefore significant improvements can be made to increase recycling, such as improving collection services or collecting a wider range of materials”, a spokesman from WasteWatch – a Keep Britain Tidy campaigner – explains.

When questioned about the findings of the DEFRA report, councils in the North East gave assurances that they are making efforts to boost recycling figures in the region. One spokesman from North Tyneside Council said that “thanks to the support of our residents, we are increasing our recycling rates – and there are a range of initiatives to help boost them further in the pipeline.”

Middlesbrough Council went further, describing some of the new initiatives they’re looking to implement to improve statistics in that area.

“The council will shortly be rolling out a new collection system where residents will be provided with a wheeled bin for recycling and one for garden waste,” their spokesman explains. “By doing this we believe it will be easier for people to recycle as they will be able to place all their recycling into one bin and not have to remember which box or bag the material needs to go in.”

Things are improving, though. For example, in 2000-01, Newcastle’s recycling of household waste rate was at 3%, while that figure leapt to 72% ending up in recycling transfer stations as opposed to landfill in 2012-13.

Still, it’s clear that further improvements can be made nationwide, not just in this region, and local councils and government bodies will continue to work to improve recycling figures into the future.


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