The year has already got off to a great start with the news that local authorities in England are now recycling, composting or re-using 10.7m tonnes of waste … which means that for the first time since records began, we’re recycling more than we’re sending to landfill.
The same set of figures also shows that household waste generation has fallen, to 22.9m tonnes, or 431kg per household. This too, of course, is good news, demonstrating the excellent progress that has been made, particularly over the last decade.
This comes hot on the heels of news from the Welsh Government that Wales is recycling or composting more than half of its municipal waste - with the latest statistics showing that Welsh councils collectively recycled 53% of their waste in the first quarter of 2012/13.
What these figures also show, though, is we’ve still a way to go before we can achieve that vision of a world without waste.
Not surprisingly, parts of the media picked up on the most recent news and I was delighted to be asked to talk about the progress that has been made, live on Sky News earlier this week. It was the perfect opportunity to remind people not only of what has been achieved to date, but also to highlight where some of the potential lies for further improvements.
The simple fact is people want to recycle and local authorities want to help their residents do this as easily as possible. Not only does recycling benefit the environment, importantly, it also stimulates the UK economy, providing jobs and revenue in the recycling sector – which continues to grow in spite of the current economic climate.
I’ve blogged before about the importance of looking ahead and seizing opportunities for not only recycling, but for re-use and for designing out waste altogether. I’d like to see ‘re-use’ becoming as important and as widely practiced as recycling is, an embedded part of the way we live and work. By the same token, applying ‘designing out waste’ principles in the years to come could help reduce the need for recycling and re-use! It is these approaches that deliver the best financial and environmental benefits.
Think, for example, of all the clothes hanging unworn in our wardrobes. Our research shows we have around £30bn of clothes that we haven't worn for a year. And around a third of the clothes we buy end up on the tip, worth an estimated £140m. This is a sobering statistic …. I wonder how many of us have added items to the nation’s bulging wardrobe this Christmas?
We know there’s potential, too, in unwanted but still working (or repairable!) small electrical items. There must be a better way of re-using that toaster / clock-radio / TV / mobile phone. Never mind New Year’s resolutions, perhaps it’s time for an early Spring clean ….. !