The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has produced a report dated March 2020 which gives us a fairly accurate, up-to-date view of how much waste and rubbish is currently being produced in the UK each year. Although most of the latest data is only up to 2018, here are 2 of the 6 key points of the report:

  1. It is estimated that the UK generated 41.1 million tonnes of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste in 2016, of which 33.1 million tonnes (around four-fifths) was generated in England. The latest estimates for England only indicate that C&I waste generation was around 36.1 million tonnes in 2017 and 37.2 million tonnes in 2018.
  2. The UK generated 221.0 million tonnes of total waste in 2016, with England responsible for 85% of the UK total.

So, as you can see from the latest published figures above, the UK produced 221 million tonnes of waste in a single year. Putting that into context, the average small car (e.g. a Nissan Micra) weighs around a tonne and is about 4 metres long, so if they were put end to end, they’d circle the earth over 22 times!

Similarly, the Great Pyramid of Giza is made of a mixture of limestone and granite and weighs about 6 million tonnes, so the UK’s waste would weight the same as around 37 of them… that’s an awful lot of rubbish to remove.

How are we doing on landfill/recycling our rubbish?

The report also goes into more details about our recycling figures and what the targets are. Here are the 4 key points relating to this:

  1. The UK recycling rate for Waste from Households (WfH; including IBA metal) was 45.0% in 2018, decreasing from 45.5% in 2017. There is an EU target for the UK to recycle at least 50% of household waste by 2020.
  2. The recycling rate for WfH decreased in all UK countries except Northern Ireland in 2018. The recycling rate for England was 44.7%, compared with 47.7% in Northern Ireland, 42.8% in Scotland, and 54.1% in Wales. The reduction for England was driven primarily by a reduction in ‘other organics’ such as green garden waste sent for recycling, linked to adverse weather conditions for plant growth.
  3. UK biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) sent to landfill has fallen from approximately 7.4 million tonnes in 2017 (21% of the baseline 1995 value) to around 7.2 million tonnes in 2018 (20% of the baseline 1995 value). The UK is therefore still on track to meet the EU target to restrict BMW landfilled to 35% of the 1995 baseline by 2020.
  4. Figures for 2017 show that 70.0% of UK packaging waste was either recycled or recovered compared to 71.4% in 2016. This exceeds the EU target to recycle or recover at least 60% of packaging waste.

So, as you can see, it’s a bit of a mixed bag and we clearly still have some way to go. It’s worth noting that some of the recycling rates actually dropped from the previous year although, on the upside, we appear to have already exceeded the EU target “to recycle or recover at least 60% of packaging waste”.

Older waste and recycling facts

According to an outdated but interesting PDF about waste on the CB Environmental website which appears to date back to the early 2000s, the amount of waste produced throughout the UK on a yearly basis was around 100 million tonnes, less than half what it is now.

The article goes on to suggest that, in a matter of just 2 hours, this amount of rubbish would fill London’s Royal Albert Hall. When you put that into perspective, that means you could fill 12 Albert Halls per day, or 4,380 every year – and that was back then.

Although the document appears to be aimed at educating the younger generation (with a quiz at the end), there’s a lesson for all ages in it and it’s worth visiting the link above to read the entire list of waste and recycling facts it contains (40 in all) from yesteryear. If you don’t have the time to do so, here are a couple of our favourites:

  • The average UK household produces in excess of a tonne of rubbish each year. In total, this equates to around 31 million tonnes or the weight of 3 and a half million double-decker buses.
  • Perhaps even more alarmingly, the article mentions that we each produce about 3% more waste than we did the year before. It doesn’t take a brainiac to realise that this is wholely unsustainable if things don’t change.
  • Recycling an aluminium tin can will save enough energy to run a television for 3 hours.

The list goes on and no doubt most, if not all of the numbers would need to be adjusted to see where we’re at today, ..but we’ll save that for another post.

Note: This post contains some public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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