To mark World Environment Day 2004 this weekend (5th June), Birmingham Friends of the Earth will be demonstrating the benefits of recycling to the City as well as giving visitors to the Environmental Village an opportunity to input into the City Council's draft Waste Management Strategy [1].

Friends of the Earth groups from all over the country will be urging their local authorities to improve recycling facilities this weekend [2]. Just one in four households in England, Wales and Northern Ireland currently receives a "best practice" recycling service [3], with national recycling levels still hovering at 14.5%, a long way short of the Government's target of 25% by 2005.

In a league table of UK local authority recycling performance published in the Spring 2004 issue of Resource magazine, Birmingham came in at 286th place, up from 299th last year. Birmingham's recycling target for 2004 is 14%, rising to 18% next year. So far we have achieved 10%. The Council recently announced that rubbish collections from 60,000 households are to be cut to fortnightly as part of a scheme to encourage recycling [4].

Birmingham Friends of the Earth campaigner Dr Andy Pryke said:

"Birmingham City Council thinks that apathy among householders is the reason for the City's poor recycling record [5] and that what we need is a big stick to get us moving on recycling. But nine out of ten people say they would recycle more if it was made easier for them to do so [6]. What's needed are convenient and reliable collections, not cuts in existing conventional services."

Birmingham Friends of the Earth wants the Council to provide a doorstep recycling service for at least five recyclable materials for all households in the City by 2005 and support the development of regional recycling processing facilities, thereby ensuring the growth and jobs created by recycling are delivered locally.

Dr Pryke added:

"Birmingham collects 450,000 tonnes of domestic waste each year, but has signed a contract to deliver over 90% of it to the Tyseley Incinerator. Incineration generates more energy than dumping waste, but much less than would be saved by recycling, and it releases toxic fumes into the air. The Council must seek an open renegotiation of this contract and put Birmingham's waste strategy on a sustainable footing."

Editor's Notes

[1] Birmingham's waste management strategy document 'Review and Updating of the Birmingham Waste Management Strategy 2004' is up for review until 1st July 2004. The new strategy is due to be issued in December 2004.

[2] Local actions will be taking place in 61 locations including, in the West Midlands: Birmingham; Nuneaton & District; Coventry; Wyre Forest; Wolverhampton; Walsall; Telford; and Oswestry & District.

Recycling targets cannot be met without more central government funding. Friends of the Earth wants the Chancellor to do more to boost recycling by providing more funding direct to local authorities from landfill tax revenues and the reform of the landfill tax credit scheme. Friends of the Earth figures reveal that an increase of £200 million a year would ensure a decent recycling and compost service for every household.

Evidence shows that local authorities receiving government grants have been able to improve the recycling service they offer, often dramatically. For example, Lichfield District Council was granted £410,000 in 2002 to provide a dry recyclables collection to difficult types of housing that are currently excluded. The council increased their recycling from 33% to 43% during 2002-3. This is one of the highest recycling rates in the country.

[3] A "best practice" scheme is defined as one collecting five or more materials from every household.

Over the past six months Friends of the Earth has been carrying out a survey of the doorstep recycling services offered by local authorities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They found that only a quarter of local authorities in England are currently collecting two or more materials from all the households in their area. A report on Friends of the Earth's findings from the English regions, along with the data for all local authorities, at

[4] 'Council's New Recycling Plan', Birmingham Post, 18th May 2004.

[5] In an email response (16th November 2003) to Birmingham Friends of the Earth's Practical Steps to a Greener Birmingham 2003 document, distributed to all Birmingham councillors, Cllr John Chapman wrote:

"The main impediment to a satisfactory recycling rate in Birmingham is not the Council's policy, as you seem to suppose, but indifference on the part of the majority of the population to the subject. For example, the City offers an adequate paper doorstep collection recycling service, and if all citizens used it we could easily achieve the recycling targets which you quote [in the document]. Unfortunately, only around one-third (or less) of households can be bothered to make use of the service."

[6] Environment Agency press release, 23rd May 2002.

Waste and Recycling: Facts and Figures

  • Around 80 per cent of household waste could be either recycled or composted, dramatically reducing the need for landfill.
  • The average household produces around a tonne of waste each year.
  • The amount of waste produced in the UK is rising by more than 3 per cent per annum.
  • In April this year, the Environment Agency warned that space for burying rubbish in the South East could run out within seven years. Northern Ireland has already exported some of its household waste to Scotland for landfill.
  • Incineration is deeply unpopular. Community groups around the country have opposed incineration proposals because of concerns the environmental impact and risk to health. Once built, incinerators need more and more waste, which could otherwise be recycled, to make them economically viable.
  • By 2020 the amount of UK municipal waste is set to double (Source: Government Strategy Unit).
  • The UK uses over 6 billion glass containers each year, amounting to over 2 million tonnes. Less than quarter (22 per cent) were recycled in 1998. The European average is 50 per cent, with some countries recycling 80 per cent (Source: British Glass).
  • Up to 90 per cent of new glass could be made from reclaimed scrap glass (Source: British Glass).
  • Recycling aluminium can bring energy savings of up to 95 per cent and produce 95 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than when it is produced from raw materials (Source: Alupro).
  • Around 20,000 tonnes of aluminium foil packaging (worth £8 million) is wasted each year. Only 3,000 tonnes is recycled.
  • Packaging is typically 25-35 per cent (by weight) of dustbin waste.
  • Plastic bags sent to landfill take around 500 years to decay. The UK uses 500 million of these each week.
  • A tax on plastic bags in Ireland has resulted in a 90 per cent reduction in their consumption. More than 9 million euros (£5.73 million) were raised during the first four months of the scheme. The money will be used to fund new waste management and other environmental initiatives. The tax was introduced in March this year. Shoppers are now charged about 10p for each bag they take from supermarkets and other shopping outlets. Before the legislation was enacted, an estimated 1.2 billion bags were handed out to Irish shoppers free of charge each year.