Scotland’s recycling figures show mixed picture

Scotland’s household recycling rate increased by 0.7% in the 2021 calendar year to 42.7%, which the Scottish government has put down to a loosening of Covid-19 restrictions.

Despite Scotland's 0.3% rise in recycling, its rate remains the lowest in the UK with other nations still to submit for 2022

However, the amount of waste from all sources sent to landfill rose by 22.4% to 587,000 tonnes as the construction sector bounced back.

The figures, published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) yesterday (27 September), showed that while household waste levels rose by 2.3% in 2021 to 2.48 million tonnes, the amount of material recycled rose by 4% to 1.06 million tonnes, contributing towards the rise in the recycling rate rise.

The household waste landfill rate for 2021 is 26.7%, down from 27.2%, while 24.6% was incinerated and the remaining 6% sent for RDF.

Both recycling tonnages and overall waste volumes have improved since 2011

All waste

SEPA were details of waste from all sources landfilled and incinerated in Scotland for the calendar year 2021.

This showed that the total quantity of waste landfilled in Scotland in 2021 was 3.2 million tonnes, an increase of 587,000 tonnes (22.4%) from 2020.

The increase was largely due to more soils (increased 297,000 tonnes, 35.7%) and sorting residues (increased 221,000 tonnes, 32.1%) being landfilled from 2020. These increases are likely due to a resumption of construction activity in Scotland following extended lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions in the previous reporting period.

The total quantity of waste incinerated in Scotland in 2021 was 1.35 million tonnes, an increase of 93,000 tonnes (7.4%) from 2020. Sorting residues made up a third (33.3%) of all waste incinerated (450,000 tonnes, up 74,000 tonnes or 19.5%).

The corresponding data set for all waste generated and recycled in Scotland during 2021 will be published in March 2023.

The figures are a timely reminder of the need for a continued focus on recycling

  • Gary Walker, SEPA


Gary Walker, waste and landfill tax manager at SEPA, said: “The latest official statistics reflect the reality of the easing of COVID pandemic restrictions, as household waste recycling centres re-opened.

“While Scotland has seen a reduction in the amount of waste generated in the last decade, the latest figures are a timely reminder of the need for a continued focus on recycling by us all.

“Recycling is a simple daily step everyone can take to build a more sustainable Scotland. We can all make choices to reduce the amount of waste we generate and keep products and materials in use for as long as possible through re-use and recycling to help Scotland tackle the climate emergency.”

For the rest of the UK, England recorded a household recycling rate of 43.8% in 2020/21, the latest data available, while Wales recorded 65.1% in the same period and Northern Ireland reported 50.1%.

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