The UK retained its mid-table ranking in Europe for the recycling of municipal waste in 2011, data published by the European Commission has shown.
The provisional figures published last week by the EU statistical body Eurostat, show that the UK achieved a 25% dry recycling rate per head, up from 24% in 2010, but as much as 49% of municipal waste was still sent to landfill. This means that the UK is the 10th best recycler in the EU.
However, commenting on the figures, a spokesman for the European Commission said that the UK was faring badly when compared with other EU Member States who have been in the EU since 2004, with the UK having the 12th highest landfill rate out of the 15 countries.
And, he added that as many as 85,000 additional jobs could be created in the UK in the waste and recycling sector if the UK became more aligned to the top six performing Member States in sending less waste to landfill.
The Commission can only encourage UK to not miss these opportunities linked with improved waste management, he said.
The figures show that the UKs recycling rate of 25% per head in 2011 (128kg per head) represented a small drop from the 2010 total of 129kg, but was enough to keep it above the Europe-wide average of 122kg per capita.
They also highlight a decline in the amount of waste being deposited to landfill, with an average of 253kg per capita going to landfill in 2011, down from 255kg the previous year and around 473kg a decade earlier in 2001. Overall this means sent around 49% of its municipal waste to landfill in 2011.
Meanwhile, the data shows that the UK is an average performer for composting, as it composts around 73kg per capita, equal to the average rate composted across the whole of the EU.
The Commission spokesman said that while the data appeared to be favourable overall for the EU, it did show that a plateau had been reached by some of the older Member States and that the focus needed to shift to reuse, recycling and waste prevention as an alternative to incineration.
He said: It seems that for some Member states a kind of plateau has been met in terms of recycling. For the more advanced Member States already landfilling less than 5% of their municipal waste, the next challenge will be increasing their efforts on prevention and on reuse and recycling: waste generation can be reduced (for instance by reducing food wastage) and more waste can be recycled or reused in place of being sent to incinerators. Nevertheless, the margin for progress remains higher in the other Member States particularly those with high landfill rates.
Some of the statistics are based on estimates compiled by Eurostat, and could be subject to revision once final data has been submitted by Member States.
European Union Municipal Waste Statistics 2011
(Kg per capita)