Recycling rates in Shropshire have fallen slightly for the first time since the years during which cardboard collection was suspended. The latest government statistics come just as Shropshire Council launches a consultation to reduce the number of bring bank recycling sites in the county. And the news is well timed for the government’s long-awaited national waste strategy which will be launched this week.
The council is planning to close all bring banks to save around £230,000 a year.
Shropshire is still one of the best councils for recycling and bring banks are part of that success story. They are very well used in Ludlow. The council has yet to make a case for closing them.
The government’s annual publication of waste and recycling statistics just before Christmas is a timely reminder of the waste generated over the festive season and the need to step up efforts on recycling. That’s especially true this year as Shropshire’s recent improvement in the recycling rate has stalled and even fallen a little.
The government statistics show the proportion of waste recycled in Shropshire dropped by 0.7%. That means that an extra 4,800 tonnes of waste was sent for incineration last year.
We are one of the better performing counties and our recycling rates remain above the national average. In Shropshire, 54.1% of household waste is recycled.  Nationally the recycling rate is 44.8%. Recycling in some areas is almost non-existent. Recycling rates vary from a miserable 14.1% in the London Borough of Newham to a laudable 64.5% in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Forty-four councils in England have better recycling rates than Shropshire but 299 councils do worse, some much worse.
Each vertical bar represents a council or waste authority in England (click for larger image)
Over the last five years, the recycling rate for household waste in Shropshire has increased by 5.2%. It hasn’t been a linear rise. There was a half percent drop between 2013/14 and 2014/15 when kerbside collection of cardboard ended. Rates grew the next year due to introduction of new collection procedures. Instead of having to put metal, glass and plastic into separate boxes, the recyclables can now be mixed. Simpler recycling has been shown to increase recycling rates across the country.
Last year, recycling rates fell slightly, by 0.7% in 2017/18. That’s a bigger drop that that for England as whole. That recycling rate, including composting, fell by 0.3% to 44.8%.
Overall, the trend in Shropshire over the last three years is broadly flat without a significant increase or decrease in recycling.
The quantity of household waste collected in Shropshire fell in 2017/18 despite extensive new housebuilding in the north of the county. This reflects efforts by supermarkets and other retailers to reduce packaging and a growing reluctance by shopper to purchase overpacked items and use single use carrier bags. Five years ago, Shropshire council collected 516kg of waste and recycling for every person in the county. In 2017/18, this had fallen 6% to 486kg per head.
What happens to the waste and recyclables?
Household waste collected by Shropshire Council
As the pie chart above shows, more than half of material from households sent for recycling is compostable material from green bins and recycling centres (61%). 
Household and other waste collected by Shropshire Council
The Battlefield Incinerator has dramatically cut the quantity of household waste that can’t be recycled that ends up in landfill.  The change has been dramatic.
I have lost track of the number of people who have assured that most of what we put in black boxes and blue bags doesn’t get recycled but is incinerated or landfilled. They are completely wrong. It is true that some material sent for recycling proves to be contaminated and is rejected. This amounts to 397 tonnes a year in Shropshire. That’s just 0.2% of the waste collected for recycling. 
The Shropshire Council consultation
Shropshire Council has issued a press release. The cabinet portfolio holder for waste, Joyce Barrow, has also briefed her local newspaper, the Borders Advertizer. She says that inappropriate use of the banks is becoming increasingly common, and the sites are experiencing three main issues people placing the wrong materials in the banks; general household waste left alongside the banks and business using the sites to dump trade waste. This latter issue appears to be a particular problem in Oswestry, which seems surprising as the town has a household recycling centre open seven days a week.
Use of the bring banks is apparently reducing, though no data is given. The council says that there has been a steady decline in the amount of waste left at the sites since the introduction and development of kerbside recycling collections. It expects recycling to increase if bring banks are closed.
The consultation runs until 25 January.
 This article only refers to household waste except where stated. The recycling rate includes composting of garden and food waste and dry recycling of metal, plastic, glass, paper and cardboard.
 Councils with a high proportion of flats and apartments, such as the inner London boroughs, have a smaller quantity of compostable material. That lowers their recycling rates whereas the recycling rates for leafy counties like ours are boosted by the quantity of garden waste.
 Incinerators, called by the industry energy from waste plants, are far from emission free. Battlefield Incinerator emissions. The main output is CO2 emissions, which incinerator operators are not required to report. In 2017, the UK’s 42 incinerators released a combined total of nearly 11 million tonnes of CO2, around 5 million tonnes of which were from fossil sources such as plastic. Reports suggest that incineration produces more CO2 for each unit of electricity than gas powered power stations.
 Shropshire Council collects a small amount of other waste and this is included in the recycling rejection statistic.
 Shropshire Council collects some commercial waste and this is included in the recycling rejection statistic.