Liverpool has second worst recycling rate in the country - here's why

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New performance tables show Liverpool City Council ranked 332 out of 333 local authorities in England. A report suggests 31% of households do not recycle.

The latest recycling performance tables for England's local authorities shows Liverpool’s league position has worsened, with the 2022/23 recycling rate falling to 17.9%. In comparison, the top authority was South Oxfordshire, which has a household waste recycling rate of 61.6%.

Liverpool placed second bottom out of 333 local authorities in the figures released in January 2024. The city council offers the same recycling service as those provided by other Liverpool City Region local authorities, excluding St Helens. The next worst in the region is Knowsley, at 26.3%.

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Liverpool City Council's Sustainable, Safe & Thriving Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee held a meeting on Tuesday (March 12) and identified a number of trends which may be contributing to the area's poor recycling rate, including 'high levels of recyclable waste continuing to be placed in the purple bin'.

The committee's report on the performance of services delivered to the council by its wholly owned company Liverpool’ Street Scene Services Ltd noted that there has been an increase in the overall tonnage of domestic waste produced per household year on year from 2018 onwards, with 175,333 tonnes in 2019/20 and 183,846 tonnes in 2022/23.

Reasons for poor recycling rate in Liverpool

Liverpool Council has the second worst recycling rates in the country. Image: Jason Wells/Stock AdobeLiverpool Council has the second worst recycling rates in the country. Image: Jason Wells/Stock Adobe
Liverpool Council has the second worst recycling rates in the country. Image: Jason Wells/Stock Adobe

In 2021, the council undertook a comprehensive sampling exercise 'to help plan future waste management changes to improve help prevent, minimise or recycle waste'. The study identified that 28% of residual waste (purple bin) was food, and 76% of that food waste was avoidable waste, with 51% still in its packaging. 11% of the waste could have been recycled in either the blue or green bin, and 31% of households did not recycle. Of the household waste placed out for recycling, 28% was contaminated with non-recyclable materials including food, general mixed waste and non-recyclable plastics.

The council said the study, along with the city’s worsening recycling performance demonstrates 'too few residents regularly engage in recycling and of those which do recycle, not placing the correct materials in the blue bin'.

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A spokesperson for the local authority told LiverpoolWorld: "Across Liverpool, we need to reduce the amount of bagged waste and food waste in our recycling bins. When the wrong items are put into the recycling bins, they have the potential to ruin whole loads of recyclable materials! Instead, we ask Liverpool residents to only put the following in your recycling bins: drink cans, food tins, plastic bottles, glass jars and bottles, paper and cardboard. And remember, all recycling should be kept clean, dry and loose."

Most common recycling mistakes in Liverpool - items not allowed in blue bin

  • Contaminated recycling - e.g. covered in food waste.
  • Food waste.
  • Nappies.
  • Shredded paper.
  • Polystyrene.
  • Squashed or crushed items - other than cardboard.
  • Garden waste.
  • Electrical equipment.
  • Plastic bags, cling film or plastic padding.
  • Textiles, clothes and shoes - take clothes and bric-a-brac to your local charity shop or recycling bank.
  • Juice or milk cartons (Tetra Pak).
  • Syringes.
  • Wood.
  • Paint tins.
  • Yoghurt pots, plastic tubs, food trays or foil containers.
Government data published recently showed that Liverpool has a household waste recycling rate of 17.9%Government data published recently showed that Liverpool has a household waste recycling rate of 17.9%
Government data published recently showed that Liverpool has a household waste recycling rate of 17.9%

Liverpool Council's plans to improve recycling

On 21 November 2023, the Government published its plans to boost recycling rates and protect the environment. These include:

  • Confirmation local councils can continue to provide co-mingled recycling collections rather than introducing bins, boxes or bags for separate materials - in other words Liverpool can retain a single blue bin for mixed dry recycling.
  • The range of plastic and metals collected will include an expanded range of packaging including steel and aluminium aerosols, food trays, foil, plastic tops, tubs, film, bags and trays, food cartons - though this is not yet implemented.
  • Weekly household food waste collections guidance to local authorities on changes to household and business waste - (including flats) by 31 March 2026 (businesses must implement these collections by 31 March 2025).
  • Local Councils can continue to charge for garden waste collections.
  • Businesses to implement recycling collections for all the materials collected by local councils (except for garden waste) by 31 March 2025.

In January this year, the Government wrote to all local authority chief executives to provide confirmation of the new burdens funding to assist with the purchase of the bins, food, caddies and vehicles required to deliver the mandated food waste collection service. Liverpool’s allocation is £3.73m. A further announcement on the revenue support for delivering the new service is expected in the next few weeks.

According to Liverpool City Council: "Work is now progressing at pace... to implement the changes alongside work to produce a new set of policies to promote positive behaviours by residents to ensure the correct use of the new system maximise the recyclable and compostable material captured.

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"Options being explored include work to reduce the number of properties with more than one purple (residual bin) except those with more than six persons living in the property and preventing avoidable side waste by ensuring residents sort their waste into the correct bin."

Recycling rates for all Liverpool City Region local authorities (2022/23)

  • Liverpool - 17.9%
  • Knowsley - 26.3%
  • Wirral - 31.2%
  • Sefton - 33%
  • St Helens - 34%
  • Halton - 35.4%

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