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How Much Rubbish Do UK Households Produce? Is it Actually Going Down?

UK Household Rubbish

Do you ever look at your full kitchen bin and wonder how it fills up so fast? You’re not alone. The latest government figures show that UK household rubbish reached 26.4 million tonnes in 2019. So what’s the bigger picture? Do we need to do better? Here’s what you need to know.

Are We Generating Less Rubbish?

Not according to the stats. The latest Defra figures show that UK households generated roughly the same amount of waste in 2018. However, while it appears that’s not great news, it isn’t the full story.

What Kind of Rubbish Do UK Households Throw Away?

Food waste still makes up a huge amount of household waste. The most wasted food is potatoes if you’re interested. UK Households throw away around 6.6 million tonnes of food. 4.5 million tonnes of this is edible. However, the overall picture isn’t as bleak. Since 2007, UK household food waste has fallen by 20.5%.

Packaging and containers also make up a large proportion of household waste. This includes food packaging, beverage containers, and personal care product packaging. The good news headline here is that we now recycle just under 70% of packaging.

How is UK Household Rubbish Dealt With?

The most common ways we deal with our rubbish are;

  • Recycling and recovery: 96.5 million tonnes (4.4% more than in 2016)
  • Landfill: 44.1 million tonnes (1.4% less than in 2016)
  • Incineration with energy recovery: 7.4 million tonnes (18% more than in 2016)
  • Incineration without energy recovery: 7 million tonnes (28% more than in 2016)

The Good, The Pretty Good, and The Could Do Better

The Good - Figures show that 70% of UK household packaging waste is recycled. This is more than the EU target to recycle or recover at least 60% of packaging waste.

The Pretty Good - The amount of biodegradable waste we send to landfill fell from 7.4 million tonnes in 2017 to 7.2 million tonnes in 2018. This means the UK is still on track to meet EU targets. The target set was to reduce biodegradable landfill waste to 35% of the 1995 baseline by 2020.

The Could Do Better - The overall UK household recycling rate was 45% in 2018, down 0.5% from 2017. This still falls short of the EU target of 50%.

The Verdict on UK Household Rubbish?

It’s a bit of a mixed bag. We’re still throwing away too much waste. However, we are recycling some waste streams more and sending less to landfill, so there are reasons to be cheerful. There’s always room for doing better though, and it’s time for each one of us to really think before we throw.

For more interesting articles on recycling and sustainability, check out the rest of our blog.

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