There are around 64 million people living in the United Kingdom, so it will hardly come as a great surprise to learn that we – as a nation – produced 200 million tonnes of waste in 2012 (the latest year for which figures are available).
Three-quarters of this waste (150 million tonnes) comes from construction and industry. The construction industry is responsible for half off all waste generated in this country.
Household waste comprises 14% of all UK output, which is 28 million tonnes, or something like half a tonne of waste for every man, woman and child. (In fact it’s 437 kilos)
So, the big question is: What do you do with your half a tonne?
Government figures say that we recycle 43.9% of everything that we throw away. So, of your 437 kilos of personal rubbish, 192 kilos is recycled.
Now, that sounds impressive, but you need to remember that more than half is NOT recycled, and that 245 kilos of non-recycled rubbish you’ve produced is either burned (and lost forever) or buried in a hole in the ground, in a process called “landfill”.
Let’s scale that back up again: 245 kilos (just short of a quarter of a tonne per person) means that 15.7 million tonnes of domestic waste is either destroyed or buried each year, in the UK alone.
This isn’t good enough, and both the British government and the European parliament says that more needs to be done. We – as a country – have set ourselves a target of recycling at least half of all our waste by the year 2020.
Are we winning? The answer – sadly – is no. While our recycling figures have improved tremendously since the year 2000, we’ve been stalled at around 43% for the last few years, while some European countries have pushed on to nearly 100% recycling.
Why is this?
Some countries have had a long headstart on recycling – Germany was recycling waste goods way back in the 1980s, while the UK had a strong tradition of using landfill.
The problem is that our landfill sites are nearly full, and we need to work out new ways of processing our waste. Unfortunately, we’re a crowded nation compared to somewhere like Sweden, so it’s hard to build waste processing plants near to towns and cities, and people object to the smell and the ugly buildings.
We’re coming up with some great ideas to recycle our household waste into new things. Sometimes it’s new goods, sometimes it’s compost, and sometimes it’s electricity.
We produce a lot of rubbish in Britain, and one way to stop so much waste is to change our lifestyles to we throw out less to begin with.