Not one of the North East’s 12 councils is achieving the national average for recycling household waste. It means more than 144,000 extra tonnes of waste is going for disposal by landfill, incineration or other means every year.
The revelation comes as a row broke out over plans for a £2bn energy recovery facility (ERF) due to be built on the Teesworks site to incinerate 450,000 tonnes of residual (non-recyclable) waste a year from seven of the region’s councils. The plans are currently on hold anyway because of uncertainty over electricity supply.
The median average household waste recycling rate for councils in the region was 32.9% in 2021-22 (latest available) compared to 41.9% for England. The residual amount requiring disposal averaged 624.2 kilograms in the North East compared to the national average 501 kilograms.
With over 1,175,000 households in the region, the extra tonnage for dispoal was 144,726 tonnes*.
Data for waste management are among the first to be published by the Office for Local Government (Oflog) set up in July as part of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Recycling includes waste reused, recycled, composted and sent for anaerobic digestion, measured by weight. This includes dry recycling, green/garden waste and food waste. The total includes waste from street bins and parks as well as households but excludes any waste collected with the intention of recycling but subsequently rejected because of contamination.
The North East council with the lowest recycling rate (25.7%) and the highest rate of residual waste (738 kilograms) was Stockton. Uniquely in the region none at all of the waste it collected for cycling was rejected because of contamination.
Councillor Bob Cook, leader of Stockton Council, told North East Bylines: “We recognise that our recycling rates are lower than we would like them to be and we’re conducting a review, with input from the national advisory body, to look at the reasons for this and see how we can improve.”
Other North East councils
Sunderland had the second lowest recycling rate, at 29.8% and Redcar & Cleveland had the highest at 38.2%. Middlesbrough had the highest figure for residual waste apart from Stockton at 701 kilograms per household and Newcastle had the lowest at 515.7 kilograms.
A statement from Sunderland City Council said the council continues to remind and promote recycling to householders. “Recycling is popular with many households and we’d like to see more. Every year the council collects around 33,000 tonnes of recyclable materials and our reminders to residents include ensuring that materials are in the right bins so that contamination does not result in wasted effort.
“There could be many complex factors for why recycling rates are lower in the region and in Sunderland, from whether householders purchase fewer recyclable goods to residents in higher density housing areas recycling less.
“As part of the South Tyne and Wear Waste Management Partnership, Sunderland uses an energy from waste (EfW) facility which thermally treats and recovers steam powered electrical energy from residual waste that the council cannot recycle. This facility helps ensure that very little residual waste goes to landfill. In 2022/23 all residual waste delivered to waste transfer stations for the EfW facility was processed and nothing went to landfill.”
Meanwhile, planning is on hold for the ERF intended to be in operation on the Teesworks site by 2026 to incinerate 450,000 tonnes of residual waste from more than 1.5mn people in the seven partner council areas of County Durham, Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton.
According to the ERF’s website, it will generate up to 49.9MW of electricity – enough to power the equivalent of 60,000 homes. The facility, it is said, will help move the North East closer towards the goal of sending zero waste to landfill, the option of last resort, and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“There are currently around 60 similar energy-from-waste plants in operation or construction around the UK,” it says, “and these facilities have a proven track record for being a safe and sustainable way of treating the nation’s general rubbish. In fact, similar plants have already been operating successfully in the North-East for decades now.”
Final tenders to build the facility were submitted in March, but evaluation of these and the appointment of a preferred tenderer has been temporarily paused “owing to uncertainty around electricity offtake for the plant, which has a substantial bearing on the procurement process,” according to the website.
A political row over Newcastle’s involvement in the scheme was reported last week in ChronicleLive, with green campaigners arguing that the incinerator will distract from increased recycling and that there are cleaner, greener ways to reduce, reuse and recycle waste.
But Newcastle’s responsible cabinet member, previously a critic of the project, replied, according to ChronicleLive, that it “remains an essential infrastructure project for the council and the residents and businesses it serves. There are no plans to pause or review the council’s involvement in this project.”