The amount of rubbish being sent for recycling has almost doubled over the past five years, with 33.8 million tonnes being recycled since 2003, according to figures released today by the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Recent reports have claimed that the economic crisis led to a slump in demand for recyclable material, but the new data revealed that despite falling prices for some forms of recyclable material, the vast majority of material sent to recyclers by households and businesses is indeed recycled.
"Despite a dip in prices for recycled materials, more than 95 per cent of material put out for recycling is being recycled, helping make the best use of ever-scarcer resources," said Laura Underwood of charity Recycle Now. "The feedback we're getting from recycling businesses is that markets are open and recycling is still worth a considerable amount to the UK economy at today's prices."
The findings echo recent figures from the government-backed Waste Resource Action Programme, which found that prices for many forms of recyclable material have recovered in recent months.
According to the new data, recycling has saved more than 30 million tonnes of CO2 from being emitted over the past five years, equivalent to taking one third of all cars on the road in Britain off the road for one year.
The recycling industry has also provided a major boost to the UK economy, according to Recycle Now, contributing £5.5bn annually to the economy while supporting about 100,000 jobs.
However, the data suggested that the improvement in recycling rates has tailed off slightly in the past year, with the amount of waste being recycled during 2008 increasing by just 200,000 tonnes to 9.9m tonnes, a more modest increase than that achieved in recent years.
The amount of waste sent to waste-to-energy plants also increased by just 10,000 tonnes to 3.17m tonnes.
The new figures came as new research from the EU again confirmed that while the UK's recycling record is improving, it still lags far behind many of its continental neighbours. According to the research, the UK was the tenth best recycler in the EU in 2007, sending 22 per cent of its waste to be recycled. In contrast, Germany, which tops the league table, recycles 46 per cent of its waste.
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