Archived press release
Gone to waste: how the UK burns money by dumping and incinerating resources

The UK is throwing away over £650 million every year by dumping and incinerating waste which, if recycled, could save 19 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually – equivalent to taking around six million cars off the roads – a new report by Friends of the Earth shows today [7 October 2009].

Research by the green campaign group reveals that if material currently being landfilled or incinerated was recycled instead, it would slash emissions, reduce the need to import materials from abroad, and create new UK green jobs across the waste management industry.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to ban the landfilling and incineration of recyclable material and to ensure that as much waste as possible from households and businesses is either reused or recycled.

Friends of the Earth’s Senior Resource Use Campaigner Dr. Michael Warhurst said:

“The UK is woefully lagging behind much of Europe on recycling. Flanders in Belgium recycles over 70 per cent of its waste – that’s twice as much as we recycle here.

“Our low recycling rate means that we have to import more expensive resources like aluminium – this is economic madness when they could be recycled here and sold for profit instead.

“It’s time we recognised the real value of the materials we throw away every day. We only have one Earth and its resources are finite – making better use of them would save money and help tackle climate change.

“The Government must scrap its plans for new incinerators and provide councils with the support they need to increase recycling instead. The money saved should then be reinvested in greening our economy.”


Notes to editor:

1.   The full Friends of the Earth report “Gone to waste: the valuable resources
that European countries bury and burn” is available to download at

It estimates the value of materials in total UK waste that could be recycled, based on an EU-wide analysis of 2004 data and adjusted to account for the improved recycling rates in the UK since then.

In 2004, the UK produced around 51 million tonnes of recyclable waste, from households, businesses and industry. Around 28 million tonnes (55 per cent) of this waste was being sent to landfill or incineration. Taking into account improved recycling rates since 2004, an estimated 24 million tonnes of recyclable waste is still being disposed of annually – worth over £650 million.

This is a conservative estimate of the value of the materials concerned. It focuses on high tonnage materials such as plastics and aluminium, and does not include low tonnage but valuable materials such as scarce metals found in electronic equipment.
The estimated value of recyclable materials does not take into account the cost of recycling it.

2.   Friends of the Earth’s report also shows that the whole of the EU is
wasting over €5 billion every year by landfilling and incinerating recyclable material, and that recycling it instead would save 148 million tonnes of greenhouse gases – the equivalent to taking 47 million cars of the road per year.

But the UK is lagging behind many other EU countries on recycling: in 2007, the UK recycled 34 per cent of municipal waste, well behind Germany (64%), Belgium (62%), the Netherlands (60%) and Austria (59%) - see
The UK has not set a target for recycling commercial and business waste from businesses in England – the Government does not currently know how much waste of this sort exists.

3.   Friends of the Earth is calling for a ban on the landfill and incineration
of recyclable materials, an approach that has worked well in the Belgian region of Flanders. This issue is high on Britain’s political agenda – Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has indicated support for banning certain materials from landfill and Defra will shortly announce a public consultation on landfill bans in England (see

4.   Research shows that recycling is better than incineration or landfilling
from a climate point of view. The climate benefits associated with recycling come from the energy saved from not having to extract, process and transport raw materials across the globe. This saved energy far outweighs any energy that might be inefficiently generated through incinerating waste.

5.   A recent Friends of the Earth Europe report shows that Europe is using more
than our fair share of the world’s resources. See

If you're a journalist looking for press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.

Published by Friends of the Earth Trust