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UK Recycling Statistics, Facts & Figures of 2022

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Recycling Statistics, Facts & Figures for the UK in 2022

Global recycling rates are on the rise, but the world’s population is also continuing to grow year on year. As a result, we’re now producing more and more products in order to keep up with demand, which has led to us producing more waste than ever before. 

But just how much of this waste is recycled and turned into new products, compost or sustainable forms of energy? And how many UK adults recycle in 2022? To find out this and much more, we’ve rounded up all of the most recent recycling statistics for the UK in 2022, including a survey of the population’s recycling habits and a breakdown of which age groups, gender and even cities recycle the most.

Recycling Statistics in a Nutshell

  • 73% of UK adults recycle to the best of their ability
  • 1 in 20 UK adults (5%) say they never recycle
  • The most environmentally conscious age group in the UK when it comes to recycling is those aged 55-64, 86% of whom always recycle to the best of their ability
  • Young people are the least motivated in terms of recycling, as just half of 18-24 year-olds say they recycle to the best of their ability
  • People in Swansea, Coventry and Bristol lead the way when it comes to recycling efforts, whilst Oxford, Liverpool and Leeds appear to be the least motivated to do so
  • Polystyrene and bubble wrap are the materials that confuse the British public most when it comes to recycling, as almost 69,000  searches are conducted in the UK for  ‘can you recycle polystyrene?’ and ‘can you recycle bubble wrap?’ each year. 
  • South Korea has the highest recycling rate in the world, with 56.5% of their waste being recycled. This is followed by Slovenia (51.5%) and Germany (48%).

How many people in the UK recycle in 2022? 

In February 2022, we surveyed 1,000 UK adults using Google Surveys  to find out what percentage of UK adults recycle. Our survey asked:

How would you describe your current attitudes towards recycling?

  • I recycle to the best of my ability
  • I do recycle, but I could improve the way I do it (eg recycling more often, recycle a wider range of materials or make more effort to wash items I recycle)
  • I don’t recycle but need to start
  • I don’t recycle and have no intention of doing so

 

The survey found that: 

  • 73% of UK adults recycle to the best of their ability
  • 22% state that they do recycle, but could improve the way they do it. For instance - recycling more frequently, recycling a wider range of materials or by ensuring they wash items before recycling them.
  • 2% said that they don’t recycle but need to start
  • 3% don’t recycle at all and don’t have any intention of doing so 

Which age groups recycle the most in 2022?

Young people are often referred to as ‘Generation Green’, leading the way when it comes to new sustainability initiatives and raising awareness of climate and environmental issues. But on a day to day basis - who recycles more? Younger or older people? To find out, we asked each of our respondents to tell us which age category they were part of.

 The table below shows a breakdown of recycling habits by age group.

As you can see from the chart: 

  • While young people are often thought to be the most environmentally conscious age group, they are in fact the least likely to recycle to the best of their ability when compared with other age groups. As just half (49%) of those aged 18-24 say they recycle to the best of their ability.
  • On the other hand, the age group that recycles the most efficiently is those aged 55-64, 86% of whom say they always recycle to the best of their ability.
  • In general, the older we get, the more likely we are to be thorough with our recycling and do it more often.

Which gender is the most eco-conscious? Men or women?

Who recycles more? Men or women?

  • Our survey found that women are more likely to recycle to the best of their ability than men
  • 75% of women say they put a lot of effort into recycling.
  • Whilst slightly less men (71%), say the same.

Attitudes towards recycling by UK region in 2022 

Is there a north south divide when it comes to recycling? Or are things fairly even when it comes to which parts of the UK recycle more? We analysed the findings from our survey to find out. 

The table below shows the top 4 UK regions when it comes to recycling habits.

Rank

Region

Percentage who recycle to the best of their ability 

1.

South West 

86%

2.

East Midlands

85%

3.

North East 

80%

4.

North West

80%

 

When it comes to regions:

  • The South West put the most effort into their recycling habits, as a staggering 86% of people living in this region say they recycle to the best of their ability.
  • The East Midlands are not far behind, coming in at 2nd place, as 85% of individuals here say they do the same. 
  • The regions that are the least likely to recycle and have the least intentions of doing so are the West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The UK’s recycling habits on a city level

Are those living in busy city centres the most likely to recycle? Or are those in more rural parts of the country more concerned with the impact of their waste on the environment? To find out, we also asked our survey’s participants to tell us which city they live in. 

The data revealed that:

  • The cities where people are most likely to recycle as best they can are Swansea, followed by Coventry and Bristol
  • The cities that have the highest proportion of people who don’t recycle and have no intention of doing so are Oxford, Liverpool and Leeds.

How thorough are UK households’ recycling habits?

Recycling isn’t always a walk in the park. When you’re in a hurry, it can be difficult to find out which bin a certain form of packaging belongs in - or even whether or not it’s suitable for recycling in your local area at all. This, combined with the washing out of cartons, tins and bottles and taking them out on the correct days or to your local recycling centres can often be enough to cause some to not be quite as thorough with their recycling.

That’s why we asked our respondents how thorough their recycling behaviours are, in order to get a better idea of how much effort UK adults put into recycling in 2022. 

 

 

The survey found that:

  • 45% wash every item they recycle
  • 35% rinse the majority
  • 11% only wash some items 
  • 9% don’t bother at all

Which age groups take the most care when recycling?

The first question of our survey revealed that young adults are the least likely to recycle to the best of their ability. But is the same true when it comes to how thorough they are when they do recycle? 

Our survey revealed:

  • The age groups most likely to wash their recycled packaging are those aged over 65 (54%) and 18-24s (51%).
  • Whilst the least likely age groups to do so are those aged  25 to 34 (14%) and those aged 45 to 54 and 55 to 64, as just 8% of people in these age groups rinse their recycled materials.

Which parts of the UK recycle most thoroughly?

Our survey also asked for the locations of respondents who told us about their habits when it comes to washing or rinsing their household recycling waste. Our analysis of these findings revealed that:

  • People in Northern Ireland are far more likely to wash their recyclable waste than any other part of the UK, as a whopping 70% of those from the region say they make sure to do this.
  • The second best region when it comes to recycling hygiene is the North West, as over half (53%) of people in the region say they rinse out their recycling.
  • This is closely followed by the South West and West Midlands at a joint 49%.
  • On a city level, Belfast leads the way (70%), followed by Coventry (67%) and Oxford (65%).

But what about those who don’t rinse their rubbish?

Don’t worry - we’re not judging. It’s not always convenient to rinse out your cartons, bottles and tins. Particularly if you live in a busy household or regularly have visitors, it can take a really long time to wash each and every bit of recyclable material - and it’s not the most exciting past-time either! So which parts of the UK have the highest proportions of recycle-rinsing-dodgers? Well, our survey found that: 

  • People in Yorkshire and the Humber and the South West are least likely to wash their recyclables, as 13% of people in these areas say they never do this.
  • This is followed by those in Wales, Northern Ireland and the North West, 11% of whom say they don’t wash or rinse their recycled items either. 
  • When it comes to cities, the least likely to rinse their items are Worcester (29%), Gloucester (27%) and Plymouth (24%).

Are we putting the right things in the right recycling bins?

Washing items before putting them in the recycling is all well and good… But it’s also important that once they’re washed they go into the correct bin! That’s why we asked respondents how frequently they check the packaging before putting it in the recycling. 
 

 

The survey revealed that: 

  • A third (30%) of UK adults say they always check the recycling instructions on a label’s packaging before disposing of each of its components. 
  • 40% say they often do this. 
  • And 21% said they sometimes do.

So that takes us to 91%... but what about the other 9% of people in the UK? 

Our survey found that: 

  • 7% of adults in the UK rarely check the labels on packaging to see which parts are recyclable. That equates to 4.7 million people! 
  • And 3% said they never check the recycling instructions on packaging! The equivalent of 2 million people.

Which age groups are most likely to check packaging’s recycling instructions?

Who’s most likely to double check a material’s label before putting it in the recycling? Is it older people or younger? Our survey found that: 

  • The age group that checks recycling packaging labels most is those aged 65+, as 44% of those in this age group say they always check the packaging before sorting items into the recycling.
  • This is followed by those aged 18 to 24 (35%).
  • Whilst the age group least likely to check recycling labels is those aged between 35 and 44, as just 16% say they do this.

Which parts of the UK check recycling labels most thoroughly?

Our survey also found that: 

  • Similarly to their top notch recycling frequency, it turns out Northern Ireland also takes top spot when it comes to the accuracy of their recycling, too! As 57% of Northern Irelanders say they always check packaging’s recycling instructions. 
  • This is followed by the North West (37%) and the East Midlands (33%)
  • Whilst the area least likely to check the recycling information on packaging is Yorkshire and the Humber (23%), followed by Wales and Scotland (both 25%).

At a city level: 

  • People in Oxford check their recycling labels most (55%).
  • Followed by Belfast (50%) and Manchester (42%).
  • Whilst those in Aberystwyth are least likely to do so, as are those in Worcester and Swansea.

Which materials confuse the British public most when it comes to recycling?

What do many of us do when we’re struggling to figure something out? That’s right, we Google it! And it turns out, things are no different when it comes to recycling. To find out which materials’ recycling rules confuse us the most, we used the tool Keyword Finder to analyse online searches for terms beginning with ‘can you recycle…’.

 

 

The table below shows which items we search for online the most when looking for information about their suitability for recycling. 

Rank

Search term

Average yearly searches (between April 2021 and April 2022)

1.

can you recycle polystyrene

49,200

2.

can you recycle bubble wrap

19,200

3.

can you recycle wrapping paper

11,040

4.

can you recycle shredded paper

6,960

5.

can you recycle styrofoam

6,720

6.

can you recycle a pizza box

6,480

7.

can you recycle coat hangers

6,480

8.

can you recycle pizza boxes

6,480

9.

can you recycle tin foil

5,760

10.

can you recycle cds

5,040

11.

can you recycle pringles cans

5,040

12.

can you recycle christmas cards

4,920

13.

can you recycle light bulbs

4,680

14.

can you recycle crisp packets

4,080

15.

can you recycle plastic bags

4,080

16.

can you recycle tissue paper

3,960

17.

can you recycle foil

3,720

18.

can you recycle toothpaste tubes

3,360

19.

can you recycle bubble wrap uk

3,000

20.

can you recycle tassimo pods

3,000

21.

can you recycle aerosol cans

2,880

22.

can you recycle plastic

2,880

23.

can you recycle wood

2,760

24.

can you recycle lateral flow tests

2,640

25.

can you recycle dvd cases

2,520

26.

can you recycle kitchen roll

2,280

27.

can you recycle glass

2,160

28.

can you recycle pizza boxes uk

2,160

29.

can you recycle wallpaper

2,160

30.

can you recycle hangers

2,040

31.

can you recycle light bulbs uk

2,040

32.

can you recycle books

1,920

33.

can you recycle magazines

1,920

34.

can you recycle receipts

1,920

35.

can you recycle coffee pods

1,800

36.

can you recycle photos

1,800

37.

can you recycle black plastic

1,680

38.

can you recycle bottle caps

1,680

39.

can you recycle clothes

1,680

40.

can you recycle cd cases

1,560

41.

can you recycle dvds

1,560

42.

can you recycle shredded paper uk

1,560

43.

can you recycle tetra pak

1,560

44.

can you recycle dvd

1,560

45.

can you recycle plastic hangers

1,440

46.

can you recycle deodorant cans

1,440

48.

can you recycle broken glass

1,320

49.

can you recycle dolce gusto pods

1,320

50.

can you recycle cds uk

1,320

 

As you can see from the table: 

  • The most confusing item to recycle is polystyrene, with a staggering 49,200 searches being conducted for the term ‘can you recycle polystyrene’ in the last year within the UK alone! 
  • This is followed by bubble wrap (19,200).
  • And wrapping paper (11,040), shredded paper (6,960) and styrofoam (6,720).

Which country has the highest recycling rate?

The results from our survey and online search data analysis have made it clear that recycling is something many of us do here in the UK. But what about the rest of the world? Are they as dedicated to recycling as we are? And which country recycles the most? 

To find out, we took a look at data from the OECD’s most recent report: Environment at a Glance 2020: Waste and Materials

 

 

As you can see from the chart above and table below: 

  • South Korea has the highest recycling rate in the world, with 56.5% of waste being recycled.
  • Slovenia follows in close second place (51.5%) then Germany (48%) and Latvia (35.4%).
  • Whilst the United Kingdom sits in 18th place, as 26.9% of our waste goes on to be recycled.

Rank

Country

Percentage of waste that is recycled

1.

South Korea

56.5

2.

Slovenia

51.5

3.

Germany

48

4.

Latvia

35.4

5.

Belgium

34.1

6.

Denmark

33.5

7.

Italy

32.5

8.

Sweden

32.5

9.

Lithuania

31.3

10.

Estonia

30.3

11.

Norway

29.9

12.

Switzerland

29.9

13.

Luxembourg

29.7

14.

Finland

29.3

15.

Ireland

28.2

16.

Netherlands

27.7

17.

Slovakia

26.9

18.

United Kingdom

26.9

19.

Austria

26.5

20.

Hungary

26.5

 

The UK’s Recycling Facts, Figures and Statistics of 2022

We hope our latest recycling statistics have ‘bin’ insightful and helped you learn more about the state of recycling in the UK in 2022! If you’re on the hunt for some sustainable, environmentally friendly packaging options, check out our range of eco packaging.

 

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