Cymraeg icon Cymraeg
Recycling Visit April 2022 small jpeg-119

New stats: Why is Wales an outlier in UK recycling rates?

Ystadegau newydd: Pam mae Cymru yn allanolyn yng nghyfraddau ailgylchu’r DU?

UK waste from households recycling stats released today show Wales far outperforming other UK nations for at least the tenth year running:

  • Wales 56.5%
  • Scotland 41.0%
  • England 44.0%
  • Northern Ireland 49.1%
  • UK average 44.4%

Wales – currently ranked third in the world in domestic recycling – was the only nation to uphold its stellar rates during the pandemic, with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland all seeing a drop in performance.

The new stats reveal Wales to be the only UK nation to reach the minimum 50% recycling target set by the European Union, meaning if the UK were still an EU member, it would potentially be facing infraction fines for failing to meet the standard.

Wales has set its government focus in recent years to concentrate on the nature and climate emergencies.

Food waste has been collected separately from households from across the whole of Wales for the last decade..

When sent to landfill, the hot and compressed conditions convert food waste into methane gas, which is thirty to eighty times more damaging to climate change than carbon dioxide emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third biggest carbon emitter behind China and India. That’s why food waste is ranked by the United Nations as one of the main target areas to limit runaway climate change.

In Wales, food waste from 22 local authorities is sent to one of five anaerobic digestion plants around the country and converted into 7 MW of energy.

That’s enough to power around 12,000 homes.

The high rate of household recycling in Wales saves over 400,000 tonnes of CO2 per year from being released into the atmosphere and further accelerating climate change.

The story hasn’t always been the same. Prior to devolution, Wales was one of the world’s worst recyclers, recycling just 4.8% of household waste in 1998-1999. Since then, the Welsh Government has invested £1billion to support local authorities in achieving Wales’ ambitious targets.

Its bold circular economy plans released last year, aims to achieve zero waste in Wales by 2050 and becomes the world’s best recycler.

Minister for Climate Change Julie James said:

“Most people in Wales now deem it unthinkable to scrape their food waste directly into the rubbish bin instead of their food caddy. This amazing change in behaviour by the Welsh public stops emissions from being released into the atmosphere that accelerate climate change.

“Our recycling stats are world class thanks to a Team Wales effort. Despite the pandemic and all the challenges it bought with it, local authorities managed to prioritise recycling, the collectors worked heroically all the way through, and the fantastic people of Wales continued to recycle.

“We must now continue to raise our ambitions to reach zero waste by 2050 and net zero carbon emissions so we can tackle the climate and nature emergencies in earnest, and pass on a resilient, green and prosperous planet to our future generations.”


**Please see video and photos, credit Abigail Appolonio on behalf of Welsh Government. Collection photos are taken in Newport, one of 16 local authorities in Wales who have signed up to Welsh Government’s Blueprint waste collection, which requires all recycling to be separated at kerbside. Newport collection services are provided by social enterprise, Wastesaver. The second set of photos is taken at the anaerobic digestion plant in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Suggested captions in notes to editors.


Notes to editors

  • The new stats published today: UK statistics on waste - GOV.UK (
  • Currently 16 of 22 local authorities have signed up to Welsh Government’s Blueprint waste collection, which requires all recycling to be separated at kerbside.
  • Welsh Government, through partners WRAP Cymru, stepped up its Be Mighty recycling campaign during the pandemic to motivate the public to continue their recycling efforts.
  • Eunomics study ranked Wales as the world's third best recycler: Recycling – Who Really Leads the World? - Eunomia
  • Welsh Government’s ‘Beyond Recycling’ strategy can be found here: Wales aims to become world number one recycler as it announces Circular Economy strategy | GOV.WALES:
  • Wales is the only country in the world to embed a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in Law, which means that any policy decisions made today must consider the impact on the generations of tomorrow.
  • Our consumption and associated waste is a key contributor to the emissions heating our planet, the decline in biodiversity and is detrimental to public health. A move to a circular economy - where materials are kept in use and waste is avoided – is essential to decarbonisation and aims to kick our single use habit and decrease emissions, while building supply chain resilience as it removes the reliance on raw materials from overseas.
  • Our next statutory minimum target is to reach a 70% recycling rate by 2024-2025 and we are working with Local Authorities and other key partners to develop new statutory recycling targets beyond 70% in line with our ambition to reach zero waste and 100% recycling by 2050
  • Keeping resources in use and avoiding waste is a key part of the transition to a circular economy and delivery of a Net Zero Wales.
  • Recycling helps keep high-quality materials in our economy and strengthens supply chains.
  • Shorter supply chains, and realising the value in our resources, are key to our efforts to decarbonise, reduce waste and support our recovery from the pandemic.
  • Methane (CH4) has a 100-year global warming potential (GWP) of 27–30, and a 20 year GWP of 81–83. The GWP of carbon dioxide (CO2) is 1. So methane is c30-80 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide


  • Since devolution, Wales has invested £1billion to support local authorities in achieving its ever-growing ambitious recycling targets
  • Food waste, one of the biggest areas of global focus to limit climate change, has been collected separately across Wales for the last decade
  • In Wales, all cooked and uncooked food including fruit and veg peelings, coffee grounds and plate scrapings are placed into kitchen caddies
  • Food waste is placed in lockable kerbside containers, separate from other waste ready for collection
  • The Welsh Government’s recommended recyclables collection method sees them presented at the kerbside separated in advance by residents, like in Newport
  • When sent to landfill, hot and compressed conditions convert food waste into methane gas, which is 30 to 80 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and accelerates climate change
  • Councils in Wales send their food waste to an anaerobic digestion plant, like this one in Rhondda Cynon Taf
  • Anaerobic digestion plants turn methane into energy, reducing the amount of fossil fuels needed and reducing the amount of harmful pollutants being released into the atmosphere and accelerating climate change