The UK government has refused to back EU recycling targets, an investigation has revealed.
Leaked notes from a Brussels delegation, seen by Unearthed - the investigative team at Greeenpeace - appear to show the UK is unwilling to sign up to a Europe-wide target of recycling 65% of all municipal waste by 2035.
Environment secretary Michael Gove, who unveiled the government’s 25-year environmental strategy earlier this month while promising to clamp down on plastic waste, has been accused of hypocrisy by campaigners.
Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “It seems that the government has been vocally backing ambitious recycling targets in Westminster while quietly opposing them in Brussels.
“If Michael Gove wants to avoid accusations of hypocrisy, he should make sure his department speaks with one voice on both sides of the Channel.
“More recycling means less waste being burned, buried or ending up as litter, yet Britain’s progress in this sector has stalled. Instead of trying to slow everyone else down, Gove should show real leadership by championing ambitious targets both in the UK and the EU while helping revitalise Britain’s recycling efforts.”
Diplomats from three other EU nations told Greenpeace that UK officials had voiced opposition to the binding recycling target, with one anonymous source describing them as “quite blunt”.
The organisation said it also obtained an internal analysis from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs dated July 2017, which estimated that increasing the UK’s recycling rate to 65% - which would require significant reforms - would save the waste sector billions of pounds by 2030, and could save thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions by 2100.
Under the current laws, EU nations must achieve a legally binding recycling rate of 50% by 2020. Six member states have already hit the target, with Germany already recycling an estimated 66% of its municipal waste.
After significant improvements over the past decade, England’s recycling rate has stalled at around 44%.
A Defra spokesperson said: “The government will make a decision on its vote following close scrutiny of the proposals, which are still provisional.
“Our recycling rates are rising, less waste is now sent to landfill and separate food waste collections are increasing, but as set out in the Clean Growth Strategy and 25-year environment plan, we are working with industry to improve the nation’s recycling rates further.”
“When we leave the EU we will have the opportunity to strengthen and enhance our environmental standards even further by delivering a green Brexit.”