Recycling Bill success: How we got the UK recycling

Do you recycle at home? It might seem normal now, but it was a hard fought Friends of the Earth campaign that led to recycling collections on your doorstep.
  31 Aug 2016    |      4 min

It's hard to believe, but back in 2000/01 only 12% of our municipal waste was recycled in England and Wales, despite the fact that over 60% of the material in our bins could be recycled or composted. It was one of the worst recycling rates in Western Europe.

But while UK recycling was at a low, we knew if people had the opportunity, they would want to recycle more.

Mersea island recycling trial Essex 2000 to 2004
Mersea island recycling trial Essex 2000 to 2004
Credit: Nick Strugnell

Recycling is vitally important for reducing our consumption of resources and one of the most important ways people can do something for the environment. Not only that, but recycling also creates jobs, saves energy and reduces the pollution from waste disposal.

Bringing recycling to every doorstep

That's why in 2000, Friends of the Earth started campaigning for a new recycling bill which would mean every household in the country would have a doorstep recycling service – so that recycling could be as easy as putting the rubbish out.

Friends of the Earth Household recycling for all action at parliament
Waste No More lobby of Parliament, January 2003
Credit: Calliste Lelliott

The bill would mean that by 2010, local authorities would have to provide every household in England with a separate collection of at least two types of recyclable materials.

Thanks to the 2003 Household Waste Recycling Act, drafted and pushed through Parliament by Friends of the Earth and our supporters, the percentage of household waste recycled in the UK reached 43% by 2016. And the Act also enabled Wales to enact similar legislation, if they wanted, which they certainly did. Wales is now in the top 3 recycling nations in the world.

“It’s fantastic to walk down the street every Wednesday morning and see all the recycling crates and food waste bins put out on the pavement. In the past most of this would have ended up being burnt in the local incinerator. The number of materials my council collect is growing all the time, and I always feel proud to think of the role Friends of the Earth has played in getting us to this stage.” Becky Slater, 29, Resources Campaigner

We did it together

The campaign for the recycling act involved thousands of supporters who wrote to their MPs and took part in campaign events. Without their help it wouldn’t have been possible to prove the demand for doorstep recycling services.

Recycling campaigner with Friends of the Earth
People from across the country went to Parliament to urge their MPs to support the recycling bill
Credit: Calliste Lelliott

We also had support from hundreds of local authorities and organisations including the Community Recycling Network, Young People’s Trust for the Environment, National Alliance of Women’s Organisations and UNISON.

The bill gained support of the majority of MPs and Joan Ruddock – who was MP for Lewisham and Deptford during the campaign – sponsored the bill with Baroness Gale negotiating its passage through the House of Lords.

The recycling bill became law

It was on 30 October 2003 that the Household Waste Recycling Act cleared the House of Lords and received Royal Assent at the end of its rollercoaster journey through parliament.

The law meant that everyone could easily take part in recycling from home.

Household Waste Recycling Act made law
Parliament team succeed in getting Household Waste Recycling act passed in 2003.

Help us do more

Because of supporters like you, we were able to change the way people recycle in the UK for the better.

Right now, our campaigners across the country are working to tackle climate change, fight for clean air, save our bees and more.

If you’d like to join the fight for the environment, you could support us with a donation.