LESS than half of household waste is being recycled in Scotland with “confusing” rules and variation between council areas blamed.

Recycling rates in Scotland ranged from 58 per cent in Midlothian to as low as 19% in the Orkney Islands, according to a UK-wide league table of council performance in 2018.

It comes as the Scottish Government scrapped a target to ban biodegradable municipal waste being sent to landfill by 2021 as the country is not yet fully prepared.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said she was “reluctantly” pushing the cut-off date back to 2025 after it became apparent that the 2021 deadline could not be achieved “without reliance on export options, including landfill in England”.

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Research earlier this year by the Scottish Environmental Services Association estimated that councils and businesses would have to send a million tonnes of waste to landfill in England instead if the ban went ahead, at a cost of £100 million.

The Scottish Government has also set a target to reduce overall waste by 15% by 2025 compared to 2011 levels, and to increase recycling of non-food waste to 70% by the same deadline.

However, freedom of information data from councils across Scotland reveals that, on average, only 46% of waste in Scotland was recycled last year.

Besides Orkney, Dumfries and Galloway and Borders councils also recorded recycling rates well below average, at 28% and 38% respectively.

Only six councils recycled more than half their waste - Inverclyde, East Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, Perth and Kinross, and Midlothian.

Across the UK as a whole, 54% of councils have employees who will inspect bins for anything that is contaminated or wrongly recycled.

In general, councils with the measures in place recycled more waste.

However, in Scotland the council with the highest recycling rate, Midlothian, said it does not monitor recycling bins or refuse to uplift waste that does not meet requirements.

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Some of the other best performing councils - East Ayrshire and Inverclyde - said they would inspect bins and refuse to take recycling that did not comply with rules.

Orkney also said it would inspect and potentially refuse recycling, yet scored lowest for recycling with the council forced to send waste to Shetland for processing.

It comes as Midlothian Council opened its new Millerhill recycling and energy recovery centre (RERC) on Friday which will divert 155,000 tonnes of waste that would have gone to landfill and turn it into energy.

Mr Milligan said: “The new recovery centre is our latest initiative that’s now diverting all of our grey bin waste but we’ve been working very hard over the years to be able to meet Zero Waste targets.

"For example, we introduced food waste recycling four years ago, and I think, in general our residents are just very motivated and very aware of the importance of recycling.”

A spokesman for Orkney council said its latest figures, for 2019, indicate that recycling has climbed to 21% - the highest in five years.

He added: “Unlike many councils, we do not include garden waste in our recycling figures. We produce an excellent soil conditioner from such waste, but do not have the facilities currently to produce certified compost – a necessary step if this is to be included in our recycling figures.

“Nor do we collect and treat food waste separately, as the legislation exempts us from doing this, due to our rural location.

“In addition, many of our smaller isles do not currently have kerbside recycling collections. This is another factor affecting our overall recycling rate.”

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Confused.com, who gathered the data, also found that 57% of people surveyed wrongly believe polystyrene can be recycle, and that black plastic packaging, foil crisp packets, takeaway coffee cups, and used paper towels were among the items causing most confusion. None of these are suitable for recycling.

Consumers were more likely to blame manufacturers than councils for poor recycling rates, however, and backed substantial reductions in the amount of plastic packaging being used.

A small number of UK councils currently fine people for recycling breaches, particularly if they are repeat offenders, but only 15% of people surveyed believed that households should be penalised in this way.

Tom Vaughan, head of home at Confused.com, said: “It’s shocking how many of us are unknowingly putting non-recyclable items into recycling bins, like coffee cups. Or aren’t recycling items that can be."

He added: “It doesn’t help that councils seem to have different rules. We know that this is often down to resources and out of their control. But there needs to be some level of consistency across the board to keep people motivated to recycle.”

Derek Robertson, chief executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, said it was disappointing that households encountered confusion. 

He added: “Recycling itself is only part of the solution. We all need to work together to ensure there is less waste to dispose of, and less being thrown away inappropriately. If we don’t secure long term behaviour change, we will continue to see a decline in the quality of our environment, in Scotland and globally.”

Figures from Sepa last week revealed that overall, the amount of waste being produced by households in Scotland is at a record low of 2.41 million tonnes in 2018 - down by more than 200,000 tonnes since 2011.

Adrian Bond, programme manager for recycling at Zero Waste Scotland said: “The best thing that householders can do is follow the advice from their local authority as to what goes in what bin.

"This will help boost Scotland’s recycling industry as contaminant free material is far more recyclable and attractive to recyclers.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are taking action to tackle Scotland’s throwaway culture which is why we are hosting a summit to ensure a more consistent, efficient and easier to understand approach to recycling.

“Scotland has generated its lowest level of household waste since recording began in 2011 and, for a second year in a row, we recycled or composted more than we threw away to landfill. In making this progress, we continue to exceed the EU target set for 2020 relating to biodegradable municipal waste.

“While local authorities are best placed to provide advice on local recycling guidelines, we continue to work alongside them to create a more efficient approach to recycling and the Household Recycling Charter for local authorities will be evaluated in due course.”