“Conservative councils recycle more than Labour ones.”
Conservative party, 8 April 2019
In the run up to local elections in May, the Conservative party has claimed that Conservative councils recycle more than Labour councils.
That’s correct for England, based on the best available data. In 2017/18 Conservative councils recycled, reused or composted around 49% of their household waste, compared to 36% in Labour councils.
Across England in 2017/18, around 45% of collected household waste was recycled, reused or composted. Research suggests that variation in recycling rates can’t solely be put down to which party runs your council, though.
How we worked out the figures
The data behind these figures is quite complex. Waste collection and disposal are separate responsibilities and these are often split between councils (for example a district council does one and a county council the other), or between councils and waste disposal authorities (where several councils group together to collect or dispose of waste together). Not all of these councils will be run by the same political party though and this can further complicate the process of working out whether one party does more recycling than the other.
In calculating the headline figures above we’ve focused on those councils responsible for waste disposal as that is the point at which waste is actually recycled. Where different councils manage waste disposal together through waste disposal authorities, we’ve only considered their data if all the constituent councils are from the same party. This is only the case with one of the waste disposal authorities (Merseyside) where each of the five constituent councils are Labour-run.
As a result, the data doesn’t cover 22 of 70 Labour councils and four of 55 Conservative councils which are responsible for waste disposal.
But collecting recyclable waste is obviously a necessary step to making sure that waste is recycled, so it’s also possible to do the analysis by focusing on the councils responsible for that part of the process.
Across Conservative-run councils responsible for collecting household waste, 47% was recycled compared to 36% in Labour-run councils.
These rates can’t solely be put down to which party runs your council
Although the claim is accurate in saying Conservative councils recycle more, research suggests not all of the difference between recycling rates is due to the actions of local authorities.
For example, a 2011 report from the London Assembly says:
“Recycling rates are the product of a complex interaction of a number of factors. There are some factors that boroughs can do little to influence or change, for example, the profile of local residents, social class and income levels (socio-economic factors), or housing density.
“However, other factors such as waste collection, and communication and engagement with residents can be influenced and shaped by local authorities to help boost recycling locally.”
A 2015 report from environmental charity WRAP estimated that factors within a council’s control accounted for between 39% and 65% of the recycling rate variation across regions.