Save the planet

Recycling in Surrey 2022-23

Surrey residents and its councils are some of the country’s top performers when it comes to recycling and rubbish. We know this because each year we produce a report that looks at the latest available statistics on the matter. In particular, we measure ourselves on three key statistics:

  • The proportion of material that residents threw away that was recycled.
  • The weight of rubbish that was thrown away per household.
  • The proportion of material that residents threw away that was sent to landfill.

Our report compares the above statistics (and more) to other similar authorities in the country and what’s happening nationally and we look at longer term trends in the county and further afield. In the report, we also take a look at what happens to recycling and rubbish once it’s collected and we give you a few pointers along the way to help you keep Surrey pushing for the top of the table.

The latest report looks at the recycling and rubbish that was collected between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023. The statistics are a combination of those produced for the UK by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and our own analysis taken from data produced by our partners, the 11 district and borough councils, which collect residents’ recycling and rubbish, and Surrey County Council, which is responsible for disposing of it and running the county’s community recycling centres.

Surrey’s recycling and rubbish in 2022-23

Surrey continued to perform well for the recycling and rubbish its residents produced and what happened to it after it was collected in 2022-23.

  • Surrey went from 3rd up to joint 2nd in the recycling league table. While the proportion of waste that we recycled dropped slightly to 54.0%, the drop was lower than seen elsewhere.
  • The amount of rubbish thrown away per household dropped significantly, by 5.3%. This puts Surrey in 7th place out of 29 so while it’s a good achievement, we can go higher!
  • The proportion of recycling and rubbish that we sent to landfill fell to 4.4%. This was a drop of 10.7% and shows that the county is relying less on the least preferred option to process waste.

Overall, Surrey is currently one of the higher achieving authorities in England but there’s certainly room to improve. In particular, we want our recycling rate to go up and the amount of rubbish residents produce per household to go down. Read on to find out more about what we’re doing to get there and how you can help us too.

Recycling in Surrey 2022-23 at a glance

What we recycled

Surrey closes in on top place of the recycling league table

In 2022-23, Surrey recycled 54.0% of the waste collected from residents. This puts the county in joint 2nd place when compared with 29 similar waste disposal authorities in England. This is a great performance by residents and is good news for the environment – the more we recycle, the fewer resources are used to create new products. And this means fewer emissions are created, helping reduce the impact of climate change.

You can see how we compare to other similar waste disposal authorities in England in the chart below.

Our recycling rate is following the national trend

The overall recycling rate for England has been broadly decreasing over the last five years with the rate going from 43.5% in 2018-19 to 41.7% in 2022-23. Surrey’s recycling rate has followed a similar trend over the same period, although the decline hasn’t been as steep.

Surrey’s recycling rate is currently 54.0%, down 0.4% from 2021-22. You can see how the recycling rate in Surrey has changed over the last five years in the chart below.

Making sure everything in your recycling bin gets recycled

We know that recycling can sometimes be confusing. Inaccurate media reports, greenwashing and misleading packaging can lead people to put items that can’t be recycled into recycling bins. It’s what we call contamination. We call it that because if too much of it is found in the back of a recycling truck, the whole truckload, including legitimately recyclable material, could be rejected. If so, it will be turned into energy instead of being recycled.

In 2022-23, an estimated 297.7 tonnes of material was rejected for recycling due to contamination. While this figure is down by 31.1% from 2021-22, it’s still a lot of material that could be turned into something new that isn’t. And all because of what probably amounts to a small amount of unacceptable material.

In some situations, material that can’t be recycled makes its way into the recycling process once it has been emptied from the truck. In 2022-23, the proportion of material found in recycling that couldn’t be recycled increased by 1.7 percentage points, amounting to an estimated 11,636 tonnes. The good news is that this material didn’t cause any good recycling to go unrecycled. However, the bad news is that it costs councils money to remove the material; money that could be better spent elsewhere.

We’re working hard to get these numbers down and hope our residents will do the same by following some quick and easy rules on what should (and shouldn’t) go in recycling bins below.

Not everything can be recycled, so what’s the answer?

Unfortunately, technology and systems do not yet exist that enable us to recycle everything. That means there will always be some waste that can’t be repurposed. That’s why, as well as encouraging residents to recycle as much as possible, we are also helping those who live in the county to reduce the amount of waste, particularly rubbish, that they produce overall and to reuse and repair what they have as much as they can. And, as you’ll see below, we also make sure that most of what does go in the rubbish bin is turned into energy.

Help keep your county at the top
We do our best to recycle as much material as we can and you can help too – here are some easy ways to do your bit for Surrey:

  • If you’re not sure what to do with an item (or even if you think you are but want to check to be sure), use our Surrey Recycles search tool to help you, wherever you live in Surrey. You can even download it as an app on your phone.
  • To make sure you get the right materials in the right bin every time, we’ve put together five quick wins for your bins.
  • Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and X to get up-to-the-minute tips, tricks and advice on how to recycle right.

How much we threw away

The most powerful thing you can do to lessen the impact of your waste on the environment is to produce less of it. In Surrey during 2022-23, residents threw away 493,510 tonnes of material, a reduction of 5.2% from the previous year. So, we’re heading in the right direction when it comes to reducing waste too.

The key waste type that we’d like to reduce is rubbish. While most of it is put to good use by being turned into energy, it isn’t as good for the planet and it costs more to process than recycling. In 2022-23, Surrey residents produced 441.6kg of rubbish per household, 5.3% less than the previous year. Of 29 similar authorities in England, that puts us in 7th place. Great job everyone!

You can see how we compare to other similar waste disposal authorities in England in the chart below.

You can see how the amount of rubbish produced per household in Surrey has changed over the last five years in the chart below.

Help Surrey climb the league table

  • Join Rethink Waste, our incentive scheme that can help you reduce the waste you produce in the first place.
  • Do a DIY waste audit at home to find out what items are taking up most space in your rubbish bin.
  • Think about what you buy before you buy it. Do you need it? Can you reuse or repurpose something else instead? If you must buy it, will it last, can it be reused or can it be recycled?
  • Can you reuse an item instead of putting it in the rubbish bin? Think plastic bags, food tubs and bottles, all of which can be used again and again.
  • Can you repair a broken item? Surrey has lots of repair cafes – check one out!
  • Can you pass on an item to someone else?

What happened to Surrey’s recycling and rubbish

We kept most of what we threw away on our shores

We aim to treat most of what Surrey residents throw away here in the UK. The more that is kept in the UK the better, as fewer emissions are used in transporting materials across long distances and it means we can be self-sufficient when it comes to waste, rather than relying on other countries to manage our waste on our behalf. In 2022-23, 89% of Surrey’s recycling and rubbish stayed in the UK to be treated with 83% of recycling and 98% of rubbish remaining on our shores.

Sometimes, however, it’s not possible for material to be treated in the UK. This can be because there isn’t the demand in this country for the new product that is produced by the recycling process, or there aren’t enough facilities in the UK to recycle or treat the amount produced. When material goes abroad, it is sent to reputable organisations with world-leading facilities to be treated.

What goes in your recycling bins gets turned into something new

Material from recycling bins is collected and taken to different locations to be recycled in a number of ways. Before being passed on to organisations that turn the material into saleable product, it is taken to a local facility to be sorted. Representatives from Surrey County Council regularly visit these sorting facilities to view their processes. Each material creates different new products, e.g., plastic might be turned into clothing, glass makes new glass and food waste is turned into electricity and fertiliser.

Find out more and watch videos about what happens to material in Surrey when it is recycled.

We know that some residents may wonder whether what they put into their recycling bins is actually recycled. In Surrey, we can assure residents that all recycling is passed onto organisations that are permitted and regulated by the Environment Agency and provide details of the material’s end destination to demonstrate the amount of it that was recycled.

Most of what goes in your rubbish bin gets turned into energy

While 54.0% of Surrey’s waste is recycled, the majority of what’s left, at 36.7%, is turned into energy. Heat produced by burning the rubbish is used to raise steam, which in turn drives a turbine and generator to produce electricity. The electricity is fed into the local or National Grid to provide power to homes, businesses and street lights.

The facilities we use to do this are highly regulated and emissions from the plants are strictly controlled to ensure they do not cause harm to the environment or human health.

Only a small amount of rubbish is sent to landfill

And if it can’t be recycled or turned into energy, it is sent to landfill. This is either because the material is unsuitable for energy from waste plants, e.g., bulky waste, or because a suitable energy from waste plant was unavailable, e.g., due to maintenance shutdown.

In 2022-23, the proportion of waste that was sent to landfill fell by 10.7 percentage points to 4.4%. One of the reasons for this is that since 2023 more bulky waste has been recycled or turned into energy when previously it was landfilled. This includes carpets, which are now shredded with the residue sent to a plant to be turned into energy, and mattresses, which are now broken down with their parts either recycled or turned into energy. Surrey is in 16th place compared to the other 29 similar waste disposal authorities in England, as you can see in the chart below.

In the chart below, you can also see that the proportion of waste that we send to landfill is quite variable. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including unplanned shutdowns at energy from waste facilities, meaning more has to be sent to landfill (as happened in 2021-22).

However, landfill rates are likely to remain low. Surrey County Council recently entered into a new contract with a supplier to process rubbish that should ensure that no material is sent to landfill for the duration of the 10-year deal. And, as seen above, bulky waste is no longer being landfilled. You can see how the amount of waste sent to landfill in Surrey has changed over the last five years in the chart below.

Recycling and rubbish where you live

Click on the map below to reveal how each local council in Surrey compares for the recycling and rubbish collected from residents.

Take a look at the table below to find out about the recycling and rubbish that was produced where you live and what happened to it in 2022-23.

District or borough councilRubbish collected from households per household (kg)Proportion recycled, composted or reused (%)Proportion of recycling recycled in the UK (%)
Elmbridge Borough Council410.253.5%76.4%
Epsom and Ewell Borough Council398.551.8%60.4%
Guildford Borough Council360.056.4%86.9%
Mole Valley District Council366.655.1%75.8%
Reigate and Banstead Borough Council375.154.2%97.6%
Runnymede Borough Council385.247.9%73.4%
Spelthorne Borough Council437.543.0%73.2%
Surrey Heath Borough Council333.959.3%76.3%
Tandridge District Council353.057.8%81.7%
Waverley Borough Council337.457.8%75.2%
Woking Borough Council359.755.8%77.1%

To find out about the waste we produced and what happened to it during the previous year, read Recycling in Surrey 2021-22.