Dawn In The Surrey Hills

What happened to Surrey’s waste, 2019-20


Surrey’s residents have a keen interest in what happens to their waste, so this new report aims to be both informative and transparent about that. The report covers the 2019–20 period, and a new version will now be produced each year, to keep residents informed and help demonstrate Surrey’s progress as we work towards reducing waste and recycling more.

How much waste was produced in Surrey?

In 2019–20, a total of 501,797 tonnes of waste was produced in Surrey. This includes waste collected from homes, taken to a recycling bank or Community Recycling Centre, fly-tipping and street cleaning. 56.3% of this waste was recycled, 36.9% was turned into energy and 6.8% was sent to landfill.

According to figures released by Defra in March 2021, Surrey has the 3rd best recycling rate of the 31 two-tier authorities in England.

There are variations across the district and borough areas in the county. The area that recycles the most of its waste collected from homes or taken to bring banks is Surrey Heath Borough Council, where residents recycle 60.8% of their total waste, but even the lowest performing authority in the county beats the average for England, which currently stands at 43.8%. The area where residents produce the least waste overall is Runnymede, where residents produce 291kg per person.

Where did your waste go?

Of the waste that was recycled, the following shows the percentage that was recycled in different areas of the world:

  • 85.8% in the UK.
  • 3.4% in a known destination in Europe.
  • 4.1% in an unknown destination in Europe.
  • 3.3% in a known destination outside of Europe.
  • 2.8% in an unknown destination outside of Europe.
  • 0.5% with no information known about its end destination

Waste that was recycled was turned into several different products:

  • Paper and card – new paper and card.
  • Garden waste – compost or soil conditioner.
  • Food waste – biofertiliser and biogas, used to generate electricity, heat and transport fuel.
  • Plastics – new products such as picnic benches, football shirts or children’s toys.
  • Glass – bottles or jars or ground up to be used as road surface.
  • Metal tins and cans – new tins and cans.
  • Electrical items – new materials that can become part of shipbuilding, jewellery or musical instruments.
  • Textiles – sorted for reuse or used as stuffing or insulation.

Could more waste have been recycled?

Yes! It’s estimated that half of the waste that was put into household rubbish bins by Surrey residents in 2019–20 could have been recycled. That’s a total of 83,613 tonnes.

As more resources are needed to create items from new rather than from recycled material, this is bad for the environment. And as it is more expensive to send waste to an energy from waste or landfill site than it is to recycle it, it has also cost Surrey councils a significant amount, which could be better spent elsewhere.

For example, if the food waste that was put into rubbish bins had been recycled instead, it would have saved Surrey councils nearly £3.5 million during 2019–20 alone.

Based on the latest analysis of what makes up a rubbish bin in Surrey, these were the main material types that could have been recycled instead of being sent to an energy from waste or landfill site:

Material that can be recycledTonnes put in rubbish bins
Food waste
Paper and card
10, 029
Garden waste

The impact of items that are put into the wrong bin

Nearly 13,000 tonnes of waste that couldn’t be recycled was put into rubbish bins and then removed during the recycling process, which costs councils money. In addition, 719 tonnes of waste collected as recycling was rejected because they were in truckloads that contained too many items that couldn’t be recycled. When a truckload of recycling is emptied to be processed, it is inspected and if too many items that can’t be recycled are spotted, it is disposed of as rubbish.

See also

Surrey’s target


70% of Surrey’s waste should be recycled.