Dawn In The Surrey Hills

What happened to Surrey’s waste, 2020-21


Over the past few years, the environment has become increasingly important to many people. News headlines and world events have increased awareness of the impact of individual actions on the planet, and that includes the waste that is produced.

For Surrey residents to be motivated to do the right thing with their waste, it’s crucial that they trust the systems that are in place to treat and recycle it. This Surrey Environment Partnership (SEP) report looks at the waste produced in Surrey in 2020-21 – how much of it there was, what happened to it and where it went to be treated and recycled. The aim is to give residents the confidence to know that their efforts to reduce waste and recycle more are making a difference, not just to them personally, but to their families, friends and to the planet.

This report covers a year that was like no other in recent history. Throughout 2020-21, the coronavirus pandemic made a big impact on how people lived their lives. Many people were at home more often, which meant more rubbish and recycling went into household bins. Between 23 March 2020 and 31 March 2021, district and borough council collection crews in Surrey collected 49,707 more tonnes of waste than normal. That’s equivalent to 75,000 cows, which is a lot of heavy lifting!

During this period, no key collection services were suspended in Surrey, and bins continued to be emptied. It is a tribute to the bin collection crews and other operational staff that they did such a fantastic job at this time to serve their residents. Many crews found residents to be particularly grateful for their work, often leaving them supportive messages.

From all of us at SEP, we’d like to thank Surrey’s bin crews for their hard work and Surrey residents for continuing to recycle during this period.

What happened to Surrey’s waste, 2020-21 headlines

Waste typeTonnes Proportion of total
Proportion treated /
recycled in the UK
Proportion treated /
recycled outside the UK
All waste collected539,777 (+5.7%)-76.9% (+0.923.1% (-0.9
Waste recycled297,409 (+3.9%)55.1% (-0.9)83.4% (-2.4)16.6% (+2.4)
Waste treated as rubbish:242,368 (+7.9%)44.9% (+0.9)69.2% (+5.1)30.8% (-5.1)
Turned into energy212,651 (+14.8%)41.1% (+3.9)66.2% (+8.5)33.8% (-8.5)
Sent to landfill21,523 (-37.1%)3.8% (-2.7)100.0% (-)0.0% (-)

Note: numbers in brackets are comparisons to 2019-20 and if it’s a percentage, it’s a comparison between tonnages whereas if it’s a number, it’s a percentage point comparison between two percentages.

The proportion of Surrey’s waste that was recycled in 2020-21 fell by 0.9 percentage points to 55.1% compared to 2019-20. This probably happened for a number of reasons such as the closure of Surrey’s Community Recycling Centres (CRCs) for part of the year and the change in waste volumes that occurred because people were at home more often due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, this drop was lower than the national average, which was 1.5 percentage points. Of the 30 two-tier authority areas in England, Surrey has the 3rd best recycling rate. Overall, 76.9% of waste was treated or recycled in the UK, an increase of 0.9 percentage points compared to 2019-20. A higher proportion of rubbish was treated in the UK at 69.2% compared to 64.1% in 2019-20. However, there was a small fall of 2.4 percentage points in the proportion of recycling that was recycled in the UK. This was most likely caused by a drop in the amount of paper and card that was recycled in the UK. This occurred because demand for paper and card in the UK declined during 2020-21, leading to more of it being exported to be recycled.

While all efforts are made to recycle as much waste as possible in the UK, there are multiple factors, including changes to market demand, that influence where waste is sent to be recycled.

In Surrey, compared to 2019-20, the total amount of waste collected rose by 5.7% with 539,777 tonnes of waste collected from households or recycling banks, taken to CRCs or collected as street cleaning. The amount of waste that was recycled increased by 3.9% to 297,409 tonnes. At 242,368 tonnes, the amount of rubbish that was turned into energy or sent to landfill also increased, by 7.9%.

There was an increase of 3.9 percentage points, to 41.1%, in the proportion of waste that was sent to an energy from waste site to be turned into electricity. The remaining 3.8% was sent to landfill, which was lower than the England average of 8.0%.

Note that if you add the total tonnes of rubbish turned into energy and the total tonnes of rubbish sent to landfill, it doesn’t equal the total amount of rubbish collected. This is because during transportation some of the waste loses water and therefore weight.

See also

Surrey’s target


70% of Surrey’s waste should be recycled.