New figures show recycling rates in Brighton and Hove continue to lag behind the rest of the country and even behind the city council’s own targets. NEIL VOWLES and JAMIE MICKLETHWAITE report on why we do not recycle more and ask who is to blame?

Despite the city’s green image, recycling rates in Brighton and Hove stubbornly refuse to rise.

The latest figures, to be discussed at a council meeting tomorrow, show the amount of household waste reused, recycled or composted is just 25.4%.

As well as remaining below the local authority’s own target of 32%, the city lags behind similar sized cities such as Bournemouth, 49.7%, Cheltenham, 45.2%, and Bristol, 45.3%, which all also offer alternate weekly refuse and food collections.

The city’s recycling rate, described as “embarrassing” by political opponents of the current council administration, is below the current national average of 43.9%.

It is also well behind the ambitious target of 70% of all domestic waste that the Green party promised would be recycled in the city by next year in their election manifesto published in 2011.

The blame for the current lull is being placed on last summer’s bin strike as well as a national loss of interest which has seen recycling rates across the country drop marginally in the last year.

But political opponents are in no doubt where the blame lies.

Labour group leader Warren Morgan said: “These latest figures, showing recycling rates have fallen by 16% since the Greens took office, highlight their abject failure to deliver on what should be a basic issue for a Green administration. “They have failed miserably in getting anywhere close to the 70% they promised in their manifesto, with recycling rates now at their lowest level in nearly a decade.”

Conservative group leader Geoffrey Theobald, pictured right, said: “This is a real embarrassment for the country's only Green-run council. The rate has dropped steadily.

“The CityClean strike action last year certainly won’t have helped the figures nor will the chaotic manner in which the bin round changes were handled.”

Councillor Theobald said the 70% figure always was always a “wildly optimistic” target.

He wants the council to consider other measures such as garden waste collection that could significantly boost the recycling levels.

But should the council take all the blame for the low rate?

Not according to some people who think fellow residents are to blame by failing to take responsibility for their recycling.

Marie Elvin, 69 of Albion Hill, said: “My brother lives in one of the high rises and he is always moaning about it.

“They have a communal bin area and the recycling bins are outside but people don’t use them.

“They just dump it all in the normal bins. I think people are lazy.”

Councillor Pete West, chair of the council’s environment committee, said: “Many factors affect recycling rates.

“Nationally recycling rates are levelling off which is believed to be due to changing consumer behaviours, for example people buying fewer newspapers and magazines and the economic downturn. “Recycling rates in Brighton and Hove have also been affected by last year’s disruption as a result of industrial action and reorganisation of the service. “These changes are bedding down and will result in improved service for residents with collections on bank holidays.”

What is certain from the figures is that while we lag behind other parts of the country, the gulf is even bigger when turning to the continent where in some countries the Green dream of 70% is close to reality.

Latest figures put Germany as the continent’s top recycler at 65%.

This is a rate that the EU reportedly wants every resident in the union to exceed in coming years.

Britain is already under pressure to meet European targets to recycle half of all waste by 2020 but new targets announced by the European Commission call on countries to recycle at least 70% of municipal waste, most of which comes from homes, by 2030 and a ban by 2025 on sending anything to landfill that can be recycled.

The stricter targets, the newspaper speculates, could force councils to take a more radical approach to making residents potentially recycle more with pay-as-you-throw bin taxes or fines for people who fail to sort their rubbish properly.