Wales leads the four nations on recycling, but England is top of the renewables league

6th June 2014

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Sally Taylor

New environment and energy data from the ONS for the four "home" countries reveals wide differences

Wales, the first of the four nations to introduce a levy on single-use carrier bags, leads on recycling with an impressive 49% of all household waste recycled in 2011/12, 6% above England on 43%, followed by Scotland with 41% and Northern Ireland on 40%.

Overall, the UK's performance on energy and environment shows mixed results but the general trend is positive, according to data in the Compendium of UK Environment and Energy Statistics, published by the office for national statistics (ONS).

In 2011, England generated 77% of total electricity in the UK, and was also responsible for the highest share of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions (77%), followed by Scotland (9%), Wales (8%) and Northern Ireland (4%).

Domestic coal production to fuel UK power stations decreased to an all-time low of 17 million tonnes in 2012. England produced 55% of this total, while Scotland produced 29% and Wales 15%. No coal was produced in Northern Ireland. However, coal imports in 2013 were 10.1% higher than in 2012, and coal-fired power stations continue to generate over 30% of the UK's electricity.

On a more positive note, air pollution across all four countries has been on a downward trend between 1990 and 2011, with the most notable decreases being for sulphur dioxide and lead, says the ONS. Per capita emissions in Wales were highest for four of the seven pollutant types examined, with, for example, above average ammonia emissions. Scotland, meanwhile, experienced above average emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs).

The highest percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources in 2013 was from sites in England, at 60%. This compares with 32% in Scotland, while sites in Wales and Northern Ireland generated 5% and 3%, respectively.

Overall, 80% of UK bathing sites in 2013 met the "pass" rate for EU standards, with Welsh beaches scoring highest (89% achieved the pass rate), followed closely by Northern Ireland (87%) and England (82%). However, only 57% of Scottish beeches met EU standards. Stricter EU standards for bathing water, which are expected in 2015, could see more UK beeches fail next year, according to the Environment Agency.

Across the UK, more than 6.7 million hectares of land and freshwater is protected under national and international legislation. According to the ONS data, 2.3 million hectares (30%) of Scotland's land mass is protected. The equivalent proportion in the other three nations is: 29% in Wales; 28% in Northern Ireland; and 26% in England.

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