Britain's recycling record among the worst in Europe

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Britain is at "the bottom of the heap" in recycling its rubbish, according to a study of the green credentials of European Union countries.

Of the EU's 25 member states, only Greece and Portugal recycle a smaller proportion of their waste than Britain. The report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Green Alliance, which revealed the EU league table, called on local authorities to be given powers to charge a "pay-as-you-throw" fee for collecting non-recyclable rubbish.

Their survey found that only 18 per cent of municipal waste is recycled in Britain, compared to 28 per cent in France, 58 per cent in Germany and 65 per cent in the Netherlands, which tops the EU league.

Nick Pearce, director of the IPPR think tank, said: "The UK is bottom of the heap in Europe when it comes to recycling. Our European neighbours have shown that where charges are commonplace, recycling rates will rise. But to make sure any charging scheme for rubbish collection is fair, it needs be accompanied by a reduction in council tax and an improvement in recycling facilities."

Julie Hill, of the Green Alliance pressure group, said: "There are few better routes to higher recycling than through giving householders financial incentives. They are a proven, positive and logical way of changing our throwaway society."

The report says some parts of Germany, where local bodies charge around 18 pence per kilo for waste not recycled, have boosted the proportion of recyclable materials to more than 65 per cent. Despite the British Government's attempts to persuade people to recycle more of their rubbish, it is only now on course to meet its target set in 2000 for 25 per cent of waste to be recycled.

Recycling rates vary sharply throughout Britain, said the report. The councils recycling the highest proportion of waste in England are St Edmundsbury, Forest Heath, South Cambridgeshire, Lichfield and Harborough. Those with the lowest share are Newham, Tower Hamlets, Liverpool, High Peak and Wirral.

It emerged yesterday that some authorities are already using hidden electronic bin tags that could help monitor how much people throw away. Councils confirmed that hundreds of thousands of identification chips have been put in wheelie bins.

The devices, about the size of a penny, are placed in the lip of the bin and can be scanned as it is tipped into a dustcart, some of which contain weighing equipment which can link this information to the amount of rubbish collected from each owner.

But privacy campaigners have expressed concern. Simon Davies, the founder of Privacy International, said the tags were the "thin end of the wedge" and would inevitably be used to boost revenue. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said local authorities had not been told to use the tags but confirmed that the Government is looking at a "range of options" to help the UK meet tough European landfill reduction targets. The department has paid £5m to councils to fund 40 pilot schemes, that included waste monitoring.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has urged the Government to give councils the power to introduce variable waste charging. Paul Bettison, who chairs the LGA's environment board, said people who do not recycle should be made to pay more as they receive an extra service.

He said: "We tried to persuade people that it is good to recycle. Now we are seeing that not everybody was persuaded and now we have got to really encourage them." Mr Bettison said collecting general information about the amount of waste created by a community was not a "state or personal secret".