While many households are making an effort to separate their waste, recent reports revealed that a lack of facilities leads to millions of plastic bottles, pots and trays placed in recycling bins being incinerated across the country.
To reduce plastic usage, the Government has announced a ban on the supply of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds in England from April 2020.
In 2017-18, South Tyneside recycled or composted 24,574 tonnes of all waste, 32% of the total, according to the latest Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs figures.
That is worse than two years ago, when 41% of the rubbish was recycled.
Across England, 42% of waste was recycled over the last year, in line with two years previously.
Incinerator plants burned 67% of the rubbish produced in South Tyneside. The vast majority was sent to specialist waste power plants to generate heat and electricity.
South Tyneside also sent 1% of its waste to landfills.
Recoup, a charity that promotes plastic recycling, said that the problem was linked to China’s decision last year to ban imports of plastic waste, and restrictions introduced by other countries receiving waste from Britain.
Most plastic trays used for meat, fruit and other food are made from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which is so brittle that it has to be sent to specialist recycling facilities.
To improve recycling rates, the Government has announced that every home will have weekly food waste collections and packaging will be more clearly labelled to show if it can go in household recycling bins.
The Government wants half of all household waste to be recycled by 2020, and to cut the use of landfill sites to 10% by 2035.
A cross-party report, launched last year in the House of Lords, called on the Government to take oversight of the waste industry and introduce an incineration tax.
Research revealed that harmful particles released by incinerators in England last year were the equivalent to the emissions from 250,000 lorries travelling 75,000 miles each.
Julian Kirby, Friends of the Earth plastics campaigner, said people doing their best to recycle plastic will be appalled to find out it’s ending up in incinerators.
He said: “All but a tiny fraction of plastic is made of fossil fuels like oil and gas, so burning these pots and packaging contributes to the climate emergency as well as trashing public trust in the recycling industry.
“The only way out of the plastic pollution crisis is to radically reduce how much plastic we produce in the first place.
“The sooner the UK government legislates to make this happen the sooner we’ll be able to stop burning the stuff and dumping it on vulnerable communities overseas.”
Local authorities, responding to a Recoup report, admitted that they were incinerating “low-grade” plastic.
Coun Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s environment spokesman, said: “The best way to reduce waste is through changes to packaging and reducing the waste businesses generate each year, including the amount of unrecyclabes.
“Critical to this goal it is vital that manufacturers and retailers also pay toward the cost of recycling. In 2017, producers only paid £73million towards the cost of managing waste packing.
“This compares with an estimated cost to councils of £700 million for managing the collection and disposal of packaging waste.”