By sending resources that could be recycled to landfill or incinerators, the UK is wasting £650 million each year and generating 19 million tonnes of avoidable carbon dioxide.
So says a new report released by Friends of the Earth, which uses EU data and conservative estimates of market prices for waste material to generate the figures.
The green group has calculated that by binning and burning these resources, the UK is producing annual emissions equivalent to six million cars.
Figures for the whole of Europe rise to a gigantic €5 billion in lost revenue and an extra 148 million tonnes of greenhouse gases - equivalent to 47 million cars.
'The UK is woefully lagging behind much of Europe on recycling,' said FoE's Dr Michael Warhurst. 'Flanders in Belgium recycles over 70 per cent of its waste – that’s twice as much as we recycle here.
'Our low recycling rate means that we have to import more expensive resources like aluminium – this is economic madness when they could be recycled here and sold for profit instead.'
The report reveals that aluminium is by far the most lucrative material to recycle, yielding at least £450 per tonne. But it is closely followed by textiles (£175 per tonne) and plastics (£90 per tonnes) - both items that are poorly catered for in UK kerbside recycling schemes.
Tables compiled by Friends of the Earth show that Britain is wasting a staggering €309 million a year by landfilling or incinerating textiles - more than any other country in Europe.
For plastics, the figure is €391 million - again, higher than any other European country.
Friends of the Earth is calling for a law that would make it illegal to send recyclable materials to landfill or for incineration. The group says that this has already been proven workable in the Belgium region of Flanders, and there are signs that Environment Secretary Hilary Benn may be warming to a toned-down version of the plan.
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