SEVERAL of the region's councils have been accused of not doing enough to recycle household waste, The Northern Echo can reveal.

But more councils than ever are hitting Government targets for the amount of waste they recycle.

And last night, a row blew up over the use of incinerators, by some local authorities, to dispose of rubbish.

Campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) said those councils were less likely to recycle and send more waste to landfill.

The Echo surveyed more than 20 local authorities across the region to find out their recycling/composting rates for the last financial year, and whether they hit Government targets.

Audited figures for individual councils for 2005-6 are not due to be published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs until later in the year.

The Echo survey showed that only two councils - Middlesbrough (12 per cent) and Stockton (16 per cent), both of which burn almost three quarters of their household waste - failed to hit their targets for the amount of waste they recycle and compost.

But several councils hit their targets, with the best performers including Ryedale (43 per cent), Hambleton (39 per cent) and Redcar and East Cleveland - which incinerates - (37 per cent).

Many authorities have a target of 18 per cent, including Darlington, Wear Valley, Durham City, Sedgefield, Chester-le-Street and Richmondshire - all of which exceeded the figure.

Dr Anna Watson, FoE's waste campaign officer, described Middlesbrough's performance as "shameful".

She said that councils burning waste had to dispose of a set tonnage of rubbish each year to meet the demands of incinerator operators.

As a general rule, this made them less inclined to recycle.

Ms Watson added that the Government's Landfill Allowances Trading Scheme, which restricts the amount of waste that can be sent to landfill, also benefited such councils, which use landfill more under the scheme.

FoE claims that incineration and landfill are equally damaging to the environment. Ms Watson said: "Incinerators must justify their costs. So incinerator operators typically require local authorities to supply them with a minimum amount of waste to burn over a long period: 25 to 30 years."

Andrew Craig, Tees Valley waste management development officer, who represents Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Stockton councils, which all burn waste, said: "There has not been any link between our councils having to deliver a minimum tonnage to the energy-from-waste plant we use and their decision whether or not to properly implement recycling schemes.

"There is also no doubt that incineration is far less harmful overall to the environment than landfill, and this is based on analysis carried out by independent consultants that quite vigorously evaluated the environmental outcomes."

He added: "We are not anti-recycling. The one thing we share with Friends of the Earth is that we want recycling levels to increase.

"Recycling rates in the Tees Valley are increasing substantially and all councils are investing heavily in more sustainable waste management."

A spokesman for Middlesbrough Council said: "Our un-audited recycling returns for the last quarter show a recycling/composting rate of 17 per cent, and we are doing all we can to increase public participation.

"We do not believe our arrangements for waste disposal through the energy-from-waste plant, which actually minimises landfill, are a disincentive to recycling."

Phillippa Scrafton, a waste minimisation and recycling officer with Darlington Borough Council, said: "Like other authorities, we know we can improve and get better.

"There is more waste out there to be recycled, but we need the public's help."