Household recycling levels are too low in England because council schemes are too confusing, campaigners claim.
Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) says at least 300 systems are in use and government figures show one council’s recycling rate is just 15%, with an England average of 42%.
KBT is urging the government to create a national “recycling blueprint”.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) insisted some councils had excellent recycling rates.
KBT’s deputy chief executive Richard McIlwain, said: “It’s very difficult to have a national conversation about what we can recycle and what should be recycled when everyone is doing something different.”
Currently, local authorities in the UK have a target to recycle at least half of all waste by 2020, to meet the European Union’s Waste Framework Directive.
It is not known what effect Brexit could have on the target.
Some of the worst records are in London, with none of the capital’s borough councils currently hitting the 50% mark.
In north west England, Liverpool and Hyndburn councils only recycled 28% of waste in the 12 months ending April 2016.
Mr McIlwain said English local authorities should learn from Wales, where the average recycling rate is 60%.
He said it was because of a nationwide waste and recycling blueprint.
“They’ve also got a system where every household in Wales has a food waste collection and that’s incredibly important because we waste seven million tonnes of food in this country every year,” he explained.
“It’s really important to capture it because otherwise it goes straight to landfill. What we can do is collect that food and put it through a process where we can [extract]gas [from it] and put that back into the national grid.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “We are recycling four times as much as we were in 2000 and only one fifth of council waste went to landfill last year, down significantly in recent years, but more clearly needs to be done.
“There are some excellent examples of councils improving recycling rates and we are working with local authorities and industry to build on these successes and encourage best practice across the nation as part of our commitment to protect the environment for future generations.”