England is poised to meet its recycling target of 17 per cent, according to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
But, Margaret Beckett pointed to a wide disparity in performance between different councils and warned that she would take action against the worst performing.
In a speech to the Associated Parliamentary Waste Group, Mrs Beckett said that England would meet the recycling and composting target of 17 per cent in 2003/04.
Newly released Defra figures show a three per cent rise in recycling and composting in England, but reveal wide variations.
Lichfield District Council in Staffordshire came top with 46 per cent of waste either recycled or composted.
Liverpool City Council and Tower Hamlets came at the bottom end of the table, with four and five per cent of waste recycled or composted respectively.
Mrs Beckett said that single figure recycling rates are "no longer acceptable", adding: "Environment Minister Elliot Morley will be personally engaging with each of the very poorest performers to ensure they receive the right support or, if they continue to demonstrate no commitment to improvement, to take stronger action."
Overall though, she said: "This is positive news. England looks certain to meet its national recycling and composting target, the first time such a target has ever been met.
"While there is still a lot of work to do to raise levels of recycling even higher, this is a strong indication that the nation is adjusting to more sustainable waste practices.
"This has been brought about through the commitment of the majority of local councils, a fantastic response from the public and careful targeted Government support."
The national target for 2005/06 has been set at an ambitious - but the Government insists achievable - 25 per cent.
Friends of the Earth's recycling campaigner Georgina Bloomfield said: "We are delighted that many local councils have improved their recycling. But this country still languishes a long way behind many of our European neighbours. The Government must set more ambitious recycling targets. We should be recycling at least 50 per cent of our rubbish by 2010, an achievable target that would give us a recycling record to be proud of."