Recycling rates from local authorities show England is on track to reach its 17% target for 2003/4, the government has said.
The figures show Lichfield District Council in Staffordshire recycled or composted the most waste - 46%.
The 17% target is set in line with the European Union directive on landfill, and rises to 25% by the end of 2005/6.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth has welcomed the improvements but called for higher recycling targets.
'Work to do'
The figures for each local authority in England come ahead of more detailed information for 2003/04 out later in the spring.
The municipal waste management survey will show the amount of waste generated and recycled or composted - rather than just percentages.
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Margaret Beckett welcomed Tuesday's figures.
"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," she said.
"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."
Residents in Fylde Borough Council made the biggest leap. Nearly 30% of household waste was recycled or composted, 19% more than in 2002/03, mainly as a result of increased composting.
Defra figures show Liverpool City Council recycled just 4% of its waste - an increase of 2% - despite a target of 8%.
Cllr Paula Keaveney said that when the Liberal Democrats took control of the city council it made policy areas like schools, not recycling, a priority.
But, she said, kerbside recycling had been introduced and she was "optimistic" there would be good progress.
The government has warned councils that fail to meet recycling targets will face action from Environment Minister Elliot Morley.
'Hit over head'
A Defra spokeswoman said: "We don't want to hit people over the head but offer a more supportive role helping councils adjust to the new waste challenges."
Defra figures for 2002/3 show household rubbish accounted for 88% of municipal waste at 25.8m tonnes - up 0.2 million tonnes from the previous year.
Britain is also near the bottom of the class compared with the rest of Europe's recycling performance.
Stella Bland, of environmental charity Forum for the Future, said that looking at waste reduction was the key to recycling as much waste as other European countries.
"We would like to see variable charging so that local authorities are given the ability to charge households according to the amount of waste they create," she said.
Friends of the Earth's recycling campaigner Georgina Bloomfield welcomed improvements from some local councils but called on the Government to set more ambitious recycling targets for 2010 (currently 30%) and 2015 (currently 33%).
"This country still languishes a long way behind many of our European neighbours. The government must set more ambitious recycling targets," she said.
"We should be recycling at least 50% of our rubbish by 2010, an achievable target that would give us a recycling record to be proud of."