A blueprint for a cleaner world

A recycling model for councils that takes account of climate change could lead to best practice in Wales

While current legislation concerns itself with landfill diversion, what happens when European-led recycling targets start focussing on global warming?

Many within the industry believe that climate change will inevitably see Europe take this direction so local authorities would be wise to take action that will meet today's targets while paving the way for tomorrow's too.

With this in mind, registered charity Wales Community Recycling Network (Cylch) has launched a recycling blueprint across Wales to help LAs do just that. The main premise of the blueprint Cleanstream 2006 is that source-separated collection is best because it produces better quality recyclables.

Benefits for all
This in turn maximises not only financial, but also social and environmental, benefits. Higher-grade materials not only attract premium prices per tonne for LAs, but as source-separated collections are more labour-intensive they produce more jobs locally.

The Welsh Assembly is supportive of the initiative, and it has also attracted support from UPM Shotton, one of the UK's largest paper recycling mills. Phil Hurst, author of the Cleanstream report, says the blueprint method supports the UK reprocessing industry by providing it with enough materials, which will create more jobs here - rather than these materials being exported elsewhere.

Hurst points to a partnership between Powys County Council and Cae Post charity to illustrate his point. Employment is provided for people with special needs at the Cae Post recycling centre, which helped the council deliver the highest municipal recycling rate (36.9%) in Wales during 2005-6.

Cleanstream is based on 10 underlying principles. It adheres to the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle; that zero waste is the ultimate aim. It requires that all used materials are separated and collected from the householder, and aims for more frequent collections of source-separated recyclables over residual municipal waste.

It calls for a public education campaign aimed at maximising householder participation, and says that all systems should be designed, implemented and run in consultation with the LA and the local community under a legally binding contract. Bulky and special waste should be collected and stored so it can be re-used, and full consideration should be given to health and safety.

Competitive rates of pay and conditions should be applied to each job, and methods outlined should extend beyond the kerbside to civic amenity site and bulky household waste.

The blueprint is also opposed to what it terms "mass burn incineration" on the premise that incinerators need high volumes of recycled materials to maintain cost effectiveness and a LA may face fines if it doesn't provide agreed volumes. Hurst believes that there is a "clear conflict of interests" here as an authority that wants to increase recycling may struggle to do so under these circumstances. However, the blueprint does recognise the potential of other energy-from-waste (EfW) methods to be used for a maximum of 25% of residual waste under certain conditions.

These conditions highlight an overarching theme within the report, which is that LAs and the local community should maintain more control over what is done with their waste.

Community ownership
In the case of EfW, for example, Cleanstream recommends that the facility be community/publicly owned and operated by a community-accountable legal entity.
It adds that the EfW must not operate under contracts that bind the feedstock supplier to any minimum tonnage. And the engineering specification of the plant must allow flexibility of feedstock input so that it can be converted to biomass-fuelled combined heat and power plant.

Hurst emphasises that Cleanstream is not a "one-size fits all approach" - it aims to help LAs find a fit that suits their locality's particular needs. But because it looks at recycling from a broader perspective than purely financial, authorities can enjoy many benefits from using its approach.

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