Welsh recycling policy set to fail on waste footprint ambitions

Wales needs to get to grips with waste reduction if the Welsh Government is to meet its aspirations to reduce the country's waste footprint by 75% by 2050, according to a report released today (February 16).

The Public Participation in Waste Recycling study, undertaken by the Welsh Audit Office, stated that “recycling alone is not enough” and warned that even if Wales reached its ambitious 70% recycling target set out under its Towards Zero Waste strategy, this achievement would only at best, cut the ecological footprint of municipal waste by 23%.

That 23% figure would also be reliant on municipal waste arisings having already peaked. If volumes grew by just 1% year-on-year, then a 70% recycling rate would only result in a 8% footprint reduction. According to the study, controlling the growth of waste produced is vital going forward if any significant progress is going to be made on reducing carbon impact.

The Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas, called for a greater understanding among local authorities of the importance of waste reduction as many still “remain fixated on recycling targets and do not clearly recognise their role in reducing waste”.

Part of the problem is that Welsh councils still harbour conflicting views about how best to provide recycling services, either through co-mingled or kerbside sort collection methods.

The Welsh Assembly has been quite prescriptive in its waste strategy, advocating source-segregation – advice that has been hotly contested by some councils who feel they get better recycling rates by operating co-mingled collections.

To resolve the problem, the study is urging the Assembly to engage with local authorities and set up a board to independently assess the different collection methods used – despite the fact that former Welsh Environment Minister Jane Davidson told edie last year that the policy was underpinned by a strong evidence base.

According to Wales Community Recycling Network, Cylch – which is a supporter of kerbside-sort – those councils who are reluctant to adopt source-segregation have invested in “huge expensive trucks designed to collect mixed materials” and want to continue using “old, familiar waste collection methods” to enable them to keep those vehicles on the road.

Cylch chief executive Mal Williams said that in order to reach 80% or 90% recycling rates, “very powerful waste interests have had to be overturned” to enable that to happen.

“Basically, everyone must start to see these resources as being valuable and view discarding them as the equivalent to throwing £20 notes away. When that happens the problem of waste becomes a regeneration opportunity for every community on the planet,” he said.

Maxine Perella

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