Resource Use

Despite leading the way, Welsh bins still half full of recyclables

Almost half of the waste collected from residual waste bins in Wales is made up of materials that are widely recycled in council collections, a new analysis has concluded.

The results come after continued Welsh success in increasing recycling across the country and new Welsh Environment Secretary Lesley Griffiths has encouraged residents to think more carefully about where they are putting their waste, saying that the study highlights how small changes to recycling behaviour can continue to have a huge impact on the environment.

Around a quarter (24.8 per cent) of the recyclable content of bins is food waste, the majority of which the study says was avoidable, let alone recyclable. A tenth of the food waste found in the study was still in its original packaging.

The rest of the recyclable content was made up of potentially recyclable dry materials – paper and card being the most commonly binned. The analysis found 22 per cent of paper and 28 per cent of aluminium foil and cans is still ending up in landfill, despite being widely collected for recycling from the kerbside.

If just half of these materials were recycled, the study concluded, Wales could reach its governmental target of 70 per cent recycling by 2025 nine years early.

The compositional analysis was commissioned by WRAP Cymru on behalf of the Welsh Government and was carried out by independent consultancy Resource Futures. It was carried out across all 22 local authorities and took place during summer and winter 2015.

Wales has led the recycling effort in the UK in recent years, with strong governmental targets helping to drive up household recycling across the country. As improvement on other recycling rates have slowed down, particularly in England, Wales has continued to rise and rose to 59 per cent in December, two per cent higher than the previous year.

The Welsh Government’s ‘Towards Zero Waste’ strategy has set a number of statutory targets leading to the 70 per cent target in 2025, with local authorities fined if they are not met. The ultimate goal of the strategy is to have zero per cent of Wales’s waste going to landfill by 2050.

The compositional research will be used to establish a ‘robust evidence base’ that will inform how the Welsh recycling targets will be achieved over the next decade.

Results from the study confirm that despite the improvements, bins across Wales are still being filled with items that can easily be recycled or reused.

As well as food waste and dry recyclables that can be included in kerbside recycling schemes, the study found that 17 per cent of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and 50 per cent of clothing and textiles – both of which are recyclable at community recycling sites – were sent to landfill.

Small changes can have enormous benefits

The research has been published ahead of Griffith’s first statement in the Senedd today (14 June), in which she will set out her priority to create a more circular economy for Wales.

Lesley Griffiths
Commenting on the results of the study, Griffiths said: “It’s great to see people’s recycling habits are significantly improving. However, this research shows there’s still more we can do to meet our aim of being a zero waste nation by 2050.

“As well as the obvious environmental benefits, being a high-recycling society provides the basis for a strong circular economy. Re-circulating high value materials has an enormous potential to boost the Welsh economy, create jobs re-processing these materials here in Wales and lower our carbon footprint

“Our research into recycling habits is important in informing our work to meet our recycling targets. While there is much to celebrate it shows just small changes in people’s recycling can have enormous environmental and economical benefits. We will now look to do more to develop the circular economy and increase recycling participation.”