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Merthyr completes remarkable recycling turnaround as Wales hits 60 per cent rate

Merthyr completes remarkable recycling turnaround as Wales hits 60 per cent
Government-backed changes to its recycling system have seen Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council go from being one of the worst performing Welsh councils to one of the best over the course of a year, new data has confirmed.

The county recycled, reused or composted 62 per cent of its municipal waste in the 12 months to March 2016, 11 percentage points more than in managed in the previous year. Wales as a whole recycled 60 per cent of its waste in 2015/16, extending its lead over the other UK countries, and beating the previous year by four percentage points.

For Merthyr Tydfil in particular, the sudden rise has seen it go from one of the worst performers among the 22 Welsh local authorities to the joint-fourth best.

In January 2015, the council replaced every household’s 240-litre residual waste bin with a slim-lined 140-litre model as part of the first step of overhauling the county’s recycling system to produce results that would enable the council to hit Welsh Government recycling targets.

By limiting the capacity in bins, the council hoped that residents would be compelled to make better use of the recycling service. In June 2015, the method of collecting recycling was also changed, with the old co-mingled service – where residents put all dry recycling in one box or sack – being replaced with a kerbside sort system that saw paper; glass and cardboard; plastic and aluminium and food waste put into separate containers by residents.

The effect of restructuring the county’s waste collection system in pushing material from the residual waste into the recycling is shown in data for the period from January to March 2016, where Merthyr reported a 46 per cent decrease in the amount of residual waste generated per person compared to the same period in 2015 (62 kilogrammes (kg) versus 33kg).

The changes were made with the help of a £2-million investment from the Welsh Government’s Collaborative Change Programme (CCP). The programme was created to provide government support for local authorities to meet higher recycling targets. With the funding, Merthyr was able to fund the purchase of new single-pass collection vehicles, containers and a new depot at the waste team’s office.

Wales’s high recycling targets, set as part of its Towards Zero Waste strategy, come with penalties for non-compliant councils. The strategy has an end goal of 70 per cent recycling of municipal waste by 2024/25, but has interim targets of 52 per cent for 2012/13, 58 per cent in 2015/16 and 64 per cent in 2019/20.

When the CCP investment was awarded to Merthyr in 2014, it was only one of the authorities (alongside Cardiff and Rhondda Cynon Taf) not to have hit 52 per cent. In 2015 the council was fined £224,000 by the Welsh Government for again missing the target. Now, after reworking its recycling system, Merthyr has easily exceeded the 58 per cent target for 2015/16 and is close to meeting the next statuary target several years early.

Last month, 10 Welsh councils received a total of £5.75 million from the CCP as part of the latest round of funding.

Wales hits 60 per cent mark

The Welsh Government figures released today (24 August), based on provisional data, revealed that Wales had hit a 60 per cent reuse, recycling and composting rate for the year 2015/16, an increase of four percentage points from the previous year.

Only three of the 22 local authorities failed to hit the 58 per cent recycling target at the first time of asking – Blaenau Gwent (49 per cent), Torfaen (57 per cent) and Newport (57 per cent). All three have received funding from the CCP this year to improve their recycling collections and infrastructure.

Several Welsh councils have taken steps to restrict residual capacity to force recyclable material into the recycling stream
The highest recycling rate for the year was reported by Ceredigion, which returned a 68 per cent figure. Pembrokeshire and the Vale of Glamorgan were the joint second highest with 65 per cent, followed by Carmarthenshire (64).

This is the first time that Wales has hit a 60 per cent recycling rate for a whole year, and once again casts the stalling English rate of around 45 per cent in a bad light.

However, while the recycling rate has again increased, the total amount of local authority municipal waste generated in Wales also rose, with the tonnage for the  most recent quarter included (January to March 2016) rising by 12 per cent, from 356.4 to 399.7 thousand tonnes, compared to the same quarter of 2015. Meanwhile, the residual household waste generated per person increased by 10 per cent, rising to 51kg per person in January to March 2016, compared with the same quarter of 2015.

Aim of becoming Europe’s ‘best recycling nation’

Welcoming the figures, Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths said: “This is the first year recycling targets have increased beyond the ambitious level of 58 per cent, up from the previous year’s target of 52 per cent. The fact these figures not only achieve the target but, in fact, exceed it is highly encouraging, showing we are continually improving our recycling rate.”

“It’s clear that local authorities and householders are working hard to recycle, and we are well on the way to achieving our 70 per cent recycling target set for 2025. I am proud that we lead the rest of the UK in our recycling rate but I want us to do even better and become Europe’s best recycling nation.”

The full figure release for 2015/16 can be downloaded from the Welsh Government’s website.

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