Resource Use

Black bag sorting boosts recycling in Wales

A resident sorting waste at an HWRC
A Vale of Glamorgan resident sorting their waste on-site at an HWRC

Sorting black bag waste has helped Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) in the Vale of Glamorgan increase recycling by up to 15 per cent and cut residual waste.

The Welsh local authority introduced the policy in September 2018, asking all residents to ensure that bags of waste brought to the council’s two HWRCs do not contain recyclables. All residents arriving with black bags at the HWRCs, which are run by waste management company FCC Environment, are asked to open them (known as ‘bag splitting’). If the bags are found to contain recyclables the resident will either have to sort the materials on-site or return home to do so.

This has come alongside new restrictions to kerbside residual waste collections, with fortnightly collections and a two-bag limit, a change the council says was timed to coincide with the bag splitting measure, to prevent residents diverting residual waste from the kerbside into HWRCs.

The measure was implemented as part of a drive towards higher recycling rates in the region – Welsh councils have high targets to meet, with the Welsh Government’s ‘Towards Zero Waste’ strategy requiring all councils to reach 70 per cent recycling by 2024/25. According to Welsh Government figures published in October 2018, the Vale of Glamorgan’s recycling rate in 2018 was 64 per cent, a reduction of around one per cent on the previous year.

From an analysis of black bin waste brought to HWRCs, FCC also identified that more than 60 per cent of the residual waste stream could actually be recycled. And some dramatic results have now been revealed, with average recycling rates at the Barry HWRC up by 15 per cent since the introduction of mandatory black bag sorting, from 69 per cent to 84 per cent. In addition, residual waste arisings fell by an average of 60 per cent, which the council says is saving it £20,000-£30,000 in residual waste disposal costs every month.

Sharing best practice across Wales

A similar measure has since been adopted by two other Welsh local authorities, Neath Port Talbot Council and Torfaen County Borough Council. These and Glamorgan are all members of a group of 14 local authorities known as the Collaborating Local Authorities in Resource Efficiency (CLAIRE) Wales group, led by a regional waste coordinator, James Kay, who is also Director of Resource Efficiency Wales.

“The policy has had proven positive effects across a number of Welsh councils, with each learning from other members of the CLAIRE Wales group,” Kay commented. “The results speak for themselves and will help go towards Welsh councils hitting Welsh Government minimum statutory recycling targets of 64 percent for 2019/20 and onwards, rising to minimum 70 percent in 2024/25.”

He continued: “The value of the initiative is that we engage with residents as they arrive on site and can explain why we are no longer accepting un-sorted bags… Having their full attention is invaluable for driving long-term behaviour change in austere times. Crucially, a lot of the materials brought to HWRC sites in black bags could have been recycled at the kerbside and this scheme helps to drive that message home.”

FCC Environment Regional Director Steve Longdon added: “The aim is that these new initiatives will encourage long-term behavioural change among residents, meaning that the higher recycling rates and lower disposal volumes are here to stay, and helping our authority partners continue to meet – even exceed – their recycling targets.”

FCC has supported the implementation of bag splitting policies at HWRCs across the country; in January 2017, for instance, the company oversaw the measure in Wigan at the Kirkless, Slag Lane and Chanters HWRCs. A year later, Wigan Council reported that an additional 222,105 kilogrammes of material had been recycled that would have otherwise been sent to landfill. 

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