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Developing Welsh recycling

Wales's Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant, takes a look at Wales’s recycling systems and looks to the future.

Wales has the highest rates of recycling in the UK. Our figures for municipal recycling put us at number four in Europe. This is a fantastic achievement by our local authorities and the people of Wales and demonstrates real leadership by Welsh Government.

This success deserves to be recognised and we need to build upon it, enhancing the climate change and economic benefits of high recycling levels.

There are several reasons for this success. Clear strategic direction is provided from the Welsh Government through ‘Towards Zero Waste’ the national waste strategy for Wales. We have set statutory recycling targets for local authorities. Achievement of these targets has been assisted by investment from the Welsh Government. Since 2001 £607.5 million has been provided to local authorities to help them deliver against recycling targets – helping to save on landfill costs and generate new jobs in Wales.

The public of Wales have embraced recycling and through their efforts have turned Wales into the highest recycling society in the UK. 

We need to do even better though. I want Wales to come first in the European league table – and achieving our targets for the future will deliver this. We must take advantage of the economic and social opportunities that recycling offers. I want to see Wales benefit fully from a local circular economy and all that we do in future must support this.

Developing a circular economy in Wales has the potential to deliver annual savings of £2 billion a year. The circular economy and resource efficiency are not just theoretical ideas – they are at the heart of the opportunities for a sustainable economy and green growth for Wales. There are already at least 10,000 jobs in Wales directly related to recycling and we need to see that grow.

New laws requiring those who collect waste to collect paper, glass, plastics and metals separately, in order to achieve high quality recycling, come into effect on 1 January 2015.

In the spring we shall be introducing proposals for further legislation that will require businesses and the public sector to separate their wastes. This will help to ensure a more circular economy for Wales so that the inherent financial value of waste materials is protected.

I want to see local authority recycling services in Wales move towards a more consistent approach. To this end, in March 2011 the Welsh Government published its ‘Collections Blueprint’ for affordable and sustainable local authority collection services.

The blueprint was informed by an extensive evidence base and it describes the Welsh Government’s recommended service profile for the collection of waste from households.

The inherent inefficiencies of 22 different systems of collection cannot be justified. If we just take a rational look at the containers we use to collect waste, every authority in Wales could at least use the same colour container for the same type of waste.

The Collections Blueprint is based on the use of specialist Resource Recovery Vehicles that are light-weight and fuel efficient, designed to deliver high quality recycling collections.

In this time of austerity we need to continue towards high recycling targets whilst reducing costs. This is the purpose of the Collaborative Change Programme (CCP), a joint initiative between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association, which will provide help to individual local authorities. 

The CCP has modelled options for six Welsh councils that show potential annual savings of more than £13 million. There are some costs of transition, however they can be reduced by timing changes to coincide with contract periods and fleet renewals when investment would be required anyway. Making changes to save large sums in future is simply sound business management.

Delivering good recycling services that support the local circular economy and green jobs is the priority and we have to move on from past debates about different methods of recycling and seize the opportunities.

A study of three authorities in Wales showed that if they each got the best price for every material they sold to market it would earn an extra £2 million for them each year. If this approach were repeated across Wales there are many millions of pounds extra that local authorities could be earning. WRAP is delivering this for local authorities in Wales and I will report progress on this in the future.

The outlook is extremely positive. Wales is and will continue to be a world leader in recycling. We need to ensure that all the wider economic benefits translate into new businesses and new jobs in Wales. We also need to celebrate this national success story.

Carl Sargeant is Wales’s Minister for Natural Resources.

Find out more about Sargeant’s views on Wales’s recycling.

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