England should copy Welsh blueprint approach to recycling – KBT

National Litter Charity Keep Britain Tidy has called for England to follow Wales in adopting a collections blueprint to bring about the next step-change in recycling.

England should copy Welsh blueprint approach to recycling – KBT Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning (27 February), Richard McIlwain, Deputy Chief Executive at Keep Britain Tidy, argued that England’s recycling performance is lagging behind the likes of Wales because councils across the country are using more than 360 different systems, a fact noted by former Resources Minister Rory Stewart, who called it “completely mad”.

Councils can differ in a number of ways with recycling systems, including frequency of collection, the materials collected, how materials are mixed and what and how many bins are used. McIlwain told the programme: “It’s very difficult to have a national conversation about what we can recycle and what should be recycled when everybody’s doing something different.”

Prompted by Stewart’s plea for greater consistency at the 2015 Conservative Conference, a multi-industry group led by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) investigated the possibility of creating a more harmonised way of collecting recyclable materials at the kerbside throughout England.

The work resulted in a consistency framework that calls for all English councils to recycle the same set of core materials by 2025 and suggests they adopt one of three recommended collection systems.

But Keep Britain Tidy says that England should do more and adopt a collections blueprint similar to that implemented by the Welsh Government.

Welsh development

While England had a recycling rate of 44.3 per cent in 2015, which has failed to rise more than five per cent in the past six years and actually dropped for the first time last year, Wales last year hit the 60 per cent mark, which if recorded independently would put it alongside Germany as one of the European nations with the highest recorded recycling rate.

This Welsh performance has been boosted by the 2011 introduction of the Welsh Government’s Collections Blueprint, which sets out a preferred system for collection for all Welsh local authorities.

Though it is not compulsory, Welsh councils are encouraged to adopt the model system, which consists of a kerbside sort system, with weekly separate collections of dry recyclables and food waste, and fortnightly collections of residual waste.

The blueprint is supplemented by the Welsh Government’s Collaborative Change Programme, which helps councils improve their recycling performance through funding and support. 

McIlwain commented: “It’s a complete package, and I think that’s what we’re looking at now, saying are voluntary measures in England enough or do we need to look to places like Wales and say that we can learn from what they are doing?”

Acknowledging the work that WRAP is already doing to improve consistency, McIlwain said that Keep Britain Tidy would like to see more “pace” behind the WRAP work and more targeting, including timescales for 2025 and 2030 to encourage local authorities to hasten improvements.

The Welsh Government has also set statutory targets for its local authorities, with an overall 70 per cent goal for 2025 built up to with interim targets of 52 per cent for 2012/13, 58 per cent in 2015/16 and 64 per cent in 2019/20.

Finding a step-change

McIlwain said: “Wales have set a target for recycling of 70 per cent by 2025 – an ambitious target when you think that England’s only recycling 43 per cent. They’ve also developed what they call a blueprint, so over time each of their 22 local authorities will work to deliver greater consistency in the way they collect their waste.

England should copy Welsh blueprint approach to recycling – KBT
KBT Deputy Chief Executive McIlwain was speaking on BBC Breakfast
“Local authorities have done a great job – we’ve increased from 10 per cent to about 44 per cent over the last 15 years. The worry is that over the last four to five years we’ve flatlined, so we’ve struggled to get much over 40 per cent so we’re really looking at another step-change now.

“For us, part of that step-change is saying let’s have a more consistent service. We do an awful lot of work with people on their doorstep. Keep Britain Tidy works with local authorities to talk to people about issues they find with recycling. We know people do find it confusing. If we could have a once-only national message about what you recycle – the same waste types, consistent services, the same coloured bins – it would be much easier and overall it would save money.”

Keep Britain Tidy has a history of criticising the English recycling performance compared to Wales, saying last year that England should ‘hang its head in shame’. This time around, McIlwain added: “The success in Wales reflects very badly on the situation here in England. If the government is serious about getting to grips with waste, then it needs to look at what has been implemented in Wales and consider whether measures such as targets for individual local authorities, streamlined and consistent recycling bins and collection frequencies, together with statutory requirements around food waste collection, could drive up the faltering recycling rate in England.”

Richard McIlwain’s appearance on BBC Breakfast is available on BBC’s iPlayer (from 1:51:30) until tomorrow morning (28 February) at 9.15am.

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