How businesses are implementing Wales' new recycling regulations

From 6th April 2024, all workplaces in Wales must comply with new recycling legislation, designed to improve the quality and quantity of recycling. Businesses that have already made changes are finding this easier than expected, and recommend planning ahead, keeping things simple and communicating clearly with staff and visitors. 

From next month, all workplaces in Wales - including businesses, charities and public sector organisations - must separate their waste for recycling and arrange for it to be collected separately.

Waste must be sorted into six streams:

  • Food (only for premises that produce more than 5 kg food waste per week)
  • Paper and card
  • Glass
  • Metal, plastic and cartons
  • Unsold textiles
  • Unsold small waste electrical and electronic equipment (sWEEE)

None of these materials should be put into a general waste bin.

This approach - separating recyclables - is already in place for most households across the country. By introducing these regulations to workplaces, the Welsh Government hopes to improve recycling rates for other sectors. This will keep high quality materials in use, reducing waste and the need for virgin materials, thereby helping to tackle the climate crisis.

As part of the new law, there is a ban on sending food waste to public sewer (i.e. putting food down the sink or drain), sending waste separated for recycling to landfill/incineration, and sending wood waste to landfill.

Natural Resources Wales and local authorities will manage compliance with the new law, initially prioritising education and guidance. While businesses may face initial investment costs, the benefits include reduced waste production and associated waste management costs and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Looking ahead, the Welsh Government aims to broaden the regulations to include small electrical equipment and textiles, signalling Wales’ commitment to becoming a zero-waste nation by 2050.

What the law means for businesses and waste operators

All workplace occupiers are responsible for complying with the new law, regardless of who owns the building. If multiple organisations share a workplace, each organisation is responsible, but a central recycling system may need to be agreed with the landlord or facility manager.

The Welsh Government website provides examples of workplaces covered by the new law. NHS hospitals and private hospitals have an additional two years to comply.

Waste and recycling collectors and processors must collect workplace waste in separate streams and keep it separate to prevent cross-contamination.

Waste companies do not have to collect the full range of separated waste, which means that businesses might need to source multiple contractors. However, waste companies must follow the new law while any waste they do collect is in their possession and when they transfer the waste to someone else.

The Welsh Government recommends collectors and processors talk to their customers about their specific needs and consider conducting spot checks on collected waste.

Cardiff University saves 100 tonnes of food waste

Cardiff University's new multi-stream bin system
Cardiff University's new multi-stream bin system
Cardiff University introduced a new multi-stream recycling system in March 2021 and has since diverted nearly 100 tonnes of food waste from disposal.

Georgina Taubman, the University’s Waste Minimisation Manager, commented: “Although our multi-stream segregation process takes the separation further than what is required by the new law, we decided it would make it as simple as possible for our students and staff to recycle.

“The change was quite different to our previous set-up, but the transition to the new system has been very smooth, with mostly positive feedback from staff and students.”

Old mixed recycling and individual general waste bins were replaced with centralised recycling stations throughout the university, halls of residence, cafes, restaurants, and external areas.

The new bins include separate liquid reservoirs to facilitate bottle and cup recycling and utilise clear instructional designs. For example, colour-coded material streams and WRAP iconography ensure consistent messaging and methodology across stations.

Bins are emptied daily to prevent overflow and reduce cross-contamination.

Taubman explained how the university overcame its biggest challenge, communicating the new system to staff and students: “We knew we needed to communicate the changes in the simplest way possible and implement a positive recycling experience which would encourage participation from both staff and students.

“We used a mixture of our online portal, Freshers Fairs, induction packs for Freshers, posters in all student accommodation and public areas, and clear signage.

“Students have been particularly positive about the changes, with most of them being environmentally conscious and understanding the need to preserve resources and reduce the amount we throw away. So, their compliance with the changes has been very good.”

Bluestone National Park Resort improves quality of recycling

Pembrokeshire-based holiday park Bluestone recommends keeping changes simple. The company rolled out a new colour-coded recycling system which aligns with that of Pembrokeshire County Council, making it easy to follow for local guests and staff.

New bins were installed for plastic and cans, and paper and cardboard, in the resort’s 440 lodges, and its public areas and restaurants.

Staff were informed of the changes via a toolkit, training, signage in staff areas and updates on the staff app. Guests received recycling guidance via posters across the site, including in lodges, and via TV screens in public areas.

Marten Lewis, Director of Sustainability at Bluestone, highlighted the benefits of the new waste management system: “Since installing new bins across our site we have noticed that there is a lot less cross contamination. The right items are ending up in the right bins, meaning that the quality of the waste we are sending for recycling has improved by more than half.”

Marten Lewis, Director of Sustainability at Bluestone
Marten Lewis, Director of Sustainability at Bluestone

Lewis also emphasised the importance of planning ahead and tracking performance: “Complying with the new law has been simple, and has been 18 months in the planning… We wanted to ensure that the changes were implemented and communicated well in advance of the law change.

“To manage the challenge of cross contamination, we monitored our contamination levels in the 12 months prior to making any changes. This allowed us to obtain a good insight of what was happening before, and the levels of cross contamination within our old system.

“We will continue to monitor and review our progress over the coming months and make adjustments, as required, such as the positioning of the bins. This is one of the main reasons we made the changes to our waste management system sooner, rather than later, as it has allowed us to trial the changes before they come into effect. The best advice I can give is get prepared now and plan for the changes.”

Advice for businesses

The Welsh Government and businesses who have already started making changes have given recommendations for workplaces:

  • Plan ahead – before the new law comes into effect, find out what it means for you and think about what changes you need to implement.
  • Talk to your waste collector – to find the best option for separate waste collection.
  • Look at where and how your waste is created. Can you reduce waste production by re-using items or returning packaging to suppliers?
  • Think about what bins you need – including the number, kind, location and frequency of collection. Try to make recycling easier than putting things into general waste.
  • Communicate changes – to staff, visitors and customers so they understand what they need to do and why.
  • Think about health, safety and accessibility – make sure your bins are the right size, accessible by everyone, easy to move and don’t pose any hazards (e.g. blocking exits).

Recycling in Wales

Wales’ household recycling rates are higher than any other UK nation and third highest globally. Over the past 20 years, Wales has gone from recycling less than five per cent of its waste to over 65 per cent, helping to save around 400,000 tonnes of carbon emissions every year.

Commenting on the new Workplace Recycling law, Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association, said: “The regulations mark another large step forward for Welsh recycling, building on the successful household system. The recycling and waste management industry very much supports measures to harmonise requirements, which reduces confusion, increases participation, and boosts performance. The certainty that clear and timely regulation provides also enables industry to invest in, and deliver, the services needed to support higher recycling rates.”

Julie James, Minister for Climate Change, added: “This is important in delivering against the climate and nature emergency but will crucially also deliver benefits to the economy by capturing a resilient supply of high-quality recycled materials. This shows how we can work together to reduce our environmental impact and lay the foundations for a stronger, greener economy.”

More information on the Workplace Recycling regulations can be found on the Welsh Government website. In addition, WRAP Cymru has produced guidance, webinars and templates for communications resources. 

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