Resource Use

New report published into recycling in Wales

The National Assembly for Wales’s Environment and Sustainability Committee has published its findings on the state of recycling in Wales.

First launched in May to ‘explore reasons for and impacts of variations in local authority household waste recycling practice’ and to ‘gain a greater understanding of the relationship between recycling collection practices and recycling rates’, the inquiry looked at current local authority household waste recycling collections for all waste materials, including food and garden waste.

According to the final report, issued today (18 December), there is an ‘overwhelmingly positive message’ regarding recycling in the country, and although it is performing well (with latest figures revealing that the rate for 2013/14 was 54 per cent, the highest of any UK country), ‘increasingly demanding targets are proving harder to meet and are not being met in some areas’.

Report details

More than 3,000 people responded to the inquiry, said to be the largest response to date of any assembly inquiry, which the committee says ‘demonstrates how engaged the people of Wales are with recycling’.

It added that, as many ‘young people’ responded, it was ‘optimistic for the future and confident that, if national and local government can get the infrastructure right, then Wales can continue to meet the challenge of creating less waste and recycling more’.

However, it did note several areas where progress could be improved.

For example, the committee found that whilst there has been improvement in meeting recycling targets in Wales, nine of the 22 local authorities did not achieve the 52 per cent target for 2012/13 and, according to data from March 2014, three local authorities are yet to achieve this target.

It argued that a combination of good communication and engagement combined with a reduction in residual (‘black bag’) waste collections could further improve recycling rates. However, it said that ‘whilst financial penalties could play a role in the future, it would be premature to consider their introduction until other avenues of encouragement have been exhausted’. (The Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant has previously said that he did not want to impose financial penalties (currently £200 per tonne of waste that fall short of their targets) on local authorities that fail to achieve their targets so long as they could ‘prove that they were taking every possible action to do so’. Indeed, the committee found that, to date, no local authorities have been fined for failing to achieve their targets.)

Collection type performance

Notably, the committee found that whilst it was ‘clear’ the Welsh Government preferred kerbside sort collections to deliver high recycling rates and high-quality recyclates (as advocated in its Collections Blueprint), ‘it is equally clear that its conviction is not shared by many local authorities’.

The report argues that although there were 22 different approaches to waste collection in Wales in December 2013 (including: kerbside sort of dry recyclables, used by nine authorities; twin-stream, used by five authorities; and co-mingling, used by eight authorities), ‘no single method of collecting recyclable resources from householders offers a clear lead in performance, cost or efficiency’.

Further to this, the committee outlined that it did not believe that ‘one particular method of collection is preferable, or that the freedom local authorities have to adapt their approach to meet local circumstances should be constrained so long as targets are being met’. It further stated that the government needed to do more ‘if it is to convince local authorities, and us, that the benefits of the blueprint are beyond question’.

However, it noted there was no conflict between a local authority’s duty to consult with its citizens about services, and the statutory guidance on separate collections (a finalised version of which was released earlier this week). This is because, ‘where technically, environmentally and economically practicable, the separate collection of paper, metal, plastic and glass will be a legal requirement, just as there are other legal requirements that must be complied with regardless of residents’ preference’. As such, the committee said that local authorities could still comply with their duty to consult by consulting with residents on how they can comply with the requirement for separate collections in the best way for residents’.

Other concerns centred around:

  • ensuring that weight-based recycling targets do not discourage waste reduction measures;
  • ‘a lack of transparency around reject rates and final recyclate destinations, particularly when waste is sorted at Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs)’ (but this should become clearer as data is collated for the MF Regulations); and
  • a lack of collaboration in the procurement of common household collection, sorting receptacles and standardised approaches to the colours and labelling used.


As such, the committee made seven recommendations to the Welsh Government to improve recycling:

  • commission an independent review of the Collections Blueprint and the evidence it is based upon, including an ‘analysis of the latest data on reject rates and destination of recyclates from all collection methods’, by the end of March 2016 ‘so that it can inform the approach taken by local authorities’ to achieving the Welsh Government’s 2019/20 recycling target of 64 per cent;
  • encourage collaboration between local authorities when renewing contracts for providing householder receptacles for recyclable waste;
  • work with local authorities to make information on the destination of waste collected from householders publicly available;
  • investigate weight-based targets and whether they are having any unintended impact on reducing the ecological footprint of waste (for completion before ‘the end of 2015’);
  • commission research (to be completed by ‘the end of March 2016’) into the relationship between: projections for waste reduction; local authority income from waste; and the ability of local authorities to meet their recycling targets in the period to 2019/20 and then to 2024/25;
  • investigate the case for resourcing a national ‘broker’ for the sale of recyclates from local authorities across Wales, and publish its findings by the end of December 2015; and
  • consider the merits of investing in a national campaign to help drive higher rates of recycling including to promote understanding of the need to reduce the ecological footprint of waste and the importance of other measures, particularly waste reduction.

No single method of collecting recycling has demonstrated a clear lead’

Commenting on the report, the Welsh Local Government Association’s (WLGA) Spokesperson for the Environment, Councillor Andrew Morgan of Rhondda Cynon Taf council, said: “One of the key observations made by this report is the fact that over 3000 people responded to the committee’s inquiry on recycling in Wales. This not only demonstrates how well engaged people are with this debate, it stands as testimony to the huge amount of work that has been put in by local councils, and the highly successful national recycling campaign that is already being run by Waste Awareness Wales, to encourage such a high level of public awareness in the first place. As the committee states this now needs to be supported by clear messages from the Welsh Government on the role of recycling in delivering Wales’ wider sustainability objectives.

“While constant innovation within council recycling services has seen the recycling rate for Wales grow from just 10 per cent in 2005 to 54 per cent in 2013/14, this report makes it clear that the evolution of Wales’ recycling services will need to continue well into the future. 

“Most importantly, the report summarises that no single method of collecting recycling has demonstrated a clear lead in terms of performance, cost or efficiency, and that the freedom of local councils to adapt their approach to meet local needs should not be constrained as long as national targets are being met. This is a crucial finding. Local councils have long campaigned against taking an overly-prescriptive approach to how local recycling services are run, and we look forward to working with Welsh Government to deliver the independent review of their preferred ‘Collections Blueprint’ that has now been recommended by the Environment and Sustainability Committee.”

He went on to acknowledge the need for “constant improvement in local recycling services”, but added that to do so, recycling systems will need to “continue to reflect local circumstances and need” and “[work] hard to achieve the operational efficiencies [needed] to continue Wales’ recycling successes in the future”. 

Read the full recycling inquiry report.

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