Wales defers business recycling reforms until 2024

The Welsh government has announced a six-month delay in implementing its plans to require businesses to separate recyclable materials from each other.

Originally scheduled for October 2023, the new start date for the Business, Public, and Third Sector Recycling Reforms is now set for 6 April 2024. Despite the postponement, the government highlights the need for firms to continue preparing for the mandatory changes.

Julie James
In a written statement, Julie James, the Welsh Government's Minister for Climate Change, revealed the decision to push back the start date for the recycling reforms. This decision comes after considering feedback from the public consultations held between November and February.

The reforms are seen as a vital part of the Welsh Government's action on climate and nature emergencies and are a key step towards decarbonisation, as committed within their Programme for Government.

According to the statement, the key outcomes from the consultation were that respondents agreed with the proposals' principles in both the code of practice and enforcement and sanctions consultation documents. However, some sectors and businesses sought additional clarity on certain sections of the code and further detail on how the enforcement and sanctions regime would be applied in practice.

Concerns were also raised about the readiness of the sector to deliver against the original start date of October 2023.

By extending the start date, the government aims to provide an additional six months for the necessary preparations, with the legislation coming into force at the beginning of the next financial year. James urged businesses that have not yet completed their preparations to follow the example of those that have already implemented source-segregated and collected recycling.

Consultation Responses
The consultation responses revealed broad support for the recycling reforms, with respondents acknowledging their importance in tackling the climate and nature emergency and realising the benefits of a circular economy. However, concerns were raised by various stakeholders, pointing out the need for further clarity on specific issues and the practical implementation of the new regulations.

Some of the issues identified include the responsibilities regarding waste separation in multi-occupancy buildings, distinguishing between mixed residential and non-residential properties, the inclusion or exclusion of Airbnb holiday lets, community centres, village halls, and the definition of residential care homes.

Respondents also sought clarity on the size of homes included in the scope, as well as the handling of specific waste materials like personal protective equipment (PPE), incontinence pads, and soup.

Request for Supporting Information
Consultation respondents provided suggestions for complementary information that the government could offer to assist businesses in complying with the new recycling regulations. Key recommendations included:

  • Providing relevant European Waste Catalogue (EWC) codes for separate waste streams
  • Referencing legislation banning single-use plastics products
  • Highlighting and explaining the role Deposit Return Schemes and Extended Producer Responsibility will play

Other areas of overlap, such as mandatory take back of disposable paper cups and associated reporting requirements, were also highlighted.

Further suggestions included referencing the Controlled Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2012 and identifying premises eligible for free waste collections.

Respondents also called for clarifications on health and safety/fire safety requirements, particularly regarding appropriate storage for containers and not obstructing pavements/footpaths.

Additional guidance on food waste separation and compliance with Animal By-Product Regulations (ABPR) requirements was requested, along with information on enforcement bodies for the code and associated regulations.

Small WEEE
Local Authority respondents expressed divided opinions on the proposal to initially exclude most small Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (sWEEE) from the separation requirements. Several concerns were raised, including the availability of facilities to reprocess sWEEE, potential confusion in waste stream management, the ignition risk posed by rechargeable batteries in waste collection vehicles and facilities, and the classification of some sWEEE as hazardous waste, necessitating priority for separate collection.

Some respondents insisted that the code should clearly state that batteries should be removed from sWEEE before separate collection.

Local Authorities also discussed the issue of separate sWEEE collection from businesses, the potential inefficiencies involved, and whether allowing businesses to access Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) for sWEEE disposal would satisfy the separate collection requirements.

Around 79 per cent of respondents were supportive of the proposal to initially exclude most textiles from the separation requirements, with plans to include them up to three years after the regulations come into force. However, several respondents requested clarification on the definition of 'unsold' textiles and offered alternative suggestions for handling unsold textiles.

These included limiting the list of textiles to be separately collected to clothing textiles, addressing capacity concerns of waste management companies and local authorities, and considering the possibility of sending unsold textiles to HWRCs or charity shops for reuse or recycling.

The consultation asked respondents if cartons should be collected with plastic and metal, with approximately 59 per cent of respondents supporting the decision. However, nearly a quarter of respondents answered "Don't know," indicating a need for more information. Waste management company respondents were the only category to disagree with the majority view, citing concerns about facilities for separating cartons, the need for flexibility in determining recycling streams, and potential changes in carton packaging that may affect compatibility with the cardboard and paper stream.

Local Authority responses touched on several issues, such as the acceptability of cartons as potential contaminants in plastic reprocessors, the need for sorting infrastructure to separate sub-fractions, and the impact of changes to carton collection on material quality and income received from reprocessors. Trade Associations for metal and plastic recycling also expressed concerns about increased contamination and the need for sorting infrastructure.

Some business respondents sought clarification on the definition of cartons and questioned why the system for carton collection differed between domestic and non-domestic collections.

Ongoing support
Although the timetable has changed, Welsh Government officials have expressed their satisfaction with the general level of support for the Code, acknowledging the value of the input received through online sessions and webinars with stakeholders.

In response to requests for additional guidance and clarification, the government has confirmed that sector-specific guidance will be produced by WRAP to assist businesses in adapting to the new regulations. In addition, Natural Resources Wales is expected to provide specific regulatory guidance, ensuring a comprehensive support framework for all parties involved.