Wales to explore 80 per cent recycling target by 2035
Wales could be set to target an 80 per cent municipal waste recycling rate by 2035, according to Welsh Minister for Environment Hannah Blythyn at the CIWM Resource Conference Cymru yesterday (14 March).
The theme for this year’s event was ‘The Welsh Green Economy’, with Blythyn - who has been in her post since November 2017 - focusing her keynote address on maintaining the Welsh Government’s momentum in driving Wales towards a more sustainable future and the development of the Welsh green economy through the new Economic Action Plan. She commited Wales to continuing its focus on high-quality recycling to “get our own house in order” and promised that the Welsh Government would be looking into the impact of Chinese restrictions on the import of solid waste on Wales.
Blythyn also unveiled further initiatives to be taken by the Welsh Government on the sustainability front, with plans for an ‘enhanced’ behaviour change project underway to further reduce the amount of recyclable materials sent to landfill, while an independent review of the country’s waste strategy will be published later in the year to evaluate actual progress towards its stated objectives.
The review will also consider the feasibility of an 80 per cent municipal waste recycling target for Welsh local authorities by 2035, while also exploring alternative targets for carbon and specific wastes. The 80 per cent proposal was first heard in March last year, when the late Carl Sergeant, former Welsh Environment Minister, announced the decision to consult on the possibility of setting an 80 per cent target.
Despite the UK’s impending departure from the EU, Blythyn went on to propose further alignment with the EU, including updating local authority recycling targets to take into account the new EU definition of municipal waste, as well as aligning the country’s strategy for reducing the amount of food waste generated by half by 2025 with that of the EU and UN in the pursuit of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Blythyn took the opportunity to reassert Wales’ recycling credentials, pointing to a recent injection of funding for local authorities from the Welsh Government to help improve recycling services as evidence of the government’s continued commitment to implementing a circular economy in Wales. The minister said: “In Wales, we take our duty to achieve sustainable development very seriously. We’ve extended our lead as the best household waste recycling nation in the UK to 12 per cent above the UK average, putting us second in Europe and third in the world.
“I also recently confirmed I am awarding over £7.5 million pounds to support improvements in recycling services throughout Wales, which will help achieve our goal of zero waste by 2050.”
The figures Blythyn is referring to in terms of Wales’ position as one of the world’s leading recycling nation’s come from the ‘Recycling: Who really leads the world?’ report published by Resource Media and environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting in early 2017. However, revised figures from Eunomia state that Wales is actually the fourth best recycling nation in the world, with its adjusted recycling rate falling from its reported 64 per cent to 52 per cent.
Producer responsibility on the agenda
The Conference touched on much more besides the Environment Minister’s keynote speech, with producer responsibility high on the agenda. The first session focused on Wales’ Plastics Route Map, exploring actions Welsh local authorities can take to advance the circular economy, with insight from expert speakers from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the plastics industry. This was complemented by a look into practical approaches that can be employed by local authorities by Nigel Wheeler, Director of HIghways and Streetcare Services and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council.
The second session touched on extended producer responsibility (EPR) and how Wales might use fiscal measures to incentivise more sustainable product design and stewardship, a topic brought to the fore since Chancellor the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s Spring Statement committed to exploring how the tax system can be used to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics on Tuesday (13 March). Dr Chris Sherrington, Head of Environmental Policy and Economics at Eunomia, stated that EPR should shift the financial burden of dealing with waste materials and products onto producers and consumers and away from taxpayers, while supporting the use of tax to reduce consumption.
Carl Nichols, Head of WRAP Cymru, spoke about the impact of China’s material waste restrictions, implemented at the start of January, saying the full impact “hasn’t really hit home yet”, and elaborated on Wales’ upcoming Plastics Route Map and how the focus will be on quality of recyclate, developing new reprocessing infrastructure and strengthening markets for secondary materials.
Infrastructure was at the heart of a session on residual waste, exploring whether Wales has sufficient infrastructure the potential impact of Brexit on waste RDF exports, and how the new Landfill Disposals Tax will work in practice. Stuart Hayward-Higham, Technical Development Director at SUEZ recovery and recycling UK, spoke about the need to consider resilience around residual waste, and Jenna Harris from the Welsh Revenue Authority answered tough questions about what will happen to the money generated from the new Landfill Disposals Tax – details on the communities scheme that will distribute the money will be published soon, it was revealed.
Meanwhile, Andrew Wilkinson, Head of Neighbourhood Services for Conwy County Borough Council ended the session by announcing that a decision has been made that the council will move ahead with the implementation of a four-weekly residual waste collection, appearing to bring an end to the will-they-won’t they drama that has accompanied the council’s attempts to implement the new collections regime following the end of a successful trial in September 2017.
You can read more about the road to 80 per cent recycling in Wales in the article ‘What would it take to recycle 80 per cent?’ in Resource 88.