Wales eyes 80 per cent recycling target for councils

The Welsh Government is to consult on the possibility of setting an 80 per cent recycling target for local authorities, after noting that it is due to hit its 70 per cent goal ahead of schedule.

Wales eyes 80 per cent recycling target for councils
Sargeant presented the motion, filling in for Environment Secretary Lesley Griffiths, who was absent after an accident
Debating the matter in the National Assembly for Wales yesterday (14 March), the proposal was one of several suggested to continue the country’s rapid improvement ahead of a new waste strategy to be published next year.

Speaking at the plenary session yesterday, former Environment Minister Carl Sergeant, standing in for his successor Lesley Griffiths, told the National Assembly for Wales that the country was due to hit the Welsh Government’s target of 70 per cent recycling by 2024/25, ‘possibly several years ahead of schedule’. This, he said, presents a ‘milestone on the journey to zero waste by 2050’, which was established in the Welsh Government’s ‘Towards Zero Waste’ strategy in 2010.

Ahead of a revised waste strategy that is due to be published in 2018, Sargeant said that further initiatives must be used ‘to achieve the best overall sustainable development outcomes’ and for ‘Wales to become the best recycling nation in the world’.

The debate came in the same week that Resource reported that Wales already has the second best recycling rate in Europe, and third best in the world – behind Germany and Taiwan – after an in-depth study carried out with Eunomia Research & Consulting.

As part of the continuing ambition, Sargeant announced that Griffiths will shortly be publishing a consultation on Wales’s future direction for waste and recycling, including setting a potential future recycling target of 80 per cent for local authorities.

Other areas that the Welsh Government is looking at to enhance recycling ambition include:

  • improving awareness raising on what can and can’t be recycled;
  • working with people who are not currently recycling to change their behaviour;
  • taking a ‘more radical approach’ through steps like deposit-return schemes or prevention of single-use food and drink containers; and
  • legislating to enable local authorities to encourage residents to put more of their recyclable materials in recycling and not residual waste bins, powers that Sargeant says have been requested by several local authorities.

Griffiths has also asked for studies into the possibility of extending producer responsibility in Wales and making producers of products and packaging more responsible for the costs of waste management, including litter.

A video of the plenary session can be viewed below.

Opportunity to take advantage of emerging trends

The National Assembly plenary meeting established proposals to ‘set out the agenda’ to build on Wales’s success and become the world’s leading recycler, and realise the associated employment, economic and environmental benefits.

Supporting the possibility of establishing an 80 per cent target, Sargeant said that almost half the rubbish being put in residual waste bins is ‘easily recyclable’, a conclusion of a waste composition analysis carried out by the Welsh Government in June 2016.

If everyone in Wales recycled materials like food waste, paper, card, glass and metals, he said, it would drive up recycling rates to ‘almost 80 per cent’, as well as saving local authorities much-needed funds currently used for residual waste disposal and providing extra income through the recovery of recyclable materials.

Sargeant also said that there is an opportunity to take advantage of developing trends, such as creating additional paper manufacturing capacity to reflect the greater use of cardboard and paper-based packaging due to the increase in online shopping. He cited evidence from the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) that the UK is the world’s leading net importer of paper and card, in part, he said, due to the current lack of capacity to manufacture and recycle cardboard and paper.

Sargeant called for developments like new collection and treatment options for a wider range of products like plastics, absorbent hygiene products like nappies and facilities for hard-to-recycle items like carpets, mattresses and textiles. Griffiths has asked government officers to work with local authorities to look at how these improvements can be achieved.

Sargeant told the Assembly: “Making sure these opportunities come to Wales is a priority, and the minister intends to announce in future the measures she will take working with cabinet colleagues to secure additional infrastructure here in Wales.”

Deposits ‘a good idea in principle’

Responding to the proposals tabled, Gareth Bennett, the UKIP Assembly Member for South Wales East, added that while he felt that a deposit-return scheme was a ‘good idea in principle’, it is one in need of further development, with some specific areas needing addressing. These included how it would work in border areas with England and the burden on smaller retailers like storage space, additional staff costs, set-up costs and the cost of transporting returned containers.

Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas backed a deposits system more strongly, stating that schemes should be established for plastic, glass and cans. This would, he said, “add to the local economy” rather than act as a barrier to small stores.

In a vote, the addition of the mention of a ‘deposit-return scheme for plastic, glass and cans and a ban on polystyrene packaging’ into the motion was supported by 35 Assembly Members, with three voting against the proposal and 14 abstaining.

Resource and Eunomia’s report on worldwide recycling rates, which found that Wales has the third best rate in the world, can be found on the Resource site.

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