Wales: Leading the recycling world?

Gerry Gillespie, Board Member of the Zero Waste International Trust, examines the steps Wales has taken to reach its current position in the recycling league tables – and how it might continue to drive recycling higher

Wales has been recognised as one of the world’s leading recyclers, coming first amongst UK nations, second in Europe and third globally, according to its own reported statistics. The path to this achievement is remarkable, but of even greater interest will be the future of such a small nation in maintaining its leadership role – and in doing so, developing new pathways for materials recovery and new concepts for old products.

Wales: Leading the recycling world?
Hannah Blythyn and Frame CEO Jenny Sims with one of the recycled creations at the reuse centre

The story of Wales’ recycling success was central to the launch of the government’s ‘Preparation for reuse roadmap’, which took place at Pembrokeshire FRAME, a furniture reuse and recycling centre, on 16 July. The roadmap, funded by the government and created by WRAP Cymru, highlights how different scenarios focusing on reuse – from Welsh best practice to a complete ‘paradigm shift’ towards a circular economy – could help to drive the country’s recycling rate above its current 64 per cent.

Key actions identified in the roadmap for all scenarios include the creation of a Welsh Reuse Strategy Board, with a remit to set a national reuse strategy, and a Reuse Practitioners Working Group made up of representatives from across the value chain, along with a local authority toolkit designed to help councils implement reuse schemes. Minister for Environment Hannah Blythyn commented: “Reuse helps reduce the strain on our valuable resources. My ambition is to create a more circular economy in Wales, making more of what we consume here and becoming a global centre of excellence for reuse.

“I’m proud that Wales is the top nation for household recycling in the UK and third in the world. The roadmap will be a vital source of information as we work towards our goal of becoming a zero waste nation by 2050.”

FRAME proved to be an excellent choice for the launch of the roadmap, coinciding with the official opening of the Green Shed, a new zero waste hub with an innovative 26 resource Autumn 2018 approach to resource management. Facilities includea café, conference spaces, rentable meeting rooms, a retail shop for clients’ goods and recycled products, an office for a Zero Waste Champion, a household item repair shop, a glass studio, a plastic recycling workshop, a bee rescue facility and an online public database identifying recyclate destinations in the UK and around the world.

Jenny Sims, CEO of FRAME, explained that the Green Shed will be a social business model expanding on the existing furniture resale model of FRAME, which was set up in 1993. “The Green Shed must not just be about reuse but about people,” she said. “Half of the paid staff team arrived at FRAME needing support to boost their skills, increase their self-confidence and make people believe they are employable.” Through the recycling and refurbishment of second-hand furniture and household items, the organisation provides training and employment opportunities for over 200 people with disabilities and mental health difficulties every year.

It is with the assistance of Pembrokeshire County Council and funding from the Welsh Government that FRAME has been able to develop the Green Shed. In a brief speech on behalf of the council, Director Ian Westley said the relationship between Jenny’s organisation and the council goes beyond innovative – it is a partnership where all involved hold each other in mutual respect, often working outside the regime of structured meetings, devising solutions through a casual phone call or over a cup of tea. Plans are for the Green Shed model, and its focus on collaboration and community, to be replicated at future sites across Wales.

Guest speakers at the launch reflected on the path Wales has taken to reach this point in its recycling journey. Much of the country’s success has been driven by good policy on source-separation; well-managed kerbside sort collections in Wales have demonstrated that strong results can be produced by using Resource Recovery Vehicles (RRVs) onto which dry recyclables and food wastes are directly sorted.

Wales: Leading the recycling world?
At the opening of the Green Shed: (L-R) Hannah Blythyn AM, Cllr Cristoffer Tomos, Pembrokeshire Council Chief Executive Ian Westley, FRAME CEO Jenny Sims

Wales also has a Collections Blueprint that is being adopted in part or full by a growing number of the country’s 22 local authorities, meaning that kerbside sort collections are becoming standard across Wales, with corresponding benefits for procurement: several companies are looking to invest in Wales because of the high-quality materials that are delivered from domestic collections. In addition, the local councils involved are making big financial savings, both through efficient operations and through obtaining higher prices for their quality materials. These same authorities are also making significant additional contributions to reducing carbon impacts.

This article was taken from Issue 93

As well as policy, it seems that part of the reason Wales has leapt so far ahead of England in recycling is down to its approach to community engagement. The importance of getting the community fully involved in any recycling program cannot be overstated; people must be able to see their role clearly and to understand that, as guardians of quality at the point of source- separation, they are the most important part of the entire recycling programme.

The experience in Wales has been that simply handing out brochures and leaflets has little impact; real change occurs when people are able to see that the system truly works, becoming more engaged in the entire recycling process. Regulation and enforcement exists for those that are not, but the ultimate aim is to make recycling the ‘new normal’ – and producing waste about as popular as smokers in restaurants.

Compositional analysis by WRAP Cymru of residual waste bags has shown that around half of the material left in residual waste containers is still recyclable. The Wales model will need to progressively bring in more regulation to underpin its aims of achieving zero waste – all waste reused or recycled with no landfill or incineration – by 2050 and becoming the leading recycler in the world. But alongside regulation, it is clear that community engagement will continue to play a key role in driving up reuse and cycling rates. And in this context, FRAME and its future ‘Green Shed’ siblings in Welsh recycling have a great future ahead of them.