Wales publishes separate collection guidance

The Welsh Government has today (17 December) published statutory guidance on the separate collection of waste paper, metal, plastic and glass.

The much-awaited document follows on from the April consultation on the guidance, and aims to help councils and businesses understand what recycling services they are legally obligated to provide under waste law.

According to the UK’s transposition of the EU’s revised Waste Framework Directive (the Waste Regulations (Amendment) 2012), by 1 January 2015, every waste collection authority must have in place separate collections for waste paper, metal, plastic and glass when they are necessary to ‘facilitate or improve recovery’ and are ‘technically, environmentally and economically practicable’ (TEEP). 

Despite the UK government’s reticence in issuing guidance on when separate collections are legally necessary, the Welsh Government said it would produce statutory guidance to ‘offer clarity on the legal requirements for separate collections for local authorities and waste collection providers operating in Wales’.

Guidance details

According to the document, all organisations responsible for waste collection, including waste collection businesses and local authorities, should – from three weeks’ time – ‘ensure that the four waste materials are collected separately from each other and from other sources of waste, where necessary to facilitate or improve recovery (e.g. the quality of recyclate) and where technically, environmentally and economically practicable (TEEP)’.

Indeed, it states that authorities should consider ‘not just whether separate collection is practicable by 2015, but also when it may become practicable, for which streams it would be practicable, and in which neighbourhoods or locations it would be practicable’, adding that the aim is to ‘deliver the best overall environmental outcome that is practicable’.

Referring to TEEP, the Welsh Government points to the EC’s definitions:

  • ‘technically practicable’ means that the separate collection may be implemented through a system that has been ‘technically developed and proven to function in practice’;
  • ‘environmentally practicable’ means the added value of ecological benefits justifies possible negative environmental effects of the separate collection
  • (e.g. additional emissions from transport); and
  • ‘economically practicable’ refers to a separate collection that ‘does not cause excessive costs in comparison with the treatment of a non-separated waste stream, considering the added value of recovery and recycling and the principle of proportionality’.

It warns that the preference of waste producers is not a relevant consideration (unless it identifies technical, economic or environmental impracticabilities) and that Natural Resources Wales may issue a compliance notice, a stop notice or a restoration notice to those being found collecting paper, glass, metal, or plastic in contravention of the Waste Regulations.

Failure to comply with any of these notices may result in criminal proceedings being taken, and on summary conviction or conviction on idictment, to a fine.

Separate collections vs. co-mingling

The guidance reiterates that the requirement for separate collection ‘does not mean that a separate bin is needed for each material’. Indeed, it states that separate collection ‘can be carried out, for example, through a mixture of household/business sort and kerbside sort as well as from bring sites and civic amenity sites’.

It also warns that every relevant establishment or undertaking that does not separately collect waste paper, metal, plastic or glass should ‘actively consider how much collection is practicable and whether separate collection would improve the quantity of material that could be recycled or reused, and the quality of recyclate’. It argues that ‘separate collection would most likely achieve a better environmental outcome as a result of providing higher quality recyclate but these considerations must be taken on a case by case basis.’

However, it concedes that some may conclude that a hybrid approach is appropriate: ‘Two or more of the waste streams may be collected using a co-mingled system if the system produces recyclate of a quality similar to that of separately collected waste which is intended to facilitate or improve recovery. The bench-mark should be that the recyclate is similar in both quality and quantity to that achieved with good separate collection.’

Examples of potential uses of recyclate from ‘a good separate collection system’ could include:

  • the use of recovered glass in re-melt applications;
  • the separation of recovered plastic into individual polymers to produce, for example, new food and drinks containers; and
  • the use of recovered paper for the production of new paper products.

Indeed, it warns that co-mingling glass will ‘not usually lead to high-quality recycling of all of the glass component’, and ‘often leads to contamination of other streams’. However, it goes on to state that co-mingled collections of glass together with paper or plastic ‘may produce an acceptable standard of recyclate’ where the authority or undertaking can demonstrate that a similar tonnage of the following can be achieved through separate collection:

  • recycled glass cullet suitable for use as feedstock in the glass producing industry or other re-melt applications;
  • recycled paper suitable for use as feedstock in the paper producing industry; and
  • recycled plastic suitable for use as feedstock in the plastic producing industry.

The Welsh Government adds it would be ‘unlikely that the co-mingled collection of bio-waste and other ‘wet‘ waste streams with dry streams such as paper will lead to high quality recycling’.

Although there are no specific requirements on how decisions should be documented, the guidance states that a ‘suitable evidence base’ could include, for example:

  • the council papers about relevant decisions;
  • the business case for an in-house investment or the specification for any tendered collection service;
  • assessment of the current and historical collection method;
  • information about materials recovery facility performance;
  • information about relevant technological changes;
  • information about economic assessments of options; and
  • information on environmental impact of options, etc.

Making it ‘as simple as possible to recycle to a high quality’

Launching the guidance today, Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sargeant said: “I want it to be as simple as possible for everyone in Wales to recycle the four materials to a high quality, so we can continue to improve our recycling rates and continue to lead the way with the highest recycling rates in the UK. 

“This guidance aims to support organisations that collect materials for recycling by focusing on high-quality materials, because these will obtain a better price on the market. Growing Wales’s market for recycled materials can only benefit Welsh companies. This is why our overarching strategy, Towards Zero Waste, lays out a policy of separate collection for recyclable waste.”

Commenting on behalf of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), Chair Andrew Bird, said: “The fact the Welsh Government has issued this guidance when none has been forthcoming from England is to be welcomed and shows the good engagement they have with waste issues. However we... believe that residents’ views do form a part of the assessment on collection systems and by ignoring them we could see reductions in quality of material collected.”  

Read the ‘Statutory Guidance on the Separate Collection of Waste Paper, Metal, Plastic and Glass’.