Welsh councils achieving highest levels of recycling in the UK, but ‘not time to rest’ warns Minister

The Welsh Government has today (10 November) announced that the country had a municipal recycling rate of 65.2 per cent in 2021/22.

Wales kerbside recyclingThese figures maintain Wales’ status as the highest-performing UK nation and one of the world’s best recyclers, due to its ambitious waste strategy and investment programme to support it.

Commenting on last year’s performance, Julie James, Welsh Minister for Climate Change, said: “These brilliant stats show us exactly what can be achieved when we all work together to tackle climate change and put in the hard work to ensure we’re building a green and prosperous Wales for future generations.”

Recognising work still to be done, she added: “Earlier this week, I cautioned world leaders gathering at COP27 that now is ‘not the time to rest’. The same goes for us here in Wales.”

The Local Authority Municipal Waste Management report shows that out of 22 local authorities, 16 exceeded the statutory minimum target of 64 per cent (to be achieved by 2019/20). The statutory minimum rate will be increased to 70 per cent for 2024/25 with four councils – Pembrokeshire, Bridgend, Conwy and Vale of Glamorgan – already exceeding this target ahead of schedule.

However, Wales overall recycling rate has fallen back from 65.4 per cent last year, which indicates a significant challenge remains to realise the country’s ambitious 2025 target. To achieve this, the majority of councils need to replicate the service delivery currently demonstrated by the leading councils.

The top five local authorities based on the 2021/22 rates were:

  • Pembrokeshire - 74.3 per cent
  • Bridgend - 72.6 per cent
  • Conwy - 70.2 per cent
  • Vale of Glamorgan - 70.2 per cent
  • Ceredigion - 69.6 per cent

A new recycling record

Pembrokeshire County Borough Council increased its recycling rate by 1.1 per cent over the 12-months of 2021/22 (to 74.3 per cent), which represents a new record for municipal waste management in the UK.

In 2021 the council began offering residents the option to purchase a stackable kerbside box system, to use with the recycling service. This builds on the introduction of a new multi-stream collection in autumn 2019, which separately manages paper, card, glass, food waste, with rigid plastics, cartons and tins collected together.

Long-term investment

The national recycling rate has increased significantly since 1998/99 when overall Welsh rates sat at 4.8 per cent. The increase is largely due to a £1 billion investment from the Welsh Government into municipal recycling. This forms part of the Government’s ‘Beyond Recycling’ ambition which aims to achieve zero waste in Wales by 2050.

The recycling rate consists of the percentage of local authority municipal waste that is reused, recycled or composted, which includes parks and gardens, as well as other council waste, as well household arisings.

Total waste generated by local authorities has increased from last year’s figure of 1.47 million tonnes to 1.51 million tonnes. This puts it in line with figures from 2019/20 which sat at about 1.51 million tonnes. The Welsh Government attributed the 2020/21 decrease to limits on business operations during the pandemic. Overall household waste has decreased per person in Wales by 2.2 per cent.

Material distribution is very similar to previous years, with only minor changes for some materials. According to the report, organic material comprised a third (34 per cent) of all collected materials – a one per cent decrease from last year. Co-mingled materials accounted for 18 per cent, and ‘metal or other’ accounted for 7 per cent.

Landfill waste has increased slightly to 5.2 per cent from last year when figures sat at less than five per cent. This still represents a significant fall from 2012/13 when landfill waste was at 42 per cent.

According to Eunomia’s most recent study, published in 2017, Wales ranks third in the world for recycling behind Germany and Taiwan. Research also shows that Wales was the only UK nation to maintain high recycling rates throughout the pandemic.

Currently, it is estimated that Wales saves about 400,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere annually.

Julie James, Welsh Minister for Climate Change, added: “Our recycling track record is a fantastic platform for us to build on to tackle the climate and nature emergencies – and now is not the time to get complacent.

“We have recently introduced a Bill to ban the blight of single-use plastics that damage our wildlife and environment – and we’re working to make sure those companies responsible for the most commonly-littered items that blight our communities and countryside, cover the clean-up costs.

“Local authority recycling targets will increase to 70 per cent in a matter of years, and while I’m thrilled some councils here are already going above and beyond, I ask everybody in Wales to continue the great progress we’ve made on this journey for the common good – and really think before throwing away.”