Resource Use

WRAP Cymru: Reaching 70 per cent recycling through co-mingling ‘very difficult’

Reaching Wales’s 70 per cent recycling target by 2025 using current single-stream (co-mingled) systems will be ‘very difficult’, Marcus Gover, the Director of Sustainable Products & Services Systems at the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has told a inquiry into recycling in Wales.

Speaking at the Environment and Sustainability Committee’s inquiry into recycling in Wales yesterday (17 July), Gover said that current co-mingled systems have too high reject rates to offer a viable solution to reaching 70 per cent recycling.

He said: “In a system where you’re aiming for 70 per cent recycling, to use an approach that has rejects of up to 10 per cent, which the current single-stream system has, it’s going to be very difficult. You really need to have a much more highly performing system than 10 per cent rejects (or more than that, which might be the case if you go to reprocessors now).

“Thinking about the future, when you have such high performing systems here, then the current systems won’t really be quite effective.”

Kerbside sort argument

Instead, Gover highlighted the 2011 Collections Blueprint from WRAP Cymru (the Welsh branch of WRAP), which recommends local authorities run kerbside-sort collections for paper; cardboard; plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays; metal cans and small scrap (e.g. kitchen utensils); foil; glass jars and bottles, as an effective means of reaching the target.

He said: “The other important thing to think about is the future (with the high recycling rate of 70 per cent). In that scenario, the evidence does suggest that [kerbside sort] is going to be the cheaper system and the more effective system.”

He added that as well as the environmental benefit, recycling in this way could mean “more materials for more manufacturing businesses, for more jobs, for more income, for a better economy in Wales”.

Specifically, Gover pointed to the local authority of Merthyr Tydfil, which is set to “save about 25 per cent of their costs by switching to the blueprint”, and the council of Bridgend, which “has gone from the second worst [performing local authority in Wales in terms of recycling] at 31 per cent to one of the best at 57 per cent by bringing in the blueprint, and also satisfying their residents, with 80 per cent satisfaction)”.

However, he concluded that “it’s not just about kerbside sort versus single stream co-mingled, it’s about the whole package”, adding: “It’s about a range of approaches based on research of what delivers an effective recycling service. Things like restricting residual high-capacity, good recycling, those sorts of things are very important as well.

“When we’re saying it’s a better system, we’re talking about the future, not now. When you’re at the very high recycling rates of 70 per cent, that’s when we’re saying [kerbside sort is] a much better approach.”

Less ‘dogma’ from central government

Despite this, some of those giving evidence at the inquiry were less keen to promote one system over another. Rebecca Colley-Jones, Chair of CIWM Cymru Wales Centre said: “I don’t think there should be a prescriptive approach to making people go down the kerbside-sort [route]. If indeed kerbside sort provides better quality materials, then that will be reflected in the markets that people are able to enjoy for those quality of materials. That will attract an income, rather than a cost. And while the collection methods for co-mingled may be cheaper at the present, then eventually that income from the quality materials may change their collection methods.

“But I think at this stage if we have a look at the difference between the two, there isn’t enough evidence to says one method is necessarily better than the other.”

Dr Dominic Hogg, Chairman at environmental consultancy Eunomia said that although there was “definitely a role for government to specify which configurations [of recycling systems] local authorities should not do”, they should not be “dogmatic in what [local authorities] should do”.

Quality vs quantity

However, he pointed to the fact that co-mingled systems have markedly higher reject rates than kerbside-sort systems, stating: “You have kerbside sort where you have loss rates of one per cent for best performing services, and two per cent average, whereas in co-mingled, not only do you have a loss at the sorting process, but you also have a further loss at the point of the reprocessor.”

Hogg added that reporting was also a problem, as “often the focus of the collection services in terms of what’s reported as recycling, is what’s the loss rate at the sorting facilities”, and current reporting practices don’t include losses that come out of the sorted material once it reaches reprocessors.

He said: “You could have facilities with relatively low loss rates, but they might be delivering more contamination in the material that’s going to the reprocessors, and of course the reprocessors don’t necessarily want that. It comes back down to how we’re measuring recycling, the value of the material, and, given the objective in Wales for a more overarching sustainable package, for this to be potentially an engine of economic growth and employment, there’s another issue here in terms of the reprocessors.”

Touching on the newly introduced Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) Regulations (which aim to collate information on the amount of rejected material going in and out of MRFs), Hogg said: “Transparency is really important… we’ve got to know what’s real recycling and what’s rejected and you need that flow of information back from the reprocessor, through to the local authority and the people that have presented it to them, because, frankly, you want them to perform better. The most information you have moving up and down the responsibility chain, the better.

“It’s going to be quite a challenge, getting people to sample and analyse non-heterogeneous material in a reliable fashion.”

Is Welsh recycling target achievable?

When asked if she thought the 70 per cent recycling target was achievable, Colley-Jones said: “Briefly, yes, we do believe that they are achievable and we believe that they can be achieved.”

Steve Lee, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), added: “Is it challenging? Clearly it’s challenging… good progress has been made to date but hard yards in front of us.

“Every per cent that you make now beyond 52, 55 per cent gets harder and harder, of course it does. Seventy per cent should, just about, be achievable, but it’s going to take a lot of support, a lot of commitment by government, by local government, by people all working together.”

He highlighted that the target was ‘good’, adding that it is also now the target chosen by the outgoing European Environment Commissioner Janez Potoznik for all EU member states.

Both Colley-Jones and Lee said that Wales should be proud of what it has achieved thus far, but Lee added that there was “still a long way to go”.

Other topics covered at the inquiry included: the potential for national brokerage scheme for resources that all local authorities could use and the potential for a national communications campaign on recycling.

Lee Marshall, Chief Executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC); Craig Mitchell, Head of Waste Support at Waste Awareness Wales and Dan Finch, National Campaigns Manager at Waste Awareness Wales also gave evidence at the inquiry.

Find out more about the inquiry into recycling in Wales.