Wales’ municipal recycling rate is the highest in the UK, and it continues to climb.
In 2000-01, the nation recycled just 7% of its waste but by 2013 it recycled 54%. While this success is likely to be down to a number of factors, the impact of the Welsh Government’s progressive recycling and waste policies cannot be denied.
In June 2010, the Welsh Government published Towards Zero Waste, its over-arching waste policy. The document set out a clear ambition to recycle 70% of all wastes by 2025 and to be zero waste by 2050. The following November, the National Assembly passed legislation to introduce statutory targets for municipal recycling, making local authorities in Wales the only ones in the UK currently to have statutory targets.
Wales, along with the other UK nations, had already experienced success in using statutory targets to divert waste from landfill. In October 2004, it adopted the Landfill Allowances Scheme to divert biodegradable waste, including food waste. All 22 councils in Wales have met every target since and none has been subject to a fine.
First minister Carwyn Jones opened the nation’s first purpose-built food waste anaerobic digestion facility for local authority collected food waste in April 2014, which benefited from £2.4m of Welsh Government support.
Wales is currently the only country in the UK in which every local authority offers a separate food or food/garden waste collection service to most of its householders. Between 2009 and 2011, the Government invested £34m into developing and expanding the service. Now well over nine out of 10 Welsh homes have such a service.
The provision of separate food waste collections is one of the recommendations in the Welsh Government’s Collections Blueprint, published in March 2011. Other recommendations included introducing a restricted capacity for residual waste, reduced frequency residual waste collections and the promotion of and support for home composting for garden waste.
To support councils to achieve the outcomes of Towards Zero Waste, the Government also introduced the Collaborative Change Programme (CCP). This comprises support to help councils adopt the most effective and cost-effective services to meet their needs, which is delivered by WRAP Cymru, Waste Awareness Wales and the Welsh Local Government Association, with capital grants administered by the Welsh Government.
The CCP enables councils to access expert support, guidance and research in their decision- making and ensure they get the best deals for their taxpayers, with some eye-catching results. One local authority is set to reduce its waste bill by 25% – a saving of £1m a year.
It isn’t just Wales’ municipal recycling rate which is soaring – the 2012 Natural Resources Wales report shows that commercial recycling was 68%, up from 37% in 2007.
WRAP Cymru has contributed to this increase through its support for resource management SMEs which work with commercial and industrial waste. In 2011-12, we influenced £6.4m of growth in Wales’ resource management sector, and our European- funded ARID grant programme will create more than 100 new jobs in the most deprived areas.
Work is already underway to support those sectors which, according to Natural Resources Wales, were performing less well in 2012. The hospitality, tourism, food and drink sectors are key to Wales’ economic and cultural life. The Government also sees food as one of the waste materials which requires particular focus in these sectors.
WRAP Cymru has developed a package of support for hospitality, tourism, food and drink SMEs specifically to meet these needs, and launched it at the start of 2013. Since then we have helped more than 100 businesses – significantly more than our target of 60 – and are in talks with the Government about an expansion of this work. We are also working with officials to finalise plans for the development of a reuse network for Wales, as set out in December 2013’s Waste Prevention Programme.
Admittedly, Wales’ small size does make it easier to roll out separate food waste collections or for groups of local authorities to work together to procure facilities to treat residual waste. Yet the country’s success is about more than mere size – it is down to ambition, a shared vision, collaboration and a lot of hard work.
And while the nation’s success in boosting recycling rates should be commended, there is still an enormous amount of work to be done. Moving materials up the waste hierarchy is essential if Wales is to reap the benefits of becoming truly zero waste.
Carl Nichols, head of WRAP Cymru