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A new approach to recycling

Nicola Peake

In the race to deliver a greener household waste system, the UK has a new champion: Wales. The country has led the way by setting higher household recycling targets than outlined by the Government in Westminster. In its Toward Zero Waste strategy launched last year, the Welsh Assembly set bold targets for 70% of household waste by volume to be recycled by 2025..

At the time the move was lauded as heralding an ambitious new recycling and waste strategy, but it now appears this was only the beginning. The Welsh Assembly has now unveiled its Municipal Sector Plan and collections blueprint, which sets out a vision for waste collections and provides clear direction for councils in Wales in delivering recycling and waste services.

Too often, national strategy documents shy away from difficult issues, making bland references to local circumstances dictating local solutions and one size not fitting all.

“What is different about the new Welsh scheme is the scale of ambition”

The Welsh have opted for a different approach and one which challenges conventional thinking around municipal waste collections, stating that they need not be weekly, so long as collections of dry recyclables and food waste are.

This comprehensive vision for a new way of dealing with household waste is not entirely new because it builds on initiatives that work well elsewhere.

Indeed the recycling and waste collection scheme that May Gurney runs for Bridgend Borough County Council already uses the same core principles. It currently has the highest kerbside recycling rate for dry recyclables in Wales and is also the first authority in the UK to exceed 50% recycling without collecting garden waste.

But what is different about the new Welsh scheme is the scale of the ambition and the fact that it will apply to all councils across an entire country. In my view, the collection blueprint set out by the Welsh Assembly will provide the lowest costs and highest environmental benefit solution for dealing with household waste.

The move will not be without its critics. Any change to recycling and waste collections stirs controversy, and there are people who still believe they should be entitled to a traditional weekly waste collection, using one bin and without the need to segregate waste for recycling.

The reality is that no council anywhere  in the UK can get away with this. The cost under the EU Waste Directive is so prohibitive that any local authority indulging in a ‘one bin and no recycling’ service would be swiftly voted out of office or face crippling cost rises that would directly affect service provision in other areas.

The issue now for councils in Wales is what to do to meet this blueprint and how to deliver the bold vision for a new age of recycling and waste services that it sets out. The biggest challenge is for authorities that currently operate a commingled service for dry recyclables. The change they face is far-reaching and many are likely to seek private sector expertise to deliver this cost effectively.

Significant change now faces councils across Wales and the rest of the UK will be watching closely. A new era in recycling and waste collections could be about to begin.

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