Cardiff Council has proposed setting up a regional MRF and restricting residual waste collections in order to avoid being hit with fines that could cost the authority up to £21m by 2020.
The council has longstanding concerns about the “very high recycling and compost targets” set by the Welsh Government. Cardiff’s recycling rate hit the statutory rate of 52% in 2013 but this shrank to 50% last year.
Welsh authorities are required to achieve a 58% overall recycling rate by 2016, rising to 70% by 2025. Failure carries a £200 per tonne penalty.
A report to the council’s Environmental Scrutiny Committee (ESC) warned: “In 2013-14 the council failed to reach the recycling targets by over 4,000 tonnes. The ‘do nothing option’ is not an option for Cardiff; if no further changes are made to the council recycling waste collection service delivery, the fines between now and 2020 could equate to over £21m.”
It said smaller wheeled bins, a “bespoke number of bags” and changing the frequency of waste collections to three or four weekly would drive up rates.
It added: “If the council is to achieve 58% recycling in 2015-16 and change people’s habits towards waste minimisation and recycling, a consistent restricting programme is required city wide.”
The report also argued that there was a gap in the market for recyclable materials, and that there were too few small-scale MRFs across Wales to sort materials into different grades.
“It is proposed, through partnership with the Welsh Government and support from Local Partnerships (funded by the Government), that Cardiff will explore the feasibility of a regional recycling facility.
“The programme will initially seek expressions of interest from surrounding and regional local authorities, test the market appetite for such a facility and establish the materials required to match any facility requirements.”
A spokesman for the Welsh Government told MRW: “We welcome the fact that Cardiff Council has recognised the need for improvement and are working with them in order to ensure that the proposed measures have the desired effect.
“It remains the case, however, that the council’s 2013-14 recycling performance was unacceptable, and we will be taking consideration of all factors before deciding on the need for potential fines or penalties.”
In October ESC chairman Paul Mitchell wrote to Bob Derbyshire, cabinet member for the environment, outlining concerns with the “significant challenges” posed by the Government’s targets.
He said: “Members described the predicament that the council faces as ‘being stuck between a rock and a hard place’. Solving such a challenge will be exceptionally expensive at a time when the environment budget faces significant cuts. The prospect of £200 per tonne fines for failure to meet recycling targets and the potential loss of the waste management grant merely add to the headache.”
In December the National Assembly for Wales published a report calling for a brokerage system to be set up for the sale of recyclates from local authorities. The report found although recycling rates had been significantly increased, more needed to be done to hit increasingly demanding targets.
It said nine of the 22 Welsh councils had not achieved the 52% recycling target for 2012-13. According to data for March 2014, three councils have still to achieve the target.