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Surging ahead on reducing waste

Midge Doyle, manager of Siteserv Recycling’s Llandow MRF, discusses the challenges ahead for local authorities in Wales as the country works towards zero waste

More than 17 million tonnes of waste is produced each year in Wales. The National Waste Strategy for Wales promotes a number of actions to improve management of this waste.

They include measures to increase the use of recycled and composted materials by businesses and the public sector, a public sector waste minimisation campaign, and an education campaign to raise awareness and understanding across Wales of the need to manage waste in a more environmentally friendly manner.

The country’s waste policies and targets have been set out in a strategy called Towards Zero Waste. Launched in June 2010, it outlines the actions that must be taken if Wales is to reach the ambition of becoming a high recycling nation (at least 75% recycling rate) by 2025 and a zero- waste nation by 2050.

Wales needs to reduce the amount of waste by 1.5% every year until 2050. It must also prevent the waste of materials, which have the greatest effect on its ecological footprint.

It is hoped that the measures outlined in Towards Zero Waste will also provide more green jobs and increase skills; help Wales to become more resilient against competing demands for resources; and support sustainable develop-ment and climate change objectives.

The latest quarterly statistics on local authority municipal waste produced by the Welsh Government were released on 28 June and show:

l The combined reuse/recycling/composting rate of municipal solid waste (MSW) continued to increase to 48% for the 12 months to the end of March 2012, based on provisional data, compared with 44% for the 12 months to the end of March 2011.

l The percentage of council MSW prepared for reuse, recycling or composting in Wales continued to increase for the January-March quarter, reaching a peak of 48% in January-March 2012.

l The total amount of council MSW generated in Wales has generally decreased, with the tonnage 7% lower than for the same quarter in 2011.

l The amount of residual household waste produced per person in Wales also continued to decrease, falling to 56kg in January-March 2012 from 65kg in January- March 2011. 

These statistics show that Wales is surging ahead of the rest of the UK on recycling as it bids to become a zero-waste society. It is firmly on track to reach its 2012-13 statutory target of 52%.

But many households in Wales could soon be forced to sort recycling into separate containers after new EU rules mean that single bag collections could be banned. At present, around half of councils allow people to put all their recycling in the same bag to be sorted later. But the Waste Framework Directive could mean that, from 2015, recycled waste would have to be separated before collection.

Councils have warned of “far-reaching consequences” if they are forced to change the way they collect recycling. For example, many have invested in specialist vehicles to facilitate the sorting of mixed waste before it goes on to be recycled.

Separate kerbside collection would mean, for example, that households have to put waste paper, tins, glass and plastics in separate bags or boxes. There are fears that the Directive, which comes into force in January 2015, will leave councils with little option but to scrap the commingled approach.

With councils facing financial penalties for any failure to meet recycling targets in Wales, they must be free to shape their support for national recycling targets by developing locally determined collection services that reflect the specific needs of the communities they serve.

Siteserv Recycling works closely with many Welsh councils to manage the treatment of MSW, and its MRF in Llandow, Vale of Glamorgan, has been specially designed to treat it.

The process involves hand-sorting plastic bottles and films, cardboard, paper and wood from the waste stream. Steel items and aluminium cans are mechanically removed. The remaining product can then be converted into green energy at energy-from-waste (EfW) plants across the UK and Europe, producing sustainable electricity.

The company can therefore help to reduce the amount of waste that councils send to landfill and turn their waste into a valuable resource by extracting more recyclable materials. This diverts waste from landfill and reduces exposure to landfill tax.

For the industry to meet ambitious recycling targets, education is key. Efforts to campaign and teach about recycling must be continued across the UK, such as visits to MRFs and recycling centres along with domestic and business user campaigns.

Industry bodies and key waste producers must continue to look into ways to decrease waste production. The Welsh and UK Governments need to work closer with manufacturers and retailers to reduce packaging. In 2011, only 24% of the UK’s plastic packaging was recycled, a figure which retailers, producers and the industry must try to improve if targets are to be hit.

Funding for research into new outlets for the types of resources that are being produced is vital.

It is our responsibility as industry insiders to encourage the UK to close the recycling loop and in turn reduce our carbon footprint.

At Siteserv, we hope to focus on the educational aspect of the waste industry among local schools and businesses in an attempt to increase the numbers of those who recycle. We continue to research and address the need to reduce waste from the outset.

Working with councils, schools and industry specialists, we are able to advise on the best ways to reduce the amount of waste that is produced.

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