With the arrival of the Towards Zero Waste strategy and the passing of the Waste (Wales) Measure at the end of 2010, Wales has set out a direction for waste and recycling policy unique from the rest of the UK.
Welsh Assembly minister for the environment, sustainability and housing Jane Davidson says this direction comes from having what she describes as a strong evidence base for all decisions: “[The Measure] is an absolute indicator of the direction of travel of the Welsh Assembly on the journey to sustainability, because it’s all about using an evidence base and living within our environmental limits.”
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Welsh waste policy has been the legally binding target for local authorities to recycle 70% of Welsh municipal waste by 2025. The minister remains confident that the target is both achievable and necessary to reach the target of zero waste by 2050.
“We know that what we’re introducing, with the statutory targets, will save some £38m in the cost of waste collection for local authorities,” she says. “There is an economic outcome for them, a very important social message and a strong environmental message. We need to look far ahead because we are talking about different collection vehicles, routes and methodologies, to make sure that the quality of the materials is as high as possible - that will bring investment in terms of the materials markets.”
This evidence base has led to the implementation of a carrier bag charge and weekly food waste collections - something Davidson describes as the “absolute bottom line” of any collection system.
“If your food waste is collected weekly, you can look appropriately at how to collect other waste and where that waste is going to be a resource. Then you want to make that collection as easy as possible,” she explains. “You want to facilitate that because the more that is done, the smaller the amount of residual waste there will be. Therefore we have been happy to advocate support for local authorities moving to fortnightly collection of residual waste, which will not contain the food, green waste or dry recyclates and therefore should be a very small amount.”
By following the evidence base, the Welsh Assembly has headed in a different direction to England, with legislation for powers to implement landfill bans. This is a policy lever the minister describes as “utterly logical”. Another powerful influence on waste policy is Wales’ size, something Davidson says is both a benefit and a challenge.
“On the positive side, you can always get everyone in one room to have discussions in Wales. Our ability to achieve the 45% recycling and to have very active debates about methodologies has been tremendously positive in a small country,” she says.“What will always remain a challenge is not having the critical mass, not always having the opportunities to influence the markets themselves and not having the niche reprocessing opportunity. So we are always looking at working with others across the UK and in Europe in terms of where best to tackle some of these issues.”
Wales has also struck out in a different direction from England in terms of its arm’s-length bodies too, with separate organisations for consumer (Waste Awareness Wales), commercial (WRAP Cymru) and third sector (Cylch) campaigns. This is something the minister believes provides a “clarity of message”.
She says: “In terms of WRAP, there is a strong link to the UK-based agenda and there is the very explicit dialogue with businesses. Waste Awareness Wales is very much about the relationship with local authorities - it is very much focused on individual householders and activities. We need to be able to look at what is operating best in local authorities in Wales and elsewhere and be able to take those messages forward in others.
“Cylch has a number of functions: not only is it the voice of the third sector in waste, but it can put forward a strong policy agenda from its engagement with similar organisations elsewhere in the world.”
Despite the high targets and new legislation, it seems that this notion of engagement and agreement are some of the most powerful methods of achieving high recycling. Davidson says: “Our outcomes are very good in Wales. Everybody signed up to doubling the effort by 2025, and we’ve got the engagement between all three of those organisations with the Assembly Government for everyone to play their appropriate part.”
Waste Awareness Wales
Legislation and policy interventions are only one aspect of Wales’ outlook on recycling and waste. For Rachel Jowitt, head of Waste Awareness Wales (WAW), the Welsh public’s eagerness to recycle is another vital part of the nation’s recycling success.
WAW is the body whose task is to increase understanding of recycling, influence behaviour change and help authorities to deliver targets, by working with councils and the public. According to a recent Public Attitudes to Waste survey conducted by GfK NOP on behalf of WAW, the proportion of committed recyclers in Wales now stands at an impressive 76%.
“People think that by recycling they don’t need to reduce the amount of waste they produce”
Jowitt says: “Obviously, we know there is a difference between a 76% survey result and the real recycling rate but, from our perspective, recycling is now a norm. It’s not a norm for everybody yet, but it has grown in comparison with 2005 when it was very much a new thing. The shift now is about identifying the barriers to recycling everything, because even committed recyclers admit to not recycling all that can be recycled. How do we get to the very small percentage of people who don’t recycle anything?”
The specific focus on consumer and local authorities has meant that WAW is able to fine-tune its campaign message to suit its Welsh audience.
Jowitt says: “The research found that people classified re-use as recycling, so our thinking as waste professionals is that we are dropping the 3Rs [reduce, re-use, recycle], which is quite a significant shift. Our research found that if people hear the mantra, all they hear is ‘recycle’ - they think that by recycling they don’t need to reduce the amount of waste they produce in the first place.”
She explains that although re-use messages and themes would still play a role in WAW campaigns, in future they will be referred to as something different. “Consumer research identified that the public did not know what re-use was. If you are giving away a piece of furniture or electrical equipment, they don’t see that as rubbish. If we want them to act differently, we need to talk to them in the way they think.”
For Jowitt, fostering this public engagement about recycling and waste comes from the need to have a clear message for consumers. She welcomes the “encouraging and supportive” tone of education materials, which Jowitt says never dictates behaviour changes for the public.
“With fortnightly collection, for example, we have a very strong line in Wales: if we’ve got weekly recycling and weekly food, we see no problem with AWC, and we will quite openly say that. I think this honesty keeps the public on board. It’s important to have a clear message.”
Now WAW is considering integrated campaigns, messages and branding - which could see the organisation provide a single set of campaign material which could then be tailored by local authorities to suit their communities - and further close working with Welsh community recycling network Cylch.
Jowitt says: “We want to produce materials which can be used by local authorities and partners, and that includes third sector organisations. We have worked with them incredibly closely on trying to break down some of the barriers to partnership working between local authorities and the third sector.”
Another aspect of WAW’s work with local authorities is to help them achieve the 70% recycling target by 2025. Jowitt explains that her aim was to “avoid the fines at all costs”. She said: “We have started working with authorities who were at the lower end of the [recycling rate] scale, and asked them ‘what is it we can help you with?’ Some of our funding might be used to support those authorities to review their communications, and that can be shared across others. We might say ‘we’ll pilot this in your area to see if it works’.
“Because we are smaller in Wales, it has always been done in partnership with local government. We worked with WRAP Cymru and Cylch as if we are part of them. It’s a really good relationship.”
If Waste Awareness Wales seeks to encourage recycling among the public and local authorities, then WRAP Cymru is the Welsh Assembly Government’s body for driving behaviour change in Welsh businesses. This separation of powers is a balance that Head of WRAP Cymru Beth Winkley believes is a particular benefit for the nation, as well as for WAW and Cylch.
She says: “We’re like a village in Wales - it’s a very small community and a relatively small group of people, so we know each other very well. We have a very good relationship with WAW, which was established before us. It has a very clear consumer-facing focus and a clear link with local authorities and their work. So the commercial and industrial focus of WRAP Cymru has helped us to tailor our activities but ensure there were clear lines between the two organisations.”
Winkley explains that one of the successes of the Welsh model is the close working relationship between WRAP and Cylch, which are each able to target unique sectors of the business community. “A lot of the activities that our grants support are particularly suitable for the third sector. They tend to be more alert to filling gaps in areas in which a more commercial business couldn’t [operate successfully] because it is particularly rural or specialist.”
Although WRAP has had a presence in Wales since the body was established, WRAP Cymru was formed in 2008 following a Welsh Assembly review of the country’s delivery bodies. It awarded WRAP a larger remit to support infrastructure for the reprocessing and recycling sectors. In this capacity, the organisation uses capital funds to help businesses build new reprocessing and recycling infrastructure, while its revenue budget is used to support particular activities in sectors such as construction, organics and business support.
Winkley notes that one particular difference from England, which has shaped the work of WRAP Cymru, is the size of Welsh businesses. She says: “I think the difference we have in Wales is that the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up the backbone of the Welsh economy, so we’ve had to take a different strategy from other areas where you have got the big players.”
Winkley uses the example of Project REMake, a European-funded programme that allows SMEs to receive guidance and support worth up to £17,000 to increasing levels of recycled content in their packaging, products and production processes.
Another approach to re-use that Wales is taking forward is to further explore WRAP England’s research on leasing models, and ways to implement the transition from a sales- to a hire-based economy.
“In terms of leasing, a good place to start would be the public sector,” Winkley says. “It’s more difficult to break into the private sector to get into the culture of leasing or procuring repaired or re-used materials and products, but it’s something we would certainly like to see piloted in Wales. We are looking at perhaps a local authority or two taking forward the idea of leasing rather than buying.”
Although the strategies are somewhat different to that of England, and the focus is narrower, it is a decision that has started paying dividends for WRAP Cymru, whose profile has increased greatly during the past year. Winkley says: “We’ve had a lot of people coming to us asking for our support, so clearly the message is getting out there to the reprocessing and recycling sector.”
Alongside WAW and WRAP Cymru, the final member of the Welsh ‘trinity’ is Cylch, community recycling network. Its name - taken from the Welsh word for ‘circle’ - encapsulates the values of the organisation, which provides representation for Wales’ network of community recycling organisations.
Chief executive Mal Williams says: “We help to let the member organisations of Cylch do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Cylch’s role is to look out for the membership as a whole, and represent the sector to the Government and all its agencies.”
“You do not need to be on a ‘save-the-planet’ mission to put materials into different containers”
For Williams, a key tenet of the Cylch model has been a focus on the quality rather than quantity of recyclates, using what he calls the Cleanstream system, which was based on kerbside collection projects run by the community sector. He says: “If you toss all your waste materials into one place for disposal by burial or burning, and you think the same process will enable those materials to be separated into nice clean, uncontaminated piles that can be re-used, recycled or reprocessed -you must think again. People do not need to be on a ‘saving-the-planet’ mission to be able to put materials into different containers instead.”
He believes that community recycling organisations are a key factor in making the public amenable to kerbside sorting methods, and have helped to increase recycling rates in Wales to their current standards.
“Community organisations have always been better at gaining public buy-in to new ideas and systems because they ‘appear’ to be doing something good for that local community,” he says. “That local identification yields results in the recycling world. There are nearly 1,500 community sector re-use or recycling organisations providing reasonably scaled services throughout the UK, and none of them have problems as ‘bad neighbours’ like waste facilities have.”
The community recycling model, which strives to keep the collection, treatment and resale of materials within the local community, lends itself particularly well to the re-use and repair areas of the waste hierarchy, explains Williams. “Wales has 27 re-use organisations (more than one per county) and contributes thousands of tonnes of material diversion from landfill, so we do help in practical ways as well. The community sector as a whole contributes more tonnage diversion from landfill than the largest Welsh local authority.”
The re-use agenda is so popular that Cylch is now focusing on its ‘niche’ in re-use, recycling and composting, and a strategy for the organisation is almost ready for release. Williams explains that the strategy will mainly recommend the creation of a network of accredited re-use and repair centres across the country.
“The accreditation would be carried out externally to the network itself, possibly by Cylch, to give customers the assurance that standards of operation and control are high and that work carried out within the Network has quality,” he says.
He even sees a point at which community recycling and re-use organisations could potentially manage all of Wales’ waste, something he describes as his “vision”.
“I see ‘waste’ as the last resource, with the unique characteristic that it is found in my house and office - I own it. I see no reason for handing over the value of that material to disinterested parties such as the shareholders in transnational corporations,” Williams says. “The vision does include well-run local authority operations as social enterprises, though, because that is absolutely possible and desirable. I’d hope they would become full Cylch members then.”
Waste Awareness Wales’ Public Attitudes to Waste in Wales report found that 84% of respondents felt that ‘recovery’ was a good idea for food waste, with 68% saying this was because recovery technology turned waste into energy, heat, power and electricity.
When asked for opinions on burning non-recyclable waste to produce energy, 63% of respondents felt it was a good idea while only 14% felt it was a bad idea.
CYLCH: TRACK 2000
Track 2000 is a registered charity and Cylch founder member which re-uses, recycles and repairs unwanted furniture, white goods and WEEE from households and businesses. Managing director Tony Crocker MBE says: “In the social sector, there is more than being competitive: we do share resources and support each other. Mal [Williams, Cylch chief executive] promotes that for his members. As a founder member of Cylch, this was one of the big objectives I insisted be in its constitution: sharing resources and knowledge to support the smaller social waste projects.”