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You’ve heard of slow food, now meet slow recycling

Milk floats, swap shops and a slower pace generally – that’s the way to get a 74% recycling rate according to charity Cwm Harry Land Trust. The social enterprise is 15 months into a two-year zero-waste recycling pilot spread across two communities in Powys, mid Wales, which according to the Trust could work in the cities too.

Milk floats, swap shops and a slower pace generally – that’s the way to get a 74% recycling rate according to charity Cwm Harry Land Trust. The social enterprise is 15 months into a two-year zero-waste recycling pilot spread across two communities in Powys, mid Wales, which according to the Trust could work in the cities too.

How does it work? A ‘recycled’ milk float trundles through the communities of Presteigne and Norton collecting 14 streams of waste. It’s slow going with just 250 households visited each day - out of the 1,200 in the pilot. Residual waste is collected in clear bags instead of the usual black sacks so householders can see what they are throwing away. A blue opaque bag is provided for personal waste such as nappies.

“The thing has been to make waste visible,” says zero Waste Development Manager Katy Anderson. “Conventional waste operators arrive at the crack of dawn in a big truck and are only there for a few minutes and then disappear. We have a very different approach, a slow recycling approach.”

The benefit of all this is that staff are able to talk to residents and answer questions on their round. A dedicated recycling officer enhances this by holding events such as swap shops and cafe recycling drop-ins. “It’s almost a drip feed of information and discussion with individuals,” says Anderson.

The money collected from the recovery of the recyclables goes back into the community, which she argues helps “reconnect” people with the value of waste. Last year, two schools, local community transport, air ambulance and a church between them benefited from £10,800.

A surprising and welcome bonus says Anderson is that, “it’s become a norm not just to recycle but to avoid creating waste in the first place”.

Welsh Government environment minister John Griffiths visited Presteigne when the national figures were released. He says: “One of the key reasons the Presteigne and Norton project has been able to reach this level of recycling is the huge effort they have made to engage with the local community. This has involved employing local staff, café drop in sessions, talks, litter picks and much more. The result of this fantastic engagement is a 92 per cent participation rate and a community that understands and supports the scheme.”

While the 74% recycling rate was achieved between April and June this year, overall the two communities have secured a 60% recycling rate. But it does seem to suggest that the Welsh 2025 recycling target of 70% is achievable.  But how much does it cost?

At first sight the pilot is an eye watering £207k for the first year and £225k for the second year. However, Anderson points out that last year Wales recycled just 40% and sent 931,000 tonnes of “waste” to landfill costing £70m. Hitting the 2025 target would shift 30% from landfill – saving £37m yearly. And in addition to this, every tonne of recyclable or reusable material landfilled is a lost income of around £100. It’s a case of investing to make savings.

Cwm Harry Land Trust is already sharing insight and information learned from the pilot with community groups. But while this all sounds wonderful, cynics may be wondering whether milk floats making recycling rounds would work in big cities. But Anderson is adamant that it could.  She says: “Each city is made up of units of 1,200 households, which is what we have here. We are talking to other cities about how this could be done – about how you could run this on an estate. We want to get this out across the country.”

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