Welsh recycling rates have dipped slightly for the first time according to Welsh Government figures although this is in part being put down to greater accuracy in reporting, less waste being generated and loss of incineration bottom ash from an energy-from-waste facility (EfW).
Between 2016/17 and 2017/18 the recycling rate – material reused, recycled or composted - dipped slightly from 63.8 to 62.7%.
Improved reporting around waste wood now includes rejects from sorting facilities, which will also deflate figures. The annual statistical report estimates that this change accounted for a 0.8 percentage point decrease.
A drop in incinerator bottom ash reported as recycled is also thought to be contributing to the downward trend. An EfW site in South West Wales, which treated residual waste was closed and the metals and IBA that would have counted towards the targets were lost.
The report estimated this accounted for a 0.7 decrease in percentage points. These falls were mitigated by other factors, and overall the recycling rate fell by 1.1 percentage points.
Environment minister Hannah Blythyn said her focus was to make “Wales the top recycling nation in the world” and that she will be making a statement on waste and recycling to the Welsh National Assembly next Tuesday 23 October.
She said: “Whilst it is disappointing to see a small net decrease, our recycling rate of nearly 63% is still well above our national target of 58% for this year. There is also good news, with a second Welsh local authority breaking the 70% barrier for the first time.”
Blythyn added: “We are incredibly proud of our recycling performance in Wales. We’ve achieved this through policies made in Wales, with legally-binding recycling targets for councils, investment in infrastructure and public information campaigns.”
In terms of household waste recycling Wales remains first in the UK, second in Europe and third in the world.
The total amount of waste generated in Wales dropped by 40,000 tonnes last year compared to the year before – from 1,590 to 1,550 thousand tonnes – which is positive. This is the second lowest total recorded since 2000/1 and would also have contributed to a dip in recycling rates.
While there are reasons to explain the slight dip in recycling rates it could mean Wales has reached a plateau. The Welsh Government has set ambitious statutory recycling targets of 58% for 2016/17 and 70% by 2024/25.
Larac chief executive Lee Marshall said Wales is at a point where most of their councils have had their services in place for a few years and they are collecting all the main materials.
He said: ”It is starting to get difficult and services are starting to look at things like mattress recycling. What they are also coming up against, is having to work hard to get the people who are not recycling to use the services.
“They have established there is still quite a fare amount of food waste in residual bins so even though everybody has got a food waste bin they are not using it.
“The barriers they are trying to overcome are just a lot more difficult than introducing a new service.
“When you start to get to that level of recycling you might need to start looking at direct charging policies such as pay as you throw. Most studies have shown from other countries that once people have to pay directly for their waste, it changes their behaviour so they start recovering more material.”
Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin said: “A 62.7% recycling rate is still fantastic when you compare it to the average 44% rate in England.
“We don’t get obsessed with targets and waste based figures as they hugely distort from what’s going on – why do you think local authorities are trying to collect green waste? Because it’s very heavy material.
“We would rather see slowed or even dropping recycling rates, if it’s done in a manner that produces a quality recyclate that has global applications for reprocessing.”
The Isle of Anglesey had the highest recycling rate of all 22 Welsh local authorities at 72.2%. It has introduced three-weekly collections and the trolley system for recycling, where boxes for different materials are stacked.
Meanwhile Bridgend had the largest increase in their recycling rate jumping 10.7 percentage points to 68.6%. This is good news for the council that had been in the news when it first changed its collection scheme last year with the Kier service being described as “chaos”.
In under a year Bridgend has gone from the second worst performing to the second best performing in Wales.