10 March saw the CIWM Resource Conference Cymru 2015 being held in Cardiff Bay, Wales. The purpose of the meeting was to share good practice and innovation about recycling and resource management in Wales. Here’s what I found out (with thanks to CIWM/Wastepack for providing the bursary that allowed me to attend!)…
Ask anybody what Wales is renowned for and you can bet that rugby, mining, choirs, Sir Tom Jones and daffodils will make the list. But Wales now has another string to its bow, emerging as a world leader in how we manage our waste.
Continued devolution has granted component members of the UK ever more independence on how to tackle thorny issues facing their regions, and the Welsh Assembly Government has fully embraced this opportunity to depart from central UK government policy on issues around waste and recycling. To date, its single most effective act has been to impose implement statutory recycling targets for municipal waste – this means every local authority is Wales is legally bound to ensure that at least 52% of its household waste is diverted from landfill. The current recycling rate of 54% is one of the highest recycling rates in the EU and way in excess of the rest of the UK. Furthermore, Wales is committed to increasing this to 70% by 2025 and ultimately achieving zero waste to landfill by 2050.
Wales has recognised that there are clear economic drivers for achieving high recycling rates and being able to reprocess these materials locally. Resource security contributes to economic resilience by not relying on other regions or countries for key resources. This market stability then allows for forward investment, job creation and improvements in social welfare. An independent study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated that moving to a completely circular economy in Wales could generate savings of £1 – 2 billion per year.
The consistent message from both policy makers and industry is that in order for Wales to continue improving, the focus must be on producing high quality recyclates from municipal waste. Some of the strategies discussed included:
- Better communication and engagement with householders; tackling the issue of trust and being more transparent about the end destination of waste
- Reducing the frequency and/or volume of residual (“black bin”) waste collections
- Moving away from weight based targets and co-mingled collections
The conference also provided an opportunity to share ‘on the ground’ success stories and innovation, such as bringing designers into household recycling centres to improve layouts and a trial scheme which showed that the introduction of transparent bags led to an immediate 10% reduction in waste.
With a population of 3 million people, 22 local authorities and a diverse range of demographic and geographic situations, the challenges facing Wales mirror that facing the UK as a whole. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, I left feeling optimistic and hopeful that Wales is showing the way for the rest of us to follow.