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Why is Wales so good at recycling?

If you’re reading this in Wales, give yourself a pat on the back. Wales has the third-best recycling rate in the world – what makes it so good?

By 2016, Wales had already met its target to have 64% of its waste recycled by 2020 – four years ahead of schedule.

Welsh Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn AM said:

“We’re incredibly proud of what Wales has achieved as a direct result of working with local authorities on our collaborative scheme”

Most of Wales’ 22 local authorities are signed up to the Collections Blueprint, which standardises collection of refuse and recycling. She continues:

“It’s not just about working with local authorities and manufacturers but also about how you talk to the general public. We’ve seen a culture shift in Wales. People have made sorting recycling part of their normal home life. We’ve worked with schools and harnessed the pester power of children”

Wales is working with various manufacturers and producers to make sure that packaging is recyclable and reusable, but Blythyn reiterates that ‘clear labelling is really important to make it understandable for consumers’.

According to Michael Gove, ‘there is much we can learn from Wales and our work with Wrap to produce a Framework for Greater Consistency in England, following the Welsh government’s single blueprint for recycling.’

Gove envisages that every household in England can recycle a common set of dry recyclable materials and food waste, collected in one of three different ways. ‘In the 25-year Environment Plan, we also set out the need to accelerate change towards greater consistency in materials collected for recycling.’

But is this realistic? Do you think your local authority is doing enough to encourage recycling? How do you think the government can make it easier for us to recycle?

I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg – manufacturers, restaurants, cafes and retailers need to take action so we can make informed purchases.


Curious to know how Wales is doing so well at recycling, I did a bit of investigation……….

I don’t deny Wales is making an effort but is it right to count incinerator bottom ash (IBA) as recycling? In 2016/17, 5.5% of Wales 63.8% recycling came from IBA that gets reused in concrete. 88,230 tonnes of ash seems like an awful lot of burned material to me. Oct 2017 https://www.letsrecycle.com/news/latest-news/iba-boost-for-welsh-recycling-rate/

Although inconclusive, back in 2008, a study by the British Society for Ecological Medicine linked incinerators to cancers, birth defects and cardiovascular mortality.

According to the Daily Mail Feb 2018 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5393197/Figures-40-waste-incinerated.html the UK burns 40% of all rubbish, 10 years ago, it was 11%. It reports some councils are burning more than 80% of all waste collected. Incineration can create IBA and energy but it is not true recycling.

It seems to me, too much credit for recycling comes from manipulated figures of what doesn’t go to landfill.

Councils are building incinerators as the cheap alternative to landfill. This is so wrong and must changec. They should be building genuine recycling and reuse facilities.

Is this the future? https://www.businesswaste.co.uk/recycling-plant-built-every-new-home/
People could recycle plastics in their own homes, by shredding plastics then using the raw material for 3-D printers.

alpha – thanks, that’s interesting.

From coal fired power stations, PFA (pulverized fly ash) is used to make cementitious grout. As coal fired stations are phased out, ash from other sources will be needed.

I also like the 3 compartment recycling sack trucks that are used in Wales. I think they’re a more elegant system than the general purpose green boxes we have in Gloucester or the wheelie bins they have in Malvern.

Many of the concerns about incinerating waste have focused on harmful emissions. A great deal of effort has been put into minimising these emissions, but it’s hardly surprising that no-one wants to live near an incineration plant. I’m also concerned about what people put in their wood burning stoves, which lack any way of controlling toxic emissions. I think we do need to focus more on the hazards of the ash from incineration, as you point out, Alfa.

I cannot agree about using household waste plastic in 3D printers. Many plastics contain toxic plasticisers and other additives that may not be a problem in normal use but heating them could release volatile harmful chemicals.

Last time I visited the Center for Alternative Technologies in Wales, they were continuing their excellent work in leading by example in more sustainable lifestyles. Their location within Wales may have had some influence on the uptake of recycling there.

For dry still sun-free days they had installed wood pellet fueled boilers as their back up energy source. (They make extensive local use of hydro, wind & solar, with storage batteries for the matching of supply and demand.)

I was curious why you like the three box system here, Derek. I spend my time envying those who have decent size coloured wheelie bins.

Alfa, your post (as always) is well researched, thought-provoking and accurate.

In terms of the header to this topic I think a few things need to be remembered: Wales is predominantly rural; where there are urban areas (mainly the South) there’s also massive deprivation and there are far too many terraced houses, which make recycling more difficult.

Wales’ population density overall is 383.3 per sq mile while England’s is 50,301 per sq mile. Many of us live in very remote places, with cattle, sheep, wild horses and a few goats as neighbours.

So in theory at least recycling ought to be far easier here than in the congested towns and cities of England. On the plus side collections of recyclable material are regular and predictable for the most part. However, we’re also a very clean and tidy principality, and one glaring issue is the amount of rubbish dropped out of the recycling wagons as they trundle up hills and between farms.

We do a great deal of walking and we’re always finding rubbish that’s been dropped just after a bin collection. So I don’t think it’s quite as clear a picture as the header suggests.

Ian, I think the main reasons why I like the three box system are:

1. making householders responsible for the first recycling stream separation choices helps promote the “we’re all in this together message”. In contrast, just checking everything into generic boxes won’t do that so well.

2. Once empty, here in the land of wind, rain and seagulls (aka Gloucester), our empty green boxes readily blow away. Lightly load full ones can too – scattering stuff every where. So the extra weight of the metal sack tucks may help to prevent that. Wheelie bins might not be as bad as boxes, but point one still applies.

A few years ago, when staying at Y Felinheli, my girlfriend made the mistake of putting empty milk containers at the top of the rubbish bin. When the bin men saw that, they did not empty that bin. So, effective administrative controls could also be a factor behind high compliance rates in Wales.

Good points, Derek. Yes – the green box folk do leave notes on boxes if they’re not sorted or if the wrong stuff has obviously been inserted. And here in the mountains, where the winds can get mighty strong, they don’t blow away easily – that’s true.

Y Felinheli is even blowier at times; but to compensate they have the only Waitrose within sixty miles 🙂

Ian, that’s interesting. I thought the only local Waitrose was just over the bridge on Anglesey. Bangor has a huge Tesco.

Also, just outside Y Felinheli is Greenwood Forest Park, where they have a people powered roller-coaster.

Indeed. And you’re right; the Waitrose is over the near bridge, turn R and follow the road. But that’s within the 60 miles 🙂

Here my nearest Waitrose is in Cheltenham town center, on the site of an old railway station.

Michael Gove seems to like long-term plans. No one instigating them will be responsible if they ever come to fruition (or not). 25 years? I’d rather see specific separate plans committed to by all political parties so they do not just get changed or “kicked into the long grass”.

Waste – reduce it, stop burying it, don’t burn it unless it is clean and formulate a clear strategy for all packaging. We’ve Convos here with suggestions for eliminating it, reducing it and using limited recyclable materials. Have a common national policy for collecting and recycling.

Energy – we’ve limitless reliable and “green” energy from the tides all around our shores. It’s time we put the resources into developing that.

Pollution – work to ban all but the latest low emissions vehicles from towns and cities at peak times and provide public transport as the alternative.

Start with the key ones now. It only takes courage and determination.

Alternatively we could all go and live in Wales.

Michael Gove’s “Long Term Plan” covering the next 25 years is here:https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/693158/25-year-environment-plan.pdf

49 topics to cover ranging from
– Reducing litter and littering (prosecutions could help)
– Planting more trees in and around our towns and cities (they could have stopped Sheffied council from cutting their’s down)
– Achieving zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042 (I’d have thought we could deal with avoidable waste in a year or two, not 25)
– Tackling climate change (that may take time)

It reads a bit like a think tank session that has put as many topics on post it notes as possible and then spent a lot of effort writing about them. Oh, and using a lot of paper presumably in printing the 151 page document.

However, I confess I have not read it 🙁 but I just groan when I see all-encompassing aspirational plans like this that, presumably, will rely upon ever-changing politics and governments for the next quarter century, let alone eliciting international cooperation (as we cannot on our own change the UK’s climate).

How do they propose to achieve this:
Putting the Plan into practice
 Consulting on setting up a new independent body to hold government to account and a
new set of environmental principles to underpin policy-making.
 Developing a set of metrics to assess progress towards our 25-year goals.
 Refreshing the 25 Year Environment Plan regularly to ensure that collectively we are
focusing on the right priorities, using the latest evidence, and delivering better value for
 Strengthening leadership and delivery through better local planning, more effective
partnerships and learning from our four pioneer projects.
 Establishing a new green business council and exploring the potential for a natural
environment impact fund.
 Work closely with a large range of stakeholders over the coming year to identify their
contribution to the goals set out in this Plan.

I cannot see any actual plans here to reduce plastic waste, plant more trees, or reduce litter, but may have missed them. What I do see is new bodies set up, consultations, partnerships, a council……but actual action?

What I would hope to see is someone looking at the practicalities of, say, food packaging, proposing better options, getting agreement from all involved, and seeing it implemented in a year or two. What happened to returnable bottles for example? Some seem to think words will solve the problem, but it needs action, even if not perfect at the start.

I’m just in a slightly disillusioned mood today. 🙁

House of Commons
Environmental Audit Committee

The Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment
Eighth Report of Session 2017–19
Report, together with formal minutes relating to the report
Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 18 July 2018
HC 803

It begins
The Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment signals a cross-government ambition
for the restoration and recovery of the natural environment. This is both welcome and
necessary. Worryingly, however, it lacks details of how these objectives will be achieved.
The Government needs urgently to bring forward details on targets, implementation,
governance and funding before the publication of the draft Environmental Principles
and Governance Bill. …..

Worryingly seems the word.

This will just roll into the long grass and disappear from view. A plan that cannot be delivered is just a dream.

If only all the resources spent on writing this “plan” had been spent on devising practical ways of achieving parts of it……..But that requires people who can “do”. I suspect they are not abundant among politicians or their servants.

A 25 year plan is a waste of time unless it is accompanied by a detailed plan for each component that is both timely and achievable.

In her introduction, Vicki says: “Most of Wales’ 22 local authorities are signed up to the Collections Blueprint, which standardises collection of refuse and recycling.”

Does this mean that what can be recycled has been standardised or the bin/box system has been standardised in most of Wales. If both have been achieved then that would be a step forward and could encourage the rest of the UK to do the same.

It can be well worthwhile carrying out trials in part of the country in case there are unforeseen problems but if they go well I would like to see them rolled out without waiting for years.

Following the comments regarding waste sent to incinerators – I live in Swansea – Second city of Wales and we do not have an incinerator but plenty of site where if you wish you can take your waste to he many recycling skips. We also have fortnightly street collections of all out household rubbish and recycling goods. Well done Swansea.

Lessismore says:
3 August 2018

What needs standardising is the type of packaging that manufacturers use.

Without wanting to stem innovation in packaging (which is necessary) we need to have products marketed in packaging (if they need it) that is easily recyclable. At present it feels that unless the public complains and revolts at the excessive and destructive amount of packaging – or legislation intervenes – we just have to put up with whatever the marketers think will sell the product. That is unsustainable. Just look at what pushovers people are for anything “free” despite what it is! (It isn’t free of course the cost of it will have been factored into the price of the item bought or the ones that you haven’t bought…yet.)

Meanwhile it seems that government just procrastinates until more and more incinerators are built rather than recycling facilities and IBA is added to the permissible list in order to reach good figures in the league tables. Nobody wants to live near them and technology moves fast – so it would be better to reduce the number being built, save the money but keep some planning space. Other countries in Europe have an over provision already.

What other countries don’t seem to have is as much packaging. There are regulations but government isn’t good enough at fining companies for breaching them (is there anybody left in Trading Standards or the authorities who would in the past have had this job) and the public isn’t vociferous enough in complaining about them, requesting to be able to take their own containers to be filled, requesting to have smaller portions and to automatically be offered take-home boxes for leftovers where portions have become overgenerous.

I think this is a great example for everyone else. Waste recycling should be a priority for every country. I’ve heard about this company https://www.rubbishwaste.co.uk/ and they help to get rid of the garbage