Managing waste is an important tool when trying to reduce our ecological footprint. To live in a more sustainable Wales where we have enough resources, at an affordable price, to sustain our economy and way of life we will need to reduce how much of the world’s resources we consume. It is estimated that waste is responsible for about 15% of the Country’s ecological footprint[i].
There is currently scientific concern and increasing public awareness regarding the environmental and health impacts of pollution from plastic packaging in particular; research having identified increasing levels of plastic litter in the world’s oceans.
Concerns focus especially on the volume of single use plastic generated in everyday life, for example by items such as drinks bottles, takeaway cups, plastic straws and cotton buds, all of which are frequently thrown away and not recycled.
As well as helping to conserve valuable resources, recycling, reusing and in particular composting our waste helps to reduce the production of methane and other emissions from decomposing biodegradable rubbish. Waste contributes around 4.7% of direct greenhouse gas emissions in Wales, which have a major impact on climate change.
Around 64,000 tonnes of municipal waste is generated in Conwy County Borough each year, and 43,000 in Denbighshire. In Conwy CB 62.6% of waste was reused, composted or recycled in 2016/17 and the figure for Denbighshire was 64.7%
Denbighshire currently has a recycling rate in line with the national average, whilst Conwy CB’s rate is slightly below average, however, as recycling rates across Wales have improved over the last decade, the differences in recycling rates between the Welsh authorities have narrowed.
Conwy CBC provides kerbside recycling and collects food waste, plastic, cardboard, cartons, batteries, paper, cans and glass every week. Garden waste, textiles, small electronics and refuse are collected fortnightly. The Council also provides two household recycling centres which provide recycling facilities for a range of other items including furniture and bric-a-brac, hazardous waste, oil, electrical appliances and building rubble.
Denbighshire Council currently provides kerbside recycling and collects food waste every week. Plastic, cardboard, cartons, batteries, paper, cans and glass, garden waste, textiles and refuse are collected fortnightly. The Council also provides five recycling and waste parks which provide recycling facilities for a range of other items including furniture and bric-a-brac, hazardous waste, oil, electrical appliances.
Currently, Denbighshire has a co-mingled collection approach, whilst Conwy has adopted a kerbside sort approach. Denbighshire, however is reviewing the model for its recycling service, with the aim of recycling more waste and reducing unnecessary disposal costs.
Whilst reducing waste and using resources more efficiently are long-standing policy objectives for the Welsh Government, a recent report by the National Audit Office[ii], has found that the current market-based system with regard to packaging recycling obligations for companies handling packaging (and meeting certain thresholds), which was set up to incentivise recycling of packaging waste can result in the export of waste material for recycling overseas. Due to the low visibility and control over waste sold for recycling abroad there is a risk that some of it is not recycled under equivalent standards to the UK, and is instead sent to landfill or contributes to pollution.
This National Audit Office report examines the UK government’s oversight of the system. Its scope includes the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is response for monitoring of overall progress against the UK-wide packaging recycling targets.
The report concludes that there is a risk that ‘the ‘system appears to have has evolved into a comfortable way for government to meet targets without facing up to the underlying recycling issues.’ A reform of the current packaging recycling system is recommended.
[i] Towards Zero Waste; One Wales: One Planet, Welsh Government [ii] The packaging recycling obligations, National Audit Office, 2018
Reuse/recycling/composting rates have improved since 2004/05, when they were at about 20% in both Conwy CB and Denbighshire. Significant investment is still needed to meet the European target of 70% by 2025[iii], particularly in Conwy CB.
Percentage of municipal waste reused/recycled/composted (LART definition)
Between 2004/05 and 2014/15 the annual volume of municipal waste reduced by about 22,000 tonnes in Conwy CB (-27%) and 15,000 tonnes in Denbighshire (-25%). The average for Wales as a whole was -20% in the same period.
[iii] Environment & Technical Services, Conwy County Borough Council
The environmental charity, WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) has identified four major barriers that need to be overcome in order to improve recycling rates and reducing residual waste [iv], . Though some of this is about improving the services that the public sector provide, the major challenges are around behavioural and attitudinal changes in our communities.
Situational barriers, including inadequate containers, lack of space, unreliable collections, no access to bring sites.
Behavioural barriers, including household disorganisation, too busy with other things, no established household routine and forgetting to sort waste or put it out.
Knowledge barriers, such as not knowing what to put in each container, and understanding the basic mechanics of how the scheme works.
Attitude barriers, such as not believing there is an environmental benefit, viewing it as the council’s job not theirs, and not getting personal reward or recognition for their efforts.
More than 60 organisations, including major supermarket chains and food manufacturers have signed up to WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact[v], which brings together businesses from across the plastics value chain with UK governments and non-governmental organisations.
The Pact aims to achieve the following targets by 2025:
100% of plastics packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted
Take actions to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging items through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery models
30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging
Waste reduction is a key political driver from the Welsh Government who published their ‘Zero Waste’ strategy in June 2010 with aims to increase recycling to 70% by 2025, and ambitiously aims for Wales to be a ‘zero waste’ nation by 2050. ‘Zero waste’ will be achieved by eliminating residual waste and reusing or recycling all the waste that is produced.
People are supportive of the need to recycle and reuse waste but more needs to be done with businesses to address the fundamental cause of the waste. Specifically we need to do something about all the packaging etc, especially non-recyclable materials.