How can we improve Welsh recycling?

Wales scores highly in UK recycling but much more needs to be done to reap benefits from a circular economy, says Patrick Murray.

In September, to coincide with National Recycle Week, Viridor launched a ground-breaking Recycling Index based on an in-depth survey of 1,500 people conducted across the UK including across the Cardiff City Region.

We commissioned the Recycling Index to shed new light on attitudes to recycling across the UK.  We wanted to understand public attitudes to recycling and to highlight key regional differences.

The Index’s results were startling and multi-layered. They showed that UK consumers across the country believe that much more can be recycled but are frustrated by what they can and can’t recycle. These barriers included a lack of consumer knowledge about what can and can’t be recycled, a lack of consistency among councils with regard to recycling policy and a lack of transparency about what happens to waste once collected.  

Indeed, an overwhelming majority of consumers (63%) were frustrated by the lack of consistency in UK recycling where different councils collect waste in different ways.  A larger proportion of those surveyed (66%) felt that they did not have enough educational materials available on recycling.

Over three quarters of people (78%) are frustrated that different councils recycle different things; and 73% want more transparency on what happens to their waste.  

We felt that it was incredibly useful to pinpoint the barriers that prevent higher levels of recycling to enable us to improve future recycling levels.

One consistently bright spot in UK recycling, however, has been Wales, which came out of the research well.  Wales can be proud of its record on resource management.  In many ways, Wales leads the way in recycling in the UK with recent statistics validating this assertion. The most recent research shows the combined reuse, recycling and composting rate for municipal waste is 59% in Wales up from just 4% in 2000. Wales has the highest current rate of recycling of any constituent country of the UK – more than 14% of Scotland’s rate, 15% of England’s and 11% of Northern Ireland’s.  This is a tremendous achievement.

Wales is doing well but as the findings of the Index suggest,  Welsh consumers are still confused by what they can and can’t recycle.  That’s why Viridor has called for more consistency in UK recycling including Wales which would create strong economic benefits.

There is a clear cost benefit in doing this. A recent study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Circular Economy Charity, WRAP, identified potential economic benefits totalling more than £2bn a year to the Welsh economy and up to 30,000 new jobs in Wales through development of a circular economy

We believe that greater transparency in the recycling and waste sector is crucial to rebuilding confidence with Welsh consumers to support them with recycling.   

We need to explain further how waste can be transformed into new products, how smart technology is an enabler to do this, and the jobs and investment opportunities more recycling can offer the UK economy.

In Wales, as across the UK people want to recycle more.  They recognise the importance of doing so.  But they need better systems and support to ensure the right stuff goes in the right bin every time.

As the Index showed 64% of UK consumers are frustrated about what they can actually recycle.  Consumers are confused about recycling everyday objects including: lights bulbs (42%), crisp packets (51%), coffee cups (51%), mobile phones (52%) and plastic wrapping (56%).

In Wales as throughout the UK recycling policy remains largely based on out-dated assumptions about resources which reinforce old-school waste management contracts and waste collections based on authority boundaries that are not representative of the value of resources to the national economy.  

The Recycling Index gives us fresh impetus and clear perspective to call for new and ambitious thinking and to shift recycling, recovery and resource management closer to the needs of consumers and to a more productive economy.

Indeed, UK consumers want to recycle more household waste than they currently do.  They believe that in five years’ time up to 64% of household waste can be recycled – let’s help them to make this a reality.

Patrick Murray is the Regional Manager for Wales of Viridor.

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