Recycling: Welsh government and councils split on improvements
The Welsh government has not convinced some local councils about its plans for collecting recycling, the public spending watchdog says.
The Wales Audit Office (WAO) said there were "substantial barriers" to raising recycling rates.
In a report, it said more people were recycling but there was disagreement between government and some councils about the best way to collect it.
Councils said they would continue to work with the Welsh government.
Meanwhile, the Welsh government said Wales had the highest recycling rate in the UK.
The government wants different types of waste to be separated on the kerbside when collected.
It dislikes co-mingling waste - such as collecting bottles, cans and card in the same bags - but some councils and private sector companies disagree, saying modern machinery can sort the waste mechanically.
The report says the government "has not yet convinced all local authorities that its plans for collection of recyclable wastes are appropriate or practicable".
Some councils fear the government will cut funding or use legislation to direct them to use the methods of recycling it approves.
Waste collected by local authorities makes up about 5% of Wales' ecological footprint.
Improving waste management will have a "comparatively small" impact on climate change, the WAO says, but it adds that there are good reasons to manage waste more effectively. It cites encouraging the public to recycle as a way to help embed the importance of "good environmental behaviour".
The WAO says councils are "fixated on recycling targets and do not clearly recognise their role in reducing waste".
Every council has been set an annual landfill allowance for biodegradable waste and will face fines if it exceeds its limit.
In turn, the government could be penalised if the UK misses EU targets.
Under a strategy published in June 2010, councils have been set a recycling target of 70% to be met by 2024-25.
Recycling rates have risen steadily, hitting 43.6% last year.
Auditor General Huw Vaughan Thomas said: "It is clear that the public are engaging more in recycling waste, and the Welsh government and local authorities should be commended for their efforts over the last six years to encourage this.
"But the momentum will be lost unless there is significant change in some areas.
"We need to see better guidance from Welsh government. Local authorities should get smarter in the way they collect data.
"And, most importantly, councils and government must work together to build agreement around the best methods of collecting waste."
A Welsh government spokesperson said: "It is too early for the government to respond fully to this report, as it has just been issued.
"Wales leads the way with the highest recycling rate of any UK country. Latest figures show that between July and September 2011 the people of Wales recycled a record breaking 49% of their waste.
"The key thing now is that we continue to build on our recycling success so that we meet our challenging targets of 70% recycling by 2025 and zero waste by 2050. Recycling creates significantly more jobs than burying or burning waste."
Darren Millar, chairman of the assembly's public accounts committee, said a trend for more recycling looks set to stall.
He said: "It cannot be sensible to have 22 different schemes operating separately within Wales.
"At the moment, there is too much disagreement around what is such a fundamental key to the long term success of recycling in Wales."
The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said it welcomed the report, acknowledging the progress local councils were making.
But it also insisted that councils were sharing best practice.
Tim Peppin, the WLGA's director of regeneration and sustainable development, said: "We are working very effectively with the Welsh government towards the targets.
"We're not saying that there aren't tensions and disagreements over some of the issues from time to time.
"But the Welsh government has stood back from what was starting to look like a prescriptive approach and we've worked through that together."