Wales 'could become Europe's top recycling nation'

Waste collection in Pembrokeshire
Image caption Waste collection in St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire. The county is sharing resources with neighbouring Ceredigion

The prospect of Wales becoming Europe's top recycling nation is "absolutely achievable", it has been claimed.

Finalised recycling figures for 2015-16, published this month, show Wales leading the rest of the UK.

A total of 60.2% of waste was recycled - double the figure a decade ago.

Welsh Environment Secretary Lesley Griffiths pointed to EU recycling league tables which suggested, if Wales was a single member state, it would be in fourth position overall.

The latest recycling figures for Wales also exceeded the Welsh Government's 58% recycling rate target, which Ms Griffiths said was "very pleasing".

Rebecca Colley-Jones, a recycling and resource specialist at Bangor University, said Wales' success was partly down to the targets the Welsh Government had set for local authorities.

The next is for a 64% recycling rate by 2020 and 70% by 2025.

"Welsh Government is the only devolved administration to have put statutory recycling targets in legislation up to 2025," Ms Colley-Jones said.

"Because of that, local authorities have seen it as a priority - and they've put in place things to make sure it happens."

European league tables - based on data from 2012 when Wales was recycling 52% of its waste - put Germany on top (65%), Austria in second place (62%) and Belgium third (57%).

'Maintain momentum'

Ms Colley-Jones shared the environment secretary's confidence that Wales could soon become the best.

"We're not that far off and if we continue to maintain our momentum in terms of achieving that 70% recycling rate then it shouldn't actually be an issue," she said.

The Welsh Government's latest draft budget, published this month, included a cut to the implementation and management of its waste strategy.

Asked whether that presented a challenge to her ambitions, Ms Griffiths told BBC Wales "it's not just about funding".

"It's down to the hard work of local authorities and the keenness of households to recycle," she said.

"We've put a lot of effort in over the last few years, a good deal of funding too. But it's also about the will, and that will is certainly there."

However, there are pockets in Wales where there are challenges.

  • Nineteen of the 22 local authorities met or exceeded statutory targets to recycle 58% of waste in 2015-16
  • Representatives from Newport (57%), Torfaen (57%) and Blaenau Gwent (49%) have been summoned to meet the environment secretary and could face fines as a result
  • The two best performing councils - Ceredigion (68%) and Pembrokeshire (65%) - are piloting a scheme to share resources in an attempt to increase their figures even further. Both have been awarded grant funding from the Welsh Government for a detailed review into waste collection services

Pembrokeshire is already providing a collection vehicle and driver for a glass collection scheme being trialled in the Cardigan and Penparc area, before a decision on whether to expand it to the whole of Ceredigion.

"Ceredigion has been seeing what we've been doing with glass," councillor Huw George, Pembrokeshire Council's cabinet member for the environment said.

"So we thought could we help in some way? Once a week we have a lorry spare and a driver - so we send it over to Ceredigion with their operatives doing the work.

"It's a shared resource and as we move on, perhaps that's how we'll deal with recycling more and more - if it improves the service and helps the environment then why not."

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