Longer-term improvements won't happen unless weaknesses are addressed, says Auditor General
Recycling rates in Wales are increasing, with more and more members of the public taking part. But, longer-term improvements are being hindered by substantial barriers to achieving the Welsh Government's waste strategy and weaknesses in the way performance is measured. That is the conclusion of a report, published today, by the Auditor General for Wales.
The report acknowledges the Welsh Government's efforts in making recycling a priority, with its ambitious vision for sustainability, its detailed recycling targets for local authorities and its injection of over £360 million in waste grants to councils since the year 2000.
With the overall recycling rate in Wales at 43.6 per cent, local authorities have made steady progress in meeting targets for waste. They now provide a range of facilities and services that give residents the opportunity to reuse, recycle and compost more of their rubbish. Recycling is increasingly a part of normal daily life for many citizens.
However, increasing public participation and the recycling rate even further faces a number of hurdles. For example, although local authorities understand the importance of waste prevention, they remain fixated on meeting the Welsh Government's recycling targets. Producing less waste is a major challenge and must happen in parallel with a high recycling rate if Wales is to meet the aim of living sustainably within available resources.
The Welsh Government's leadership, and particularly the clarity, timeliness and prescriptive style of communications about sustainable recycling, has left some local authorities confused and disengaged. Local authorities are also concerned that national plans do not take sufficient account of local circumstances, such as variations in the materials found in waste or the most suitable methods of recycling in areas with different geography or housing type.
The report highlights the difficulties caused by conflicting views between the Welsh Government and local authorities about how best to provide recycling services for the public. The Welsh Government believes that kerbside recycling, and sorting, is the most consistent mechanism for producing quality waste material. It dislikes 'co-mingling' dry waste - such as bottles, cans and card. However, some local authorities and private sector contractors dispute this assertion, saying that modern recovery facilities can mechanically sort co-mingled waste to sufficient quality and at a similar cost. They say it is a much easier process for the public, who don't have to sort materials and would boost levels of public participation further.
Today's report warns that if disagreement over recyclable waste collection methods continues, there is a risk that it will inhibit further progress in achieving recycling objectives and reduce the momentum of public participation.
Current information gathering about public participation in recycling is also a weakness. While most local authorities measure participation, there is often insufficient detail and measurement is too infrequent. The Welsh Government could gather and share good practice and provide the guidance that local authorities need to be more effective in persuading people to recycle at the level that the national strategy and targets require. Changing the recycling habits of citizens is also a good way of preparing for the greater changes needed if Wales is to become more sustainable, and the report proposes greater flexibility in the means of achieving more sustainable waste management.
The report says that the Welsh Government and local authorities should build trust and seek a consensual route that improves understanding and acknowledges and respects local circumstances. The report makes a number of recommendations for improvement, including:
Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas, said today:
'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.'
Notes to Editors: