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Cardiff set to go Cleaner and Greener with new recycling strategy

Changes to the way Cardiff residents recycle their waste could be rolled out across large parts of the city as they seek to improve recycling rates and act on climate change.

The climate crisis is causing cities across the world to change the amount of energy and resources they use, so as well as improving how much we all recycle, the new strategy will also seek to reduce the overall amount of waste we all generate, and re-manufacture our recycled materials so it can be repurposed and used again.

The new recycling strategy follows the ‘blueprint’ designed by Welsh Government and partners which has seen Wales become the third best recycling nation in the world. Many authorities in Wales have already begun segregated recycling, with high levels of public compliance and improved recycling rates.

Earlier this year around 4,000 homes in the city took part in the pilot which saw recyclables separated by residents and placed into specific containers for collection. Bottles and jars in one container, paper and cardboard in another, and plastic and metal/tin containers in a third.

And earlier this year more than 3,000 residents took part in a consultation on how waste collections could be changed to improve recycling rates, improve the quality of the recycling, tackle the climate emergency, reduce single-use plastics, and help make Cardiff one of the leading recycling cities in the world.

Recent independent analysis by WRAP of the composition of general waste presented for kerbside collection in Cardiff has shown that over half of the contents in the bags and bins could actually be presented for recycling.

Now, Cardiff Council’s Cabinet will discuss a Recycling Strategy for the city up to 2025 at its next meeting on Wednesday, September 28thwhich recommends:

  • The phased roll out of the pilot scheme to homes in more parts of the city.
  • Devising further pilots to develop ways to ensure people who live in blocks of flats or Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) can recycle better (around 30% of the city’s homes).
  • Increase the amount of items that can be presented for kerbside and neighbourhood recycling venues, to help residents easily recycle things like batteries; Tetra packs (cartons); coffee pods; textiles and small electrical items; and,
  • Trial methods to restrict the amount of general waste households can present for collection, including moving to a three-weekly collection for non-recyclable waste in areas where residents have wheeled bins, and a two bin-bag limit per fortnight in areas where non-recyclable household waste is collected in bags. Separate collections for hygiene (child nappies and incontinence waste) will remain in place.

Cllr Caro Wild, Cardiff Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change, said: “To act on the climate emergency we need to urgently make changes to how the city uses resources, improving the way we recycle is something we can all do and it’s one of the easiest ways to make a difference. We also believe these changes will help us keep our city clean”

Most residents currently put a mix of their recyclables into a green plastic bag for collection by the council. This is then taken to a material recycling facility (MRF) where it is separated before being sent for recycling and processing. However, this method produces a high level of contamination, with non-recyclables like food and nappies ending up in the green bags which affects the council’s ability to recycle materials. And this collection method also produces a high-level of single-use plastic (the green bags) which is bad for the environment.

Cllr Wild added: “When we undertook the pilot we saw some very positive results. Contamination dropped from a 30% average to just 6%. The system appeared easier for people to understand and of course it eliminated the need for single-use, plastic, green bags. It was a win-win in terms of improving recycling and reducing unnecessary plastic waste. Right now we supply enough green bags to Cardiff households every year – 23.7 million – to almost wrap around the planet if they were all on one giant roll. It shocked me when I heard that, and I know it will shock many residents too. It’s clearly something that we need to put an end to.”

As well as help tackle the climate emergency the Recycling Strategy is designed to put in place measures which will help the city reach Welsh Government’s targets and avoid a financial penalty. While Cardiff has one of the best recycling records of any major city in the UK and in Europe it still lags behind all other Local Authorities in Wales. Recycling performance in 2021/22 was around 60% which means the city failed to meet Welsh Government’s legally-binding recycling target of 64% recycling. Failure to meet the 64% target could result in a financial penalty.

Currently the Welsh Government target is to achieve a recycling performance of 64% between 2019/20 and 2023/24. This increases to a recycling performance of 70% from 2024/25 onwards.

Cardiff Council currently provides weekly food waste collections, weekly green bag collections for comingled recycling, fortnightly garden waste collections in summer, fortnightly residual waste collections, fortnightly hygiene collections (on request), and bulky waste collections (on request.)

The strategy looks at how the recycling figures can be improved, moving from co-mingled to segregated recycling; using reuseable sacks/caddies in place of the green single-use plastic bags; increasing opportunities to recycle easily in local neighbourhoods, increasing the range of materials that can be recycled at the kerbside, promoting reuse and repair and improving the recycling performance of the Council’s Trade waste service.

Around 30% of properties in Cardiff are made up of flats and shared houses or Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs). These types of properties generally have a higher level of non-participation in recycling and where recycling does take place, there are high levels of contamination within the co-mingled recycling. The strategy recommends developing pilots to tackle the different challenges that these properties bring to recycling.

Cllr Wild added: “We know there are a number of challenges facing us. We live in a major city with a diverse housing stock, transient population, high proportion of businesses and large-scale events, which all bring additional waste. Alongside this, we know that the quality of our recycling could be much better. Almost a third of the material collected in our green bags should not be there and is currently being sent to incineration. Then there’s the food waste and recyclable material which is going into our black bin and bag waste which should be in the food caddy or the green bags.

“We are at the beginning of a climate crisis, with grave consequences for humanity and future generations around the world, including Cardiff. The over-heating of the planet’s atmosphere has been caused by humans, the unsustainable use of the earth’s resources, and particularly by the associated carbon emissions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the amount of waste we produce. All the waste we put outside our homes is caused by us. It is a very visual element of our climate footprint, especially when you consider the life cycle of the materials, where they have come from, and how they were produced. We can be proud that Wales is playing a leadership role in designing and implementing some of the most sustainable recycling and waste strategies in the world and is currently the third best nation for recycling worldwide. Cardiff too performs well in relation to other core cities in the UK, but lags behind other authorities in Wales in terms of our recycling performance. We all now need to do our bit to improve the way we recycle and to cut down on the amount of waste we produce.

“The fact is we are burning valuable materials, and as a council we simply cannot continue to collect incorrectly presented waste at people’s doorstep and sort it out for them. We need to take collective responsibility for the materials we produce. There is a much more sustainable way of managing our waste, that vastly reduces our carbon footprint, and respects the earth’s valuable resources. This can be identified as reducing the amount we use, re-using wherever we can, and then segregating our recycling so it can be re-purposed. This will help to develop a circular economy, where we properly manage the waste as a valuable resource. Think refuse, reduce, re-use, repair, repurpose, recycle.

“We have consulted with residents about a new system, and we have undertaken trials. We know that there is support across the city to make these changes, but we also appreciate that the changes may inconvenience some. However, this strategy provides a pathway for us all to make positive changes for our planet. We need everyone to get behind it and support each other on our way to becoming a cleaner, more sustainable city.”

Recycling Strategy to 2025 for Cardiff key points

A phased programme of change to include:

  • Continue the move from co-mingled recycling in green plastic bags to kerbside recycling in separate containers
  • Reduce the 23.7m single use green plastic bags we use every year
  • Trial new approaches to recycling in flats and Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO’s)
  • Trial new methods to restrict general waste collections (black bins) including collections every three weeks from every two weeks and to two bags a fortnight for those currently presenting bags
  • Increase opportunities to recycle (community recycling zones)
  • Increase number of materials which can be recycled (nappies, coffee pots etc)
  • Promote reuse and repair to improve recycling
  • Deliver more door-to-door recycling education
  • Increased same day street clean and stricter enforcement after collections.