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Thousands of homes to take part in Cardiff recycling pilot

Credit: Cardiff Council

Four thousand homes across Cardiff could take part in a pilot scheme to test ways in which recycling rates across the city might be improved.

The scheme is part of a review of waste collections in Wales’ capital designed to hit Welsh Government recycling targets by 2025 and to make Cardiff one of the greenest and cleanest cities in the UK.

Cardiff is currently the leading, major regional city in the UK for recycling. On average since 2018, 58% of waste produced in the city is recycled or composted. However, Welsh Government has tasked Cardiff with increasing this rate to 64% as quickly as possible and to 70% by 2025.

Cardiff Council’s Cabinet will consider a number of proposals designed to improve recycling rates when it meets on Thursday December 16th. These include:

  • Trialling a new three-stream waste collection pilot for 4,000 properties in four wards across the city. Residents in the pilot areas will be given a blue, reusable sack for paper and card (fibres), a red, reusable sack for metals and plastic, and a blue caddy for bottles and jars;
  • A range of measures to help improve recycling, including opportunities to recycle at local hubs and pop up recycling centres;
  • Stopping in 2022 the distribution of red-striped bags for general waste to residents in the city who don’t use council-provided black bins. Households in these red-striped bag areas will be allowed to present up to three bin bags for collection; and
  • Continuing with the pre-booking system at the council’s recycling centres at Lamby Way and Bessemer Close which proved a major success during the pandemic;

Cllr Michael Michael, Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Environment and Recycling, said: “When comparing the recycling and composting rate in Cardiff to other major regional UK cities our figures are excellent and something we should all be proud of, especially our residents, who play a major role in helping us achieve these numbers.

“However, in recent years our recycling rate has flatlined and we now have to look at ways of getting that number moving up again. Since 2020, the overall recycling rate for the city dipped due to the pandemic. This is mainly because at the beginning of the crisis, in order to keep our waste service running, we had to send all waste to an energy-recovery facility rather than hand sorting it for recycling.It meant little or no waste was recycled during the early months of lockdown.

“We had to do this to safeguard staff working in close proximity at our recycling processing plant (MRF). Alongside this, the council’s recycling centres at Lamby Way and Bessemer Close were forced to close under direction from Welsh Government. These operational decisions reflected the urgency of the position and were widely reported at the time.

“Now that we have restored all our recycling services we have to take steps to achieve Welsh Government’s recycling targets, and we are committed to doing everything we can to reach the 70% target for 2024/25. This will be a huge challenge, especially with the wide variety of homes and residences in the city, but with the help of our residents I’m sure we can push on. We all know we are facing a climate emergency and this is one of the best and easiest ways we can all make a difference.

“The new pilot scheme, using the three-stream collection method, will allow us to look at whether a different type of collection system can increase our recycling rate and reduce the amount of contaminated waste which is currently put out for recycling.

“Although co-mingled recycling – placing all recyclable items into the green bags as we do now – is easy to do, the levels of contamination have proven to be too high despite various education programmes. Right now, when we look at the total amount of non-recyclable waste processed, 8% is made up of rejects from our recycling collection and process. The industry average is 2%. Analysis carried out in 2019/20 identified 10,000 tonnes of recycling were lost due to contamination. This alone could have increased our recycling rate by 3%.

“In Cardiff, we also have a large number of houses of multiple occupancy (HMO), which make up 30% of the city’s housing stock. Historically these properties produce very little recycling, and this needs to change if we are going to hit our targets. So we will be using our outreach teams to engage with these residents on the need to recycle as much as possible.”

Three-stream waste collection pilot

The council, working in partnership with Welsh Government, is to look at trialling a three-stream waste collection in 4,000 homes across the city. The pilot will be trialled in four Cardiff wards: Radyr, Llandaff, Pentwyn and Trowbridge. All properties included in the pilot will receive a letter from the council in early December, followed by a detailed leaflet on what they need to do and the reusable sacks will then be delivered in January 2022.

The objectives of the pilot scheme are:

  • To measure how much recycling is collected and determine the number of vehicles that would be required if the pilot was expanded citywide;
  • To assess the levels of contamination received via the three-stream pilot, in comparison with the current co-mingled waste collection;
  • To understand residents’ views on using reusable bags;
  • To understand any impact on street cleanliness in pilot areas;
  • To assess the size of the collection rounds and the time it will take to separate different materials against the current system; and
  • To identify the resources required and costs involved to expand the pilot citywide.

Red-striped bags

When the council provided 140-litre wheelie-bins to residents to store their general waste for collection, 10% of properties were unable to take part in the scheme as they didn’t have space to store the bins.

The council currently gives 85,000 rolls of single-use, red-striped, plastic bags to residents who can’t have a wheelie-bin. It costs £50,000 a year to buy and distribute these bags to residents for free. Cardiff is the only council in Wales to give away free plastic bags for general waste collections. Cabinet will hear a recommendation that the practice should be halted in early 2022. Ending deliveries of free plastic bags will support the council’s vision to become carbon neutral by 2030. If approved, residents will purchase their own general waste bags. They will be able to put out three black bags of general waste for collection as is the case around the rest of Wales.

Pre booking system and the continuation of the ‘no black bag’ policy at the recycling centres

Prior to the pandemic just over 33,000 tonnes of waste (19.5% of the waste the council deals with each year), was brought to the recycling centres at Lamby Way and Bessemer Close. Much of this waste was not suitable for recycling, consequently it had a negative impact on the council’s recycling figures.

Pre-pandemic the recycling and recovery rate in the centres was 67%, significantly below the Welsh average of 80%.

To curtail the amount of general waste being brought to the recycling centres controls were put in place designed to improve the city’s recycling and staff were on hand to assist residents to separate their waste to ensure what could be recycled was recycled.

When the pandemic hit, social distancing meant this was no longer possible, and along with other recycling centres In Wales, these facilities closed during lockdown.

When lockdown restrictions eased a pre-booking system was put in place to enable social distancing and to allow 50 vehicles to use each site per hour.

The impact of these measures saw:

  • The number of commercial operators using the recycling centres illegally significantly reduced;
  • The number of people that used the recycling centres that are not Cardiff residents reduced significantly; and
  • The amount of non-recyclable, general waste brought to these facilities also reduced.

Since these measures were introduced the amount of non-recyclable, black bag waste brought to the centres reduced by 79%, from 7,925 tonnes to just under 1,700 tonnes. This helped increase the recycling rate at both recycling centres from 67% in 2019/20 to 87% in 2020/21.

The new measures also meant commercial operators were unable to access the recycling centres to dump their waste and had to use the commercial waste facility at Bessemer Close instead. This significantly increased income for the council.