As CIWM President David Wilson pointed out, waste management is the forgotten utility which underpins society. Although largely taken for granted in the UK, one third of the world’s population lack basic waste management services. As an industry, we are in a unique position to address both marine litter, and to help to meet the UN’s 12 Sustainable Development Goals.
Hannah Blythyn, Minister for Environment at the Welsh Government, outlined Wales’ ambitious strategy to do just that – both through a £7.5 million Collaborative Change Programme investment designed to support local authorities, and using drivers such as the Route Map for a Resource Efficient Wales. The map will highlight new areas for innovation, including the recycling of nappies, mattresses and carpet; food waste reduction target actions; and the creation of demand for plastics through public procurement exercises.
Throughout the day, there was more evidence of a market-led approach and bold strategies. For example, WRAP described its new voluntary agreement on plastics – delivered in conjunction with the Ellen McArthur Foundation, while Conwy Borough Council outlined its move to four-weekly residual collections, which will save the council £390,000 over one year. If recent trials are mirrored in the full-service change, recycling is likely to rise by 14%, with residual waste down by 31%.
Another local authority, Rhondda Cynon Taf, has plans for an ambitious eco park, based at its landfill site at Bryn Pica. The project has stalled due to funding issues, but the proposal is to house a number of businesses involved in paint, mattress and nappy recycling, with plastics recycling for manufacture into wheelie bins. The site would be fully powered by an existing AD plant.
Unsurprisingly, markets were high on the agenda. Mike Baxter from RPC pointed out that unless public sector procurement transforms tenders to demand greater recycled content, contracts will continue to supply the cheapest option and, in many cases, import products from abroad. According to Baxter, in the case of plastics, the technology is now available for the recycling of all types of plastics. Where processors have held back from investment due to lack of confidence in securing material, they are now guaranteed quantities of scrap thanks to China’s ban. All that is missing are the markets, and purchasing bodies that specify genuine, post-use recycled material in contracts.