'Sort recycling' EU rule concerns Welsh councils
Many households in Wales could soon be forced to sort recycling into separate containers after new EU rules means single bag collections could be banned.
At present, around half of councils allow people to put all their recycling in the same bag to be sorted later.
But the European directive could mean recycled waste would have to be separated before collection from 2015.
Councils have warned of "far reaching consequences" if they are forced to change the way they collect recycling.
Many councils have spent millions on facilities to sort bags of mixed waste before it goes on to be recycled.
But critics say collecting mixed bags of recycling, or co-mingling, is inferior.
And they have welcomed a European directive which is likely to force councils to change their systems - although the UK government interpretation of the rules still face a judicial review.
Which councils do what
- Mixed collections: Caerphilly, Cardiff, Ceredigion, Vale of Glamorgan, Monmouthshire
- Some separation: Rhondda Cynon Taf, Powys, Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire
- Kerbside sorting: Neath Port Talbot, Bridgend, Denbighshire, Torfaen, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Isle of Anglesey, Newport, Swansea, Wrexham, Conwy.
The Welsh government says it wants all councils to operate separate kerbside collections, but has no plans to force them to do so.
Separate kerbside collection would mean, for example, that households have to put waste paper, tins, glass and plastics in separate bags or boxes.
There are fears the European directive, which comes into force in January 2015, will leave authorities with little option but to scrap the co-mingled approach.
Many councils say residents value the simplicity of "all in one bag" schemes and fear funding from the Welsh government may be cut.
Recycling levels in Wales
- 2001: 7%
- 2012: 48%
- 2013 (target): 52%
- 2025 (target): 70%
The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said it hoped to avoid a "prescriptive approach to future funding".Financial penalties
A spokesman said: "With local councils facing financial penalties for any failure to meet recycling targets in Wales, they must be free to shape their support for national recycling targets by developing locally determined collection services that reflect the specific needs of the local council and the communities they serve."
He added confusion about the viability of co-mingled collections "has the potential to have far reaching consequences" for both councils and communities.
Tomos Livingstone, BBC Wales political correspondent
Wales has got a pretty good record on recycling but councils go about it in a different way. Some ask households to separate their paper, glass and tins themselves, others say put it all in a green bag and we will do it.
But the EU objects to this latter method, saying too much of what is supposed to be recycled ends up being thrown away because it is dirty or damaged. It wants everyone to separate out their waste by 2015.
There are plenty of people who think this is none of the EU's business, nor the Welsh government's for that matter. They feel that councils should be allowed to choose their own method.
Many councils have already spent millions on facilities that sort out recycling after it has been collected. Under EU regulations these would would become redundant and councils would take a financial hit. They would also have to invest in new recycling lorries.
A further complication is that the Welsh government hands out a grant to councils - £72m last year -so they can invest in recycling. But if councils are in breach of the directives then the Welsh government cannot give them the money.
Councils have set ambitious targets to recycle 52% of household waste by 2013 and 70% by 2025. The current level is 48%.
They face steep penalties if too much waste is sent to landfill.
A spokesperson for Environment Minister John Griffiths said: "Kerbside sorting is the Welsh government's preferred method of recycling collection as evidence shows that it delivers better sustainable development outcomes than co-mingling.
"This method of collection reduces residual waste and results in the collection of high levels of clean recyclables that can be reprocessed into new products. It also tends to be better value for money than co-mingled kerbside approaches.
"The Welsh government would like to see all local authorities adopt kerbside sorting in order to achieve greater consistency of service across Wales."
Mal Williams, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Recycling, said he agreed that kerbside sorting is preferable.
"If you chose to either go down co-mingled or kerbside sorting route, in the kerbside sorting instance you have to buy a lot of new trucks, because the kerbside sort trucks don't look like waste trucks, so it's an extra investment there, but then the people are doing the sorting for you, you haven't got to build a sorting facility so you get the saving there," he said.
"Newport have been doing kerbside sorting for the whole period and they are still, by far and by a large margin, the cheapest and most cost-effective operation in Western Europe."