'Sort recycling' EU rule concerns Welsh councils

At the moment around half of Wales' councils ask for recycling to be put in one green bag

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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."

We asked if you would you be happy to sort out items for recycling into separate bags or boxes before they're collected from your home. Here are a cross section of your views.

Already full recycling, no problem, just takes a little time. Our collectors are very good which makes it easier.

Cheryl Clement, Neath Port Talbot,

In Flintshire we have to sort our rubbish into separate bags and boxes, at first you think that it is going to be really time consuming, but once you get used to it, it works a treat. The only issue we have is storing all the bins, bags and boxes.

Michael Roberts, Hawarden, Flintshire,

It's no big deal, Neath/PortTalbot has been doing it for ages. Into separate bags go paper, plastic, bottles and tin, garden waste, and general waste. When you get used to it it is easy

David, Neath,

I'm very happy to recycle because I care about our environment and scarce resourses however I live in a flat with next to no outside space, how and where do they expect me to store all these extra containers for sorting? And I'm sure I'm not the only one in a flat!

Leyton Pope, Burry Port, Carmarthenshire,

I'm all for recycling, I think it's shocking we don't recycle more. But given the current system, it kinda makes sense. In Flintshire we have to separate before collection, which on the face of it makes sense, but I see a flaw. How many people, I wonder, don't throw the paper their chip shop food was wrapped in into the paper bin? It's still paper, it can be washed & recycled. What about kitchen roll? That's still paper. Where does polystyrene go? Technically it's plastic, does it go in the plastic bin? How many people throw plastic sandwich boxes, and the like, in the plastic bin? It's plastic, that's where it should go. How much of our possibly recyclable waste goes into the normal bin because we don't realise it can be recycled? Admittedly, separating food waste makes sense as I wouldn't want myself or anyone else trawling through rotting food. But it makes more sense, to me, to throw all the rest into one bin & have it sorted by trained professionals, surely they'd be able to pick out more than the rest of us?

Joe Ellis, Flintshire,

Why is it always the UK that complies with EU rules when other countries just ignore these edicts: It is certainly time these career politicians in government stood up to Brussels as the British people as a whole are getting fed up with the way we are being bullied by Brussels. Leave our local councils alone they are doing a good job as it is, and Aberconwy are bringing out new collection bins soon which according to this new rule will make the surplus to requirements.

Lloyd, Glan Conwy,

No more boxes, PLEASE! In France where I am staying, each small community has their own skips to which you take your re-cycling (mixed, I hasten to add!) All are clean and tidy because people here still have a great deal of civic pride. As far as edicts from Europe are concerned, Wales should stand on its own feet and be the first to tell Europe to get lost! As for fines....The record of fine-paying by other countries is pathetic showing that they ignore it. So should we!

A Jones, Chepstow,

It depends on how many ways the waste is to be sorted, if it is - paper, glass and metal I think most people will just start filling up there dustbins again and not bother with recycling. The system has already been setup for sorting at the recylce plant.

Bigbard, Rhondda Cynon Taf,

Surely it is the amount you recycle as a community that is important. The way you collect is irrelevant.

J Piggott, Llandysul Ceredigion,

I'm in favour of recycling, but already struggle to find the space to store a food waste bin, non-recyclable bin and waste bin...are the EU going to mandate that our property sizes increase so that people have room to undertake this additional sorting before collection?

Bec, Cardiff,

The system as it stands now is great, easy to understand and easy to sort. I already recycle at least 50% of my waste and separate green waste from black bag waste and also food waste into separate bags. They have already stopped a weekly collection of black bags. If they bring this in I will stop recycling all together. I live 5 mins away from a local tip so I will black bag everything and drive it down there myself.

Mark, Cardiff,

It might be ok for people with a big garden or facility to keep several boxes but what about householders whose front door opens directly onto the pavement? Where do they keep their boxes and wheelie bins - on the pavement for people to trip over. It is also an eyesore! I am all for recycling but enough is enough. I certainly do not want more boxes in the small space outside my front door than I already have. I just do not have the room and it is both impractical and unreasonable to ask householders with no space to have yet more boxes. I already have a large wheelie bin and three recycling boxes. They look unsightly too

Pat Harris, Newport,

Pembrokeshire does not collect glass and bottles. Cumbria does not collect cardboard or plastic bottles. Anglesey does better with roadside sorting but does not collect plastic (except bottles) None of the above collect Tetrapaks.

Jean Parry-Jones, Anglesey,

If the professionals don't sort the waste from co mingled, and the householder decides its too much bother, then the proportion going to landfill increases. Given the targets for local authorities currently, who is going to accept the blame for failing to meet the targets? Is the government prepared to be seen to failing its own targets? I see this as this as madness, the purpose of the waste collection system is to get the waste off the streets, and to meet Kyoto agreement which is to reduce emissions. Sending out more collection trucks makes more pollution! Welsh government needs to make its mind up on this one, stop fining through targets being missed, focus on achievement of less CO2.

Andrew McLean, Cardiff,

I have a small kitchen and no garden. Under the current scheme I already have 5 bins and boxes permanently obstructing the pavement because I have no where else to keep them. I'm all for recycling but find it hilarious that I should have to keep more boxes in the street to achieve it.

Russell Couper, Newport,

Flintshire only accepts plastic bottles for recycling. All other plastic containers, even if they have the same recycling symbol and number, have to go in the general waste. Yet other councils collect nearly all plastic containers.

Alun, Buckley,

My local council will not collect my recycling from our house and insist I take it nearly a mile to be collected from the roadside so I sort all my own rubbish burning the cardboard and paper to light my fire composting the food waste and I collect the metal cans and scrap them myself getting about £40-80 a trip which I use to offset the increase in my council tax. The collection box's for the rubbish my children use for keeping there toys in as we have no other use for them.

Craig, Anglesey,

Before we had kerbside recycling we always recycled and sorted the waste,it was no problem for us as we had space to store it until there was enough to take.We still keep the tetrapacks separate and take them for recycling and the glass which can't be put in the bag.But there are still some things that you can't recycle because the council won't take certain plastics.I also think that all products should be manufactured for ease of recycling.

John Crocker, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion,

How am I, a complete layman, supposed to know what constitutes a recyclable item, especially with all the various plastics used? Some are recyclable and some are not. Which bag do you put a cardboard box with a plastic inlay or even a laminate with a paper middle.

John Taylor, Aberdare,

I've just sat down after sorting our recycling into seperate bags, we've been doing it for years in Denbighshire, it's not a problem, we're happy to help.

Seamus, Ruthin,

At the risk of sounding pedantic, my experience in Neath Port Talbot is that there is some mixed collecting. Tins and bottles are kept together and paper and cardboard go together, whilst the rest - plastics, kitchen wet waste, garden waste are kept separate

Prys Lewis, Neath Abbey,

I have six bins in my kitchen; compost, cooked food waste, metal/glass, paper/thin card,clean plastic and non-recyclable, outside I have a garden waste bin and four dusbins. I know |I'm lucky to have the space. You have to get organised and stick to a routine but it works really well.I find using my dish washer makes sure the plastic pots and tins and glass jars are spotless and odour-free. My one weak spot is not recycling tetrabrik containers which I was thoroughly and chop up for the black bag. Swansea Council do an excellent job supplying me with the different coloured bags and subsidised me buying my two compost bins and my water butt. The dustbin men are first class. I'm a very arthritic OAP with artificial hips and knee but I manage because I want to save our environment and the compost is great for my garden!

Maggie, Swansea,

I used to be a waste and recycling officer and was always frustrated at the attitude in the UK as a whole - it's not complicated! What it does need is substantial up-front investment to get the right bins, right vehicles, and a state of the art MRF or materials recovery facility linked to an EfW or Energy from Waste facility as proposed for the old Llanwern site in Newport - not an incinerator - which is how the council and local press describe it - it isn't an incinerator as that term implies - it's a gassification plant which vapourises waste that cannot be recycled and uses the energy produced to supply electricity to local housing, industry or national grid. Other countries have been doing this stuff for decades and we're still doing pilots and mucking about with different schemes - councils have been dragging their feet over this for so many years I've lost count - they have obsficated, prevaricated and just been downright obstructive to getting the job done !

Linda Joseph, Cwmbran,

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