Blog: Beyond Recycling

Brian Mayne considers the discussion from the interactive webinar exploring the summary of responses to the Welsh Governments strategy to make the circular economy in Wales a reality, Beyond Recycling, was delivered in September by CIWM Cymru Wales. The webinar also considered the lessons learned from the pandemic and highlighted that there are lots of new opportunities and behaviours that could contribute and shape the future of the developing strategy.

The session started with a joint presentation from David Warren, Head of Circular Economy Policy Development at Welsh Government and Nick Miller, Director at Miller Research, the consultancy who helped with the consultation that took place on the circular economy strategy earlier in the year.

David outlined the strategy has been built upon the successes that have already been achieved in Wales such as having the third highest household waste recycling rate in the World, but he was keen to emphasise that the new strategy is much more than recycling. It is focused on creating a low carbon, zero waste, one planet resource use Wales with prevention and reuse at its core. He went on to explain that the work of the team delivering the strategy had to shift focus because of the pandemic. As a result, he outlined a number of examples and lessons learned from the pandemic such as the way communities came together to share. Also, he pointed out that there has been an increased awareness by the public of how important resources are and how scarce they can become. He explained this increased awareness can provide the support for a sustainable recovery in response to COVID-19. He also identified that this recovery will benefit from Government actions to rejuvenate our town centres, as well as other measures such as active travel and integrated public transport along with retrofitting premises to be more energy efficient. They will all create circular economy opportunities.

Nick then set out the role of his consultancy in engaging all sectors of the community in contributing to the strategy. He highlighted that around 1,000 citizens and stakeholders came along to 40 events across Wales or submitted responses. He informed attendees that across the responses, there was general positivity to both moving towards a circular economy and the suggested Welsh Government actions as a means to achieve the aims. He explained that whilst each response and event brought up its own discrete issues, common responses, perspectives and ideas on how Wales might achieve a circular economy were identified. These are set out in the report and listed below:

  • The strategy should reflect the priorities outlined in the waste hierarchy, and material use should be based on Life Cycle Assessments.
  • Actions towards a circular economy should be implemented consistently across Welsh regions, Welsh Government departments, and, where possible and practicable, integrated with wider action.
  • Actions towards a circular economy should be considered and embedded in all Welsh Government policy, rather than siloed in individual directorates.
  • Improved access to necessary infrastructure, education, resource, guidance and specific circular economy support is paramount.
  • Support should be offered across all sectors – private, public, and voluntary – to alter current practices that are not in line with a circular economy approach, involving assistance developing solutions and innovative designs.
  • Consistent monitoring and review of actions, including significant use of data, is needed, as well as definitive targets.
  • Targets and guidance are insufficient on their own. Where necessary, new legislation should be introduced to both encourage change and penalise non-compliance.
  • The strategy must include details of how the necessary cultural shift towards a circular economy will be promoted.

Further details on the consultation and more detail on the responses are included in a report prepared by the company.

In his presentation, David highlighted that key to the consultation was keeping the message simple, no mean task as he pointed out that there are over 114 definitions of the circular economy in use. He explained that the Welsh Government decided that the definition they used in the context of the consultation was, ‘keeping resources in use for as long as possible and avoiding waste’. It was fitting therefore that the first audience poll asked them if they thought the definition was appropriate, which they confirmed overwhelmingly that Welsh Government had got it right.

Rebecca Colley Jones, representing CIWM in response to the poll highlighted that the term ‘resources’ may well be familiar to the audience but was unsure that it was widely understood by the general public and perhaps we should be talking about ‘stuff’ instead.

Cerys Jones, Director of Repair Café Wales, agreed with the definition as it sets out exactly what Repair Cafes do at their pop-up events which are located on regular dates and enable the local community to get their broken household items (stuff) repaired for free by volunteers.

This set the foundation for another audience poll that looked at what help would support community based reuse, repair and remanufacturing initiatives.

Of all of the potential ways forwarded a ‘change in regulations that obstruct reuse/ repair products’ received the most votes. Cerys highlighted that all of the initiatives would be beneficial.

The next contributor was Andrew Wilkinson, Head of Neighbourhood Services for Conwy County Borough Council, home of the four-weekly residual bin collection who have in the first quarter of the year had achieved 70% recycling. When questioned he indicated that in general local authorities were supportive of the strategy but are looking forward to more detail. Andrew went on to say that regardless of the sector that in his opinion three clear points are required to ensure the successful delivery of the strategy;

  • Clear and consistent policy direction
  • challenging and statutory targets
  • An appropriate level of funding to achieve targets

Martin Lewis, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Bluestone National Park in Pembrokeshire provided a private sector view on the strategy and explained that the resort is aiming to deliver circular economy principles within the resort. He gave some practical examples of reuse that is carried out at the Park where third sector organisations have received furniture from the park benefitting 150 families.

Following Martin’s comments, the audience were asked what they considered were the most important issues that the Government needed to tackle to deliver a circular economy, 40% selected repair, remanufacturing and recycling infrastructure.

David responded by outlining that Government by supporting such infrastructure can stimulate local economies, create jobs and build more cohesive communities which is a key element of delivering a circular economy in Wales. He also took the opportunity to highlight that by not manufacturing new products we can tackle climate change pointing out an Ellen Macarthur report stated that 45% of global greenhouse emissions come from what we make and consume.

The next poll looked at whether the experience of the audience during the pandemic had increased their understanding and support for a circular economy. Most identified that it had, supporting David’s earlier point, however, a significant number in comparison were not sure.

Rebecca responded by explaining that her experience was that there had been a lot of repair and reuse during the April lockdown, but felt that once it had ended in general people had gone back to their old ways.

She also took the opportunity to praise the role of those in the waste management industry who have continued to deliver frontline services.

Dr. Andy Rees OBE, Head of Waste Strategy at the Welsh Government also highlighted reuse activities that he had seen practical examples of during lockdown and in particular was impressed on how businesses had responded. Andy also answered a specific question regarding the use of plastics during the COVID-19 pandemic. He highlighted that plastics have played a key role in protecting people, especially frontline workers, but pointed out that where safe, alternatives should be considered such as reusable face masks for the public. He went on to highlight the Welsh Government consultation that had just taken place to ban a wide range of single-use plastics.

Several questions were raised by the audience. One of which was ‘Can Wales deliver a circular economy in isolation’? David responded that it was Welsh Governments aim to collaborate and pointed out that the strategy set out that whilst Wales will take full responsibility for their waste, they will work with other parts of the globe to help them to tackle their waste issues and learn from others too.

The webinar ended with a presentation by the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn who reflected on the journey Wales has been on by achieving one of the highest recycling rates in the world, and how it is using this as a foundation to move forward, and accomplish even more. She covered, in particular, the consultation process which she had been keen to be involved with and identified several of her experiences at the workshops with all ages and sectors of the community. Hannah concluded by reminding everyone that Wales may be a small nation, but it has a big ambition to play a role in tackling climate change and ensuring the well being of future generations and that the circular economy will be a cornerstone in delivering that ambition.

In summary, the speakers explored not only the responses to the Beyond Recycling consultation and the developing Circular Economy strategy but also the lessons that can be learned from the response to the pandemic. It was agreed  that the way forward is to ensure that we build back better while respecting the limits of our natural environment and that includes extending the use of stuff.

Author: Brian Mayne is the chairperson of CIW Cymru Wales. He is a fellow of both the Royal Society of Arts and Chartered Institution of Wastes Management. He is a Chartered Environmentalist and is recognised by the International Solid Waste Association as an International Waste Manager.

Brian is a director of HJL Environmental a boutique environmental consultancy that offers bespoke solutions, training and advice. He also lectures and trains on a range of environmental subjects. He is a visiting lecturer in Environmental Policy and Management at the School of Engineering, Cardiff University.

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