To tackle climate change and make the most of our resources, we must reduce the amount of rubbish we produce and use the best methods for handling what's left.
Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle
The first step in the waste hierarchy is waste reduction. The Welsh Government has set a target of 65% reduction by 2050, with annual cuts of 1.5%. Since 2004, waste has been falling by an average of 2.5% a year, but improvements will become progressively harder - we've a long way to go for the remaining 50%.
To improve 'reuse' rates - using something again and again - we need many more reuse centres, and 'freecycling', bottle and can deposit schemes. In Denmark, bottle deposits alone reduced municipal waste by 20%.
Wales has made good progress recently with recycling and composting, reaching 50% of municipal waste in 2012, and some councils now hitting almost 60%. But we could do much better than the Welsh Government's target of 70% by 2025. Our recommended target of 80% by 2020 is already close to being achieved in Austria and Germany.
When everything possible has been reused, and after recycling and composting, the key considerations for handling the left over waste are:
To adjust to decreasing amounts of waste as reuse and recycling rates improve. Recycling rates have increased by an average of 4% a year since 2000-01
- Climate change
To have minimal greenhouse gas emissions
To be affordable for local authorities, and not tie them into long-term contracts
The proximity principle means that it's best to deal with waste as close as possible to the place it's created
Mechanical biological treatment (MBT) is better for the environment than incineration or landfill. MBT recovers more materials for recycling, leaves less waste for landfill and produces less climate changing gases, and is already being used by some UK councils, such as Bristol.
Large incinerators threaten communities around Wales. Incineration isn't a green option for handling waste, or an efficient way of producing energy, because it:
- Discourages waste reduction and recycling
- Burns valuable resources that would be better recycled
- Is bad for jobs - recycling creates 10 times as many jobs as incineration
- Requires waste to be transported all around the country
- Produces toxic ash, air pollution and climate-changing carbon dioxide
The Welsh Government should urgently reconsider its policy on incineration to bring its waste management policy in line with recent developments that provide more sustainable solutions.