Towards Zero Waste: How Wales is meeting its ambitious waste reduction targets

Written by Naomi Larsson on 4 October 2018

The 2017 Commercial Award went to a team who supported "22 feisty local authorities" to reduce waste through innovative technology and collaborative working. Naomi Larsson finds out more

Wales is big on recycling. The country has the highest recycling rate in UK, and is among the top recycling countries in Europe – reprocessing 60% of municipal waste in 2015/16. It’s an impressive figure considering Scotland and England’s rates remain at around 40%.

Jasper Roberts, deputy director of the Waste and Resource Efficiency Division at the Welsh Government, says they’re now aiming even higher. Their targets have increased to recycling 70% and reducing landfill waste to 5% within the next decade.

Part of the way they’ve done this is through technology – providing alternatives to landfill in the form of recycling and new waste treatment facilities. “Without the technology you can’t embrace recycling,” he says.

Roberts leads five teams in the Welsh Government’s environment department on waste – one of which is the procurement programme. It was established to implement the government’s ‘Towards Zero Waste’ strategy, with aims to improve resource efficiency, develop a circular economy and green growth, among others.

The procurement programme supports local authorities to acquire new waste treatment equipment, working with councils and other stakeholders to ensure these facilities are both environmentally and financially sustainable. It has led to forecast savings of £525m to the Welsh public sector in the next 25 years. The project was recognised for these staggering savings at the 2017 Civil Service Awards for best commercial team.

Once fully operational, the programme will deliver treatment capacities of 150,000 tonnes per year for food waste and 550,000 for residual waste. The facilities will provide electricity output of 56 megawatts, enough to power 95,000 homes.

“We negotiated local authorities into a number of regional collaborative hubs, so we could gross up the material going to market to a level that’s commercially effective,” Roberts says. “We decided to turn it into a market-based model where we worked with the private sector.”

To meet the household waste targets Wales needed a radical transformation of the waste collection and treatment services.

“We couldn’t introduce the new way of doing things if we hadn’t changed the technology, and we needed to look at the cost,” Roberts says. “The cost of previous waste [processes] were becoming expensive and environmentally damaging.”

The team was noted for its successful collaborative approach, which was a challenge in itself. “Negotiating 22 quite feisty local authorities into partnerships is not a straightforward process. It took time to broker and assert the discipline and good collaboration,” he says.

“As a team of people we learnt a lot – the basics of negotiation on how to run competitive dialogue. We started from scratch with an idea, we knew what we needed: an affordable technology to treat ‘X’ thousand tonnes of material. Beyond that we had to work it out on the way.”

With a 70% recycling goal, the procurement team is now “looking to do it all again”, Roberts says, but this time with a wider range of materials and technologies to address a number of policies. Roberts wants “another generation of anaerobic digestion” (food waste broken down to produce biogas and biofertiliser). Another aim is to expand the materials they collect and recycle, such as nappies. To do this requires improving infrastructure once again, and Roberts says the team is currently working on a business plan to take to market next year for another technology.

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