|Gareth Bennett AM|
|Jenny Rathbone AM|
|Mohammad Asghar AM|
|Nick Ramsay AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Vikki Howells AM|
|Adrian Crompton||Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru|
|Auditor General for Wales|
|Andrew Slade||Cyfarwyddwr Cyffredinol Grŵp yr Economi, Sgiliau a Chyfoeth Naturiol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director General, Economy, Skills and Natural Resources Group, Welsh Government|
|Dr Andy Rees||Pennaeth Cangen Strategaeth Wastraff, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Head of Waste Strategy Branch, Welsh Government|
|Gian Marco Currado||Cyfarwyddwr, Amgylchedd a’r Môr, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director, Environment and Marine, Welsh Government|
|Matthew Mortlock||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Rhodri Asby||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Economi Gylchol ac Effeithlonrwydd Adnoddau, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency, Welsh Government|
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Meriel Singleton||Ail Glerc|
|2. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||2. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|3. Papurau i'w nodi||3. Papers to note|
|4. Rheoli gwastraff: Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda Llywodraeth Cymru||4. Waste management: Evidence session with the Welsh Government|
|5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod||5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 13:41.
The public part of the meeting began at 13:41.
I welcome Members to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. As usual, headsets are available for translation and for sound amplification. Please turn off your phones, or onto silent. In an emergency, follow the ushers. We've received two apologies today, from Rhianon Passmore and Adam Price, and no substitutions. Do Members have any declarations of interest you'd like to make? No. Okay.
Item 3 and a paper to note. The Permanent Secretary has responded to the action points from the evidence session we held on 21 October. Members received a hard copy of this letter for the evidence session last week. That's the additional information from the Welsh Government. Are we happy to note that paper, which we will then take into account when drafting the report? Okay.
Item 4 then, and our evidence session with the Welsh Government—an evidence session on waste management. Welcome to our witnesses. Thanks for being with us today. Would you like to give your name and position for the record?
Yes. I'm Andrew Slade, director general for economy, skills and natural resources. I've brought the team with me today because we've got three reports to go through, and I thought it was sensible to have a range of expertise for you, from across the team. And I'll invite them to introduce themselves.
Good afternoon. I'm Andy Rees, head of waste strategy branch.
Good afternoon. I'm Rhodri Asby, deputy director for resource efficiency and the circular economy.
And good afternoon. I'm Gian Marco Currado; I'm the environment and marine director.
Great. Thanks for being with us. We've got a number of questions for you. I'll kick off to start with, with a general opening question. Can you start by outlining the planned timetable for consultation on a new waste strategy, and the subsequent publication of a final document?
Well, we hope to go out to consultation on the new waste strategy around the turn of the year. We were looking, I think, probably around this sort of point in proceedings up until a few weeks ago, but then concluded that it was sensible, in the light of the general election being called, just to push the launch of the consultation out a little bit further.
It's a process that begins with that conversation. I'll invite the team to say a bit more about that in a moment. The Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government was very clear that we should be engaging very early on in quite a detailed policy process that will take us away from—what's the word I'm looking for here—incremental change to something that's much more fundamental around the nature of the circular economy for the future.
I think it's worth saying that, on the journey we've taken to date, we've gone, in terms of municipal recycling rates, from 3 per cent at the point of devolution 20 years ago to just under 64 per cent now. It's a huge achievement, and I put on record my thanks to the team, and a whole range of colleagues, who have helped make that happen. And it's been a team Wales approach. It's not just been about Welsh Government; it's been about local authorities, it's been about the sector. There has been a wide range of partners who have helped us get to this position. And we have made huge, huge progress at a national level. It's now put us top in the UK, second in Europe, third in the world, for household waste recycling. Just a phenomenal achievement.
But we recognise, as was set out in the Auditor General for Wales's reports, there's more to do. And, as I say, the next iteration of our approach has got to be more than an iteration; it's got to be something much more fundamental, looking at the nature of our economy and how that works, and, bluntly, getting to a point where things stay in circulation a lot longer, rather than becoming waste products at an earlier stage in their life cycle. So, we talk a lot about transformational approaches, and just as we have transformed the way we do our recycling, we're going to need a transformational approach now as we move towards a circular economy.
I don't know if colleagues wanted to add anything on that particular point around the consultation.
I think it's worth drawing attention to the Deputy Minister's statement as part of recycling week, where she was talking about both the approach to consultation and wanting an early-phase dialogue at the start of the policy cycle, but also talking about some elements in relation to the ambition for zero waste being stronger than ever, and also making the connection to climate change and to decarbonisation.
To come back to your point, Andrew, it's easy to forget now, but just a few decades ago, there was virtually no recycling whatsoever. It was very difficult, in fact, to recycle anything, so I think, as you say, we really have come a long way since those days.
In terms of the consultation, this obviously affects a wide range of different parties. How are you going to make sure that both the general population and the business community are fully engaged with that consultation?
The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 requires us to take an involved and collaborative approach to the work that we're doing, and the Deputy Minister, again, has been very clear, as has the Minister, that we need to get out there and involve everybody who has a stake in this. That would include some of the parties that I was mentioning earlier: obviously local authorities and the waste sector itself, but actually a much wider look across businesses and communities, young people and the environmental non-governmental organisations—a whole range of partners who will help us take this thing to the next level. I would imagine—. I don't want to pre-empt what's in the consultation or the precise details that Ministers will release in a few weeks' time, but we want to get to a position where we're using a range of channels to drive our communications work. We already do quite a lot digitally, I expect we'll do more of that, and I fully expect us to get into a place where this is the start of a very full conversation about where Wales goes next in relation to the circular economy. Gian Marco.
I'd agree with that and, as you alluded to, Chair, I think the efforts we've made so far on recycling are very much the whole nation making an effort, and, therefore, I think the consultation is about trying to engage as widely as possible, not just with the private and the public sector, but also with citizens and communities to see how we can build on the great success that we've had, and try and take those steps into a truly circular economy.
And you mentioned how this is going to be a transformational change. When you compare the new strategy with the existing 'Towards Zero Waste' strategy, is it going to be more revolution or evolution? What's the comparison with that strategy?
I think—and we might come on to talk about the circular economy in a bit more detail through the session—if we want to get to a point where we are doing much more in the context of the circular economy, then I think where we go next has got to be more than just, as I say, an iteration of where we've been to date. Clearly, recycling and all the work that we've done there is hugely important—it sets the back cloth for this next step—but I think we've got to get to a position where how we treat products and waste starts to feel and operates in a very different way.
In terms of the context, obviously, we've had the climate emergency declared—not only by Welsh Government, but by the Assembly as a whole. That’s a critical part of all of this. And then there are a wide range of international factors that come to bear, not least in relation to biodiversity. And these were there at the outset, so when the waste framework directive came into place—and I remember it at the time, working in Whitehall in the late 1990s—this was in the context of the Kyoto protocol and other elements of the environmental agenda, so it wasn't as if these things were being done in isolation from these massive international pressures. But those have intensified and if we want to take account in a really significant way of where we are on carbon and impacts on the natural environment, again, that requires us to do something a bit more in this next version of the strategy. Did you want to come in, Andy?
Yes. There are also the United Nations' sustainable development goals that have come in since the last strategy. So, goal 12 is around sustainable consumption and production. I know the Welsh Government is keen to play its part in delivering against all of the goals, but in this context, goal 12 is the important one.
And why has it taken longer than previously anticipated to consult on the new strategy? Has the Brexit uncertainty had a role to play? I imagine it's had a role to play, because it's played a role in most things. Has that been part of the issue, and how is, obviously, the election—the instability that's been at the other end of the M4—how's that played into your development of the strategy?
Well, I think both of those points are fair, Chair. I think Brexit has had an impact, as too has a general degree of political uncertainty. And, where we were working quite closely, and continue to do so, with UK Government colleagues on some elements of where we want to go next, including in relation to extended producer responsibility, and in respect of deposit-return schemes and so on, those were all based around an environment Bill that fell with the last Parliament at Westminster. So, there are some quite significant complications there.
I think it is true to say, going back to my point from a few moments ago, if you want to achieve a real step change in terms of where we go next and treating the whole set of issues we've got here in a different way, that has required a lot of preparatory work and a lot of pre-consultation activity, and then, you know, a combination of Brexit and political uncertainty—. And then, of course, we're in this general election period, where, for a whole range of reasons, including in terms of getting people's attention focused on a very weighty topic, we thought it was better not to be trying to launch consultations through this current six-week period.
Very sensible, I'm sure, at the moment. Okay. I'll bring in some of the Members now. Vikki Howells.
Thank you, Chair. Obviously, Wales has built its own global reputation in this area in certain respects, but how have you been looking to practice elsewhere in order to inform the new strategy?
I might bring Andy in because, having looked at this area over a number of years, he'll be able to tell you who are the runners and riders around the rest of the globe.
We're very conscious, when we look at partners and comparators in other parts of the world, we're looking for countries or regions that have, for the sake of argument, similar demographics and an economy that works in a similar way so that you're trying to compare with something that has a bearing on what we're trying to do here. So, there are some countries around the world that have particular approaches to waste that we wouldn't adopt because our population or the way we use our lands is different. But we're pretty closely involved in an INTERREG project that brings a number of regions together, and I'll ask Andy to say a bit more about that in a moment.
We look at a range of other countries for specific things and adopt deposit-return schemes; I know we've looked at EU and non-EU countries for some of that activity. And, in addition, we monitor pretty closely what the European Environment Agency are putting out in terms of learning from across the European Union as a whole. Can you add to that?
Yes. Back in the early part of, actually, the last decade, we visited Flanders, who had a 70 per cent recycling rate at the time and were leading the way. We also went to the not quite so glamorous parts of the outskirts of Milan, where we saw that they were collecting food waste from apartment blocks. And that gave us the confidence, then, to roll out the separate food waste collection in Wales, which has now led to the 99 per cent coverage of food waste collections. We thought, if we could work in high-rise apartments in Milan, it could probably work around Wales.
On the CESME project—the circular economy for SMEs INTERREG Europe project—there are five other regions of the EU. I've got to read this, sorry, because it's hard to remember all of them: Northern Denmark, South Ostrobothnia in Finland, Macedonia region of Greece, Emilia-Romagna Bologna region in Italy, Bulgaria, and ourselves. And the whole point of the INTERREG Europe project was to share best practice in policy development and delivery. So, we've all been learning from each other. That's quite a good example, but, as Andrew said, there's a whole range of things we look at across the world in terms of drawing in best practice.
Thank you. And can we expect to see any new targets for waste prevention or any changes to the existing targets there?
Well, 'Towards Zero Waste' has us looking to get to a point of no waste by 2050, and that's still the trajectory that we would want to be on. And that aligns with what we're trying to achieve in relation to carbon reduction—getting down to net zero carbon by 2050.
We have to be a little bit careful on waste prevention targets themselves, because neither we nor local authorities have all of the levers. So, if we think about product design, the way that things are traded around the world and so on, there's a limit to what we can expect people to do. That's not to say that we don't work hard on this issue and, indeed, local authorities have non-statutory targets in respect of waste prevention. But I just think we've got to be a little bit careful about that, and that's something that we'll explore through the consultation process on the new strategy.
We say, in the current arrangements, the target for recycling is 70 per cent by 2024-25. Is that right, Rhodri? And we're well on course for that, although that's not an easy or straightforward matter. More will be needed there, but, beyond that, I think, at this stage, I wouldn't want to say that we were going to set particular targets. Whatever we do will need to be in trajectory format so that it allows people and businesses, communities and local authorities to get to an end point; it won't all be one big bang target at the end.
The projections that informed contracts for residual waste treatment suggest that councils will still have to treat significant amounts of residual waste beyond 2040. So, just how aspirational are these targets?
That is a good question. I think all of these things, ultimately, in respect of local authorities, fall to local authorities; they have to make their own judgments about what will and won't be needed. We can, I think, legitimately expect waste to continue to arise for some time to come, even as we get further into a circular economy. It's back to my point about levers: however hard we work here in Wales, or, indeed, across the United Kingdom, we're not going to change the whole paradigm on our own; it requires a whole range of international partners to come together.
In respect of particular contracts, there are other things that local authorities can do in the event that they're getting to a point where we have been more successful in reducing waste, I think including bringing commercial waste, potentially, into contracts, so that if, as a result of a lot of work on waste prevention, we get to a point where household waste is reduced—or reduced further, because it's come down a lot already—there are other things that local authorities can do in respect of the contracts themselves.
Yes, and that's kind of where I'm heading with my next question, really, because I was wondering how you intend to shift the focus to place more priority on waste prevention, particularly in recognition of the fact that local authority municipal waste accounts for only around a fifth of all the waste generated in Wales.
Well, I suppose that there are a number of things to say there. First of all, the focus—. I will bring in Andy in a moment, because he's been at this a lot longer than I have in the Welsh context. But the focus has been on getting our recycling rates up and tackling municipal waste, not least because of the carbon impact of municipal waste. We know for a fact, as Andy would say and no doubt will say in a moment, if you're talking about products that are towards the end of their lifespan, there's a lot of embedded carbon in the process to get you to that point. So, tackling that was very important from a climate change perspective, and also to put the infrastructure in place to allow us to tackle the problem. You can't necessarily move up the waste hierarchy until you've got measures in place to do the infrastructure work that we've done to manage the waste that's arising. You need to do certain things in order to make that higher ambition possible.
But I think that there's a lot that we've done already on waste prevention: 'Towards Zero Waste' itself, 'Wise About Waste', some of these other publications that we put out, non-statutory targets for local authorities in terms of aspirations, the work that we've done on carrier bags, what we've done in food waste terms, with massive reductions—the best in the UK, I think, in terms of waste prevention—all the work that we're doing on plastics at the moment, and the work that the Deputy Minister is leading. These are all part and parcel of what we're trying to do around waste prevention before you get further down the hierarchy.
Just to add that the Courtauld 2025 initiative is working with the entire food sector to try and reduce food waste, so it's not just food waste arising in households, it's from farm to fork, really. So, that's an initiative that goes way beyond just household waste. And, similarly, the UK Plastics Pact will also help reduce single-use plastic across the board, not just what householders use. So, in offices like this and commercial buildings, et cetera, there will be a waste reduction impact there in terms of plastic. And, as Andrew said, we've had programmes in the past tackling industrial and commercial waste, and Business Wales, through their green growth pledge that's currently under way, will help businesses reduce their waste as well.
Okay, thank you. Could I ask what progress is being made to obtain more up-to-date data on construction and demolition waste as well?
Well, we haven't had a formal survey for some time—I think that's fair—and, certainly, our expectation for the new strategy is that we'll look to put a renewed evidence base in around that and new monitoring arrangements. Andy may be able to talk a little bit about, in the longer run, what we might do about waste tracking, because I think that's quite important. But you're quite right, the construction and demolition waste is an area that we need to look at again in more detail. It's some time since we've done that. It's quite difficult to get accurate figures, so there's a lot of work involved in getting to a position where you're confident about what's coming through. I think that's certainly the experience that Natural Resources Wales have had. Before I invite Andy to—
Just before you go on, Jenny Rathbone, did you have a brief supplementary?
I just wanted to understand why we haven't introduced the obligation on businesses to separate their waste, because that seems to me a key way of preventing stuff going to landfill.
Do you want to—? Rhodri might pick that one up, because we're out to consultation, aren't we?
Yes, we're out to consultation on those regulations at the moment. The consultation ends on the thirteenth of this month, and that picks that up, and that's looking ahead at bringing forward then those regulations to do that. But, obviously, it's important to consult the businesses and consult those organisations, because it's non-municipal, so it's wider than just businesses as well.
Okay, but it was in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, so it's already been quite widely scrutinised as a concept.
Yes. So, the powers to bring them forward were in the Act and there was a consultation at that stage, but, obviously, now, in bringing forward the regulations themselves, we need to make sure that we understand the impacts on businesses and on organisations in detail, and that's the purpose of the consultation at the moment.
Okay. Although we did discuss it when we were scrutinising the Bill. We took lots of evidence from businesses. A lot of them didn't like the idea, but, you know, I feel that we've gone round this one already, and it's over three years on, we're only now consulting again.
I was working, as it happens, on the environment Bill at the time in terms of leading that through committee. I think that we also took some important messages from the committee scrutiny at the time that, although that was with respect to the primary powers, giving flexibility to Ministers, it was important to come back and, obviously, make sure that we'd fully impact assessed, then, what the detail of the regulations would say. That's, obviously, the follow-up stage that we're at now.
I think that's a point worth emphasising: what we're consulting on is the detail of how we will implement that, rather than going back to the kind of conversation that has happened before.
I think it's also fair to say, going back to the Chair's point from earlier on, that all of our work that requires legal input has, to some extent, been influenced, if not affected, by what's going on on Brexit. A huge amount of effort has had to go into the statute book there. Andy, I referred to waste tracking in a rather general way, but you might advise the committee what that actually means.
We currently have the e-doc—electronic documentation—system in place, which is a voluntary initiative, where businesses can enter their waste arisings online. But it hasn't been universally adopted, so we've been working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the other two devolved administrations, and the regulators and industry to try and work on a much better system that will actually track through, then, to the businesses' own systems, because that's been one of the barriers. We've been also looking into provisions within the Environment Bill that, of course, has now fallen, but, if you look into the detail of that, there are clauses relating to waste tracking that would give powers to the Secretary of State and Ministers to introduce mandatory requirements for businesses to report their waste arisings, subject to further development of regulations.
Yes, one final question from me about local government. So, what role do you expect local government to play in support of waste prevention and what have you done to try and shift the focus through your grant funding, thinking specifically about the sustainable waste management grant there?
Local authorities are doing a lot on waste prevention already, and that, again, is a collaboration in terms of how we've gone about this. I mentioned the team Wales approach, and I don't use that term lightly. This is one of the policy and operational areas that you can say, with your hand on your heart, has required everybody in the system to work together to bring about the changes that we've secured over the course of the last couple of decades.
We already have indicative targets for waste prevention. I think we're one of the few countries anywhere that has those. We don't make those binding in law, because, as I mentioned earlier, we don't necessarily have the levers, and local authority certainly don't, to drive all of that change. Nevertheless, they've done a lot around, with our support, absorbable hygiene products—nappies and so on—AHPs. We've done a lot around lots of different elements of the waste stream— what we're doing on water and refills and so on. So, that's all involving local authorities.
In terms of the grant element to all this component, we already transfer a lot of money into the revenue support grant. That's the way that we've worked it over the last few years, but we do have the sustainable waste management grant. Part of that is focused on waste prevention, and councils can access money for that work as well. I don't think, probably, at this stage I should say any more about money or funding streams because that will be part of our consultation arrangements, but it is definitely part of what's there at the moment. Gian Marco.
Just to say that there's an incentive for local authorities to invest some of the money that they get through the sustainable waste management grant in waste prevention because that reduces their overall costs in terms of collection, et cetera. So there is a built-in incentive through that, and they can of course spend some of that money on prevention, not just recycling.
I wondered just how strong that incentive was, because when local authorities are facing the threat of fines for not meeting recycling targets, isn't there a bit of a conflict there then with expecting them to think differently about spending on waste prevention? How do you get around that?
I think that's a fair challenge, but we would probably say—well, we would say—that the two things are not mutually exclusive. So, if you're a local authority you're trying to cut collection costs anyway, so bringing down waste and waste prevention activity is important in and of itself. The targets are meant to be proportions of what you collect, so it's perfectly possible to drive down waste on the one hand, through prevention at the top of the hierarchy, and also increase your recycling rates. We've seen a very significant improvement in respect of handling of food waste: between 2009 and 2015, figures came down very, very significantly, and that was at the same time as recycling rates were going up. So it is possible to do the two things together. You've been at this rather longer than I have, Andy; is that fair?
Yes. I think our household waste arisings have been pretty steadily decreasing since around 2005-06, and at the same time the recycling rate has gone up massively. So the two have gone in opposite directions, basically. So that high recycling rate hasn't resulted in any increases in household waste.
On a practical basis it might be worth saying as well that investment in things like household recycling centres also helps re-use and repair, so a lot of local authorities have looked to do things like repairing bicycles and so on, and providing those then to other people using the household recycling centre. So a household recycling centre won't just be a recycling centre; it also prompts that other activity. So there isn't a clear delineation between those. It's about getting that infrastructure that can support both.
Thanks, Chair. Welsh Government funding provides a significant proportion of WRAP's overall income. How are the objectives for WRAP's work agreed and monitored by the Government to ensure value for money, and what evidence is WRAP expected to provide about what it does and the impact of what it does?
All of the things we expect from WRAP are set out at the start of every year, and then we have a range of monitoring and performance arrangements that apply. I might ask colleagues who are a bit more closely involved to talk about some of the detail, but that would involve, I would imagine, quarterly meetings alongside regular catch-ups on particular programmes that they're running for us. We look at tonnage of recyclable material used, jobs created, turnover of businesses, carbon dioxide outputs, measures of that sort, and we have, I think, in addition, a set of arrangements in respect of the collaborative change programme, which again heavily involves WRAP. So we will have performance measures in place and target-setting and objective-setting work at the outset of those programme arrangements. Have I captured the—?
Okay, thanks. Now, Andy mentioned earlier the Courtauld initiative and the plastics pact. How does the Welsh Government get assurance that its funding supports an appropriate proportion of work in Wales on these UK-wide issues relative to the funding provided?
Do you want to take that one?
Yes. It's part of the outputs or the outcomes that they report. They would report against both those programmes about what they actually achieve in Wales, and that's obviously really important for us, that we get our requisite share, and more hopefully, of their activity. We also sit on the Courtauld 2025 steering group for Wales as well, and we're party to the UK plastics pact steering group and meetings that are held.
Do we also have an observer on the WRAP board?
We do, and he's sat next to you.
Rhodri. I beg your pardon.
Okay, thanks. Is WRAP taking administration costs out of the £6.5 million circular economy fund that it is managing on the Welsh Government's behalf, and if so, at what level? Or are you expecting the core funding to cover those administration costs?
I think we expect core funding to cover that.
Yes. So, the £6.5 million is the grant that funds the applications; the core funding is what supports WRAP’s management of the circular economy fund.
Okay. Thanks. The Welsh Government has relied heavily on WRAP's expertise to provide a range of support and analysis throughout the life of the 'Towards Zero Waste' strategy. How are you ensuring that these arrangements stand up to scrutiny from a procurement perspective?
WRAP is quite a distinctive body in the sense that it operates in a space that there isn't really anybody else operating in. It's a registered charity, it was set up by all four Governments in the early noughties, specifically to drive change in respect of the circular economy. So that's the first thing to say. And it's heavily funded by all of the UK nations. Scotland has its own version of WRAP now. I've forgotten what it's called.
Zero Waste Scotland.
Zero Waste Scotland. But it's the same set of principles. So these are quite unusual delivery bodies, set up with a very particular purpose, and that’s really the main reason that we are working with them from our current grant funding perspective. And I think the Welsh contribution to WRAP's cost is about a quarter, from memory, or something of that sort.
The challenge, though, about procurement and where you go next with the delivery of the strategy, the next phase or the next waste strategy, I think is a fair one and is something that we will need to look at in the context of developing the new strategy. So, how do we want it delivered, what’s the basis on which that delivery will then be commissioned and managed, and that will be an opportunity for us to look, as with all other elements of the strategy, at those arrangements.
Okay, thanks. Rhodri mentioned something about the core funding earlier. There’s also a question about the letter of comfort. WRAP's core funding was under review during 2018-19, with its activities continuing into 2019-20 based initially on a letter of comfort. What commitment, if any, have you made about core funding and collaborative change programme funding beyond this financial year?
That’s caught up in the general budget position, and the publication of the Welsh Government budget has, by agreement, I think, across the Assembly, been put back until after the election period is out of the way, so I don't want to pre-empt anything that's said there. It is true to say, which I think is probably at the root of your question, that, like other parts of the public sector and our partners, we've had to make some hard budget decisions along the way. So I think the total amount of money is down by the best part of £1 million, compared with where it was previously, but there are different components that make up the work that we're doing with WRAP and the funding for WRAP.
The core funding was decreased, but actually if you add the sources from core funding, the collaborative change programme and behaviour change, it isn't far off the level of the previous year. So it's just under £5.1 million as opposed to £5.2 million the year before.
Okay. Thanks. The final question from me: how much capacity and what knowledge and experience is available within the Welsh Government itself to take forward this important policy agenda?
Well, we are very fortunate to have a number of experts in the team, one of whom is Andy, along with policy makers who've got lots of experience in this area. So, Gian Marco has international experience in the context of where we're doing environmental work and Rhodri's done a lot of work on climate change and on the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and so on, so there’s a good team behind the work. And we've got a number of chartered waste managers—three or four.
Three in the team, and that’s a great position to be in. I suppose the risk in my saying that is that it sounds like we've got the job sorted. Capacity and capability for Welsh Government as a whole, as we move into a post-Brexit phase, is one of the things that I spend a lot of time working on at the moment. There's a whole suite of work that we're going to need to do in a post-Brexit context, alongside everything that we want to do domestically, and that does put pressure on a pretty hard-pressed team. But, by the standards of having expertise within the core unit driving the policy work and working with delivery partners, we've got some very good people supporting the work that we're doing.
Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you, witnesses, here, and good afternoon to you all. My question is regarding the residual and food waste treatment capacity and final destination for recycling in Wales. Looking at the diagram on this Manhattan figure for 2017-18 and 2018-19, if you look at page 41, some councils have done better in 2017-18, and the same councils didn't do better in 2018-19. Are there any good reasons some did—? Nearly half of them haven't achieved the previous result. Any reason for that? They're always nearly touching 60 per cent plus, but why haven't most of the councils achieved what they did the previous year? Look at the diagram.
Sorry, I've got that chart from our latest statistical release. I'll kick off and then colleagues can chip in. So, the first thing to say is that, in headline terms in respect of recycling, last year we didn't see a huge amount of change, and part of that—I think a key part of that—was about greater precision over the treatment of wood as a recyclate, and getting our numbers rather more refined. Natural Resources Wales have done a lot of work on that. So, that meant that whereas we had been seeing a steady progression across Wales, we didn't make as much additional progress. We didn't fall back significantly but it seemed for a little bit to have plateaued out, but I think that that is largely a statistical artifact. Is that fair, or am I taking my courage in my hands in saying that?
I think it was more accuracy of reporting on particular waste streams, particularly wood. There was some clarification required on exactly where it was going. So, it's the regulator, NRW, looking into that. That will improve the situation in the future.
Thank you very much. Turning to the waste infrastructure procurement programme, what lessons do you think can be learned from the way the programme was governed and managed, and from the long-term financial commitment that the Welsh Government made to support the 10 projects?
I would go, I think, Mr Asghar, to my initial remarks about the success that we celebrate here in Wales, and that has been a true collaboration. So, some of the key lessons that we would learn for a programme that has really transformed things are, I think, probably implicit in the question that you're asking. So, the fact that it was a long-term arrangement, the fact that it was a strong partnership, the fact that we have worked in collaboration with a whole range of partners—those have been key lessons that we have learned from this. We have not gone after this from a wielding a big stick sort of perspective; we've tried to do this in a way that we're all working together to achieve a common goal for Wales as a whole, and I think that that's been hugely beneficial.
We've certainly shared the learning from the programme not only in a Welsh Government context, but more widely. I can't remember whether Andy was involved, but a number of colleagues have been involved across UK events, including work with civil service colleagues in other parts of the UK to spread our understanding of what works and worked less well in the programme. It has been, as I said, transformational in the way that we've gone about things, and made a huge difference.
Okay. Thank you. And what is your assessment of the balance of risk around the residual waste contracts, given how gate fees are structured in some cases, uncertainty about future waste volumes, possible technological developments and the fact that the long-term contracts do not include break clauses?
That picks up on the point that Ms Howells and I were talking about a bit earlier on in relation to targets and the nature of the contract. It's hard to put break clauses into these very long-term contracts because, otherwise, they don't stack up financially for the partners who are involved. So, that's the first thing to say.
The second thing to say is, by definition, in any long-term assessment, you're trying to predict as much as you can about what's going to happen in the future, and that is an imprecise science. All I can say is that in working with colleagues delivering the projects, we have shared as much wisdom and learning, and as much as we could do in terms of forecasting with all the partners and, of course, local authorities will have their own projections.
And then, the third thing in terms of managing the contracts is the point that Andy mentioned earlier, about the ability to bring in other waste streams to supplement what's going through the system in relation to gate fees to help manage some of the risks there.
If I could add, the team that supported the local authorities had drawn upon contract arrangements throughout the whole of the UK, for many years. And with the balance of risk, there's always a problem that, if you transfer all of the risk to the contractor, you pay a massive price premium. So, you have to negotiate the different levels of risk, and get it equitable for both sides. And that whole process was drawing upon past experience, over the last few decades, around the whole of the UK, with similar contracts.
Okay, thank you. And what arrangements have been put in place with partnerships to obtain management information on cost, waste, tonnages, and any operational issues?
Well, we work with Local Partnerships, and others, who provide secondees. Local Partnerships is a body owned by local authorities and central Government; Welsh Government's got a 5 per cent stake in LP. As part of this, we work closely with Natural Resources Wales, with WRAP, with the local authorities, and we're constantly looking to drive improved management information through the system. But partly it picks up what we were talking about earlier—into the new strategy, what are we going to need in terms of data and evidence, how do we capture that in a more systematic way? We already have a lot, in terms of our evidence base, to build on, but there's work to be done there, including the potential for waste monitoring—the electronic reporting that Andy was referring to earlier. Other points there?
Okay, thank you. And where has the thinking around the residual waste facility to serve councils in South Wales West got to? And what more can you tell us about the new projects that are in development, and the priority materials that you have identified, like absorbent hygiene products, and wood and plastic et cetera?
Swansea's the lead partner, isn't it?
Yes. So we are supporting the south-west, and working with them, and met with them recently, to run through the issues they've got there, and helping them, obviously, to work through, to make sure that they've got a sustainable solution. With regard to your question about the priority materials, then, yes, the absorbent hygiene products is a key feature of the work, through the infrastructure programme, at the moment, and we're progressing with that, and that's through a partnership, again, with local government. And, in fact, that project's led by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, as the lead authority, in relation to that. But we're also working on solutions for wood and plastics.
Okay. And on what basis might the Welsh Government be providing financial support to other new facilities?
In terms of those facilities outside the infrastructure programme, then it's often the case that local authorities will request support. Particularly when, for instance, they've gone through service change, with regard to the collaborative change programme, they will identify the need for additional capacity, and then—obviously, based on assessment against things like the reduction in service cost, recycling performance, the increase to energy efficiency, and carbon outcomes—we will consider the business case then, and potentially then fund local authorities to improve their service, on an ongoing basis.
Bryn Pica, would that be an example in terms of what we're doing on plastics and so on?
Yes. So, Bryn Pica is one of the areas where we're looking at the absorbent hygiene products, but also hard-to-recycle elements. So, they've got a successful facility there, which is recycling mattresses, and that obviously is then a facility that becomes available to other local authorities. So, it's not just the local authority using that for its own waste—it provides a facility to other local authorities in that area.
Okay, thank you. And we have heard about issues with the management of food waste because caddy bags cannot be dealt with in anaerobic digestion facilities. How do you see the balance between managing this issue and the back end of the public participation benefit that may arise from the use of these bags?
This sounds like a technical question, which I'll ask my technical experts to address.
The collections blueprint recommends to local authorities that they provide caddy liners, because it takes out the sort of 'yuck' factor that people sometimes worry about in terms of food waste. So, the issue is dealt with at the back end by the anaerobic—
Yes, a caddy liner—that's what they're called, yes. It's for your 2 to 3 litre little plastic caddy that you have in the kitchen—
Compostable bag, sorry.
I'm sorry, yes, we call it a caddy liner. Apologies. [Laughter.]
The anaerobic digestion facilities cannot manage the compostable plastic liners, so they take them out. When the food waste arrives, they've got a way of removing that plastic before the food waste then goes into the anaerobic digestion plant. But the local authorities recognise that providing these caddy liners does very much help participation, so I can't see that stopping because it benefits them. And the more food waste they collect, the less they have to pay for it to be disposed of in landfill or through energy from waste. So, it's a cost-effective way of doing it.
There was an interesting programme on yesterday saying nobody seems to know whether these so-called compostable bags are actually compostable. Nobody seems to have tested them. Is that correct?
Okay, there is a standard that is required to be met, but that standard of compostability is through an industrial composting plant where the temperature gets to the right level. So, anything that you buy that says 'compostable plastic' won't compost in your home compost bin because the temperature doesn't get high enough. So, they have to be collected separately and sent to an industrial composting plant. It's a complex subject area.
It is, but obviously there's quite a major labelling issue here, isn't there? Because the public think that they're doing the right thing, and other organisations are claiming that they're suddenly moving towards excellent new recyclable bags, and apparently, actually, that's not the case, so—.
And where home composting is not an option, it is the right thing to do, isn't it? It's just that the descriptor, as Ms Rathbone says, is not quite—.
There are some types of bioplastic now that are home-compostable, and there's a particular symbol put on them, but if you buy a certain national newspaper at the weekends, the magazine is encased in a home-compostable plastic bag and I have to—
Don't chuck these compostable bags in your rubbish dump at home and expect—
They won't compost at home.
Okay. So, why are we not using old-fashioned newspaper to line our food caddies, rather than introducing something that then has to be extracted before we can—?
That's a very good question, which I've asked my own local authority, and the problem is the anaerobic digestion plant gets clogged up with the clays and fibres in the paper. The digester gets clogged up at the bottom, with a particular type of digester that they use, so they're not keen on it, which is unfortunate, but that's the way the facility was designed.
Okay, all right. This is a very complicated story, obviously. I want to know what the Welsh Government's position is regarding the exporting of waste and how you're working with councils to respond to the issue, both in the export market abroad but also just generally how we try and get people to handle their waste as close as possible to where it's generated.
I think we've got a good story to tell here, which is by no means to suggest that we've got everything sorted. I think various members of the team may chip in here, but the vast majority of what we end up with in Wales gets sorted out in Wales, I think for pretty well all of the key waste lines. Is that fair?
The majority is managed in Wales, and in terms of plastic, the majority is managed in the UK as a whole, according to the reporting system.
And we're trying, wherever we can—from a circular economy perspective, but also just generally in the context of our economic action plan—to look for opportunities in this area that will drive economic change. The Bryn Pica example is a good one, but there are a number of others around, including in relation to plastics.
Where we don't have lock down on the end of the line for these recyclates in Wales, or we can't sort it out in the UK, we then oblige local authorities to be very transparent, or as transparent, I think, as anywhere in the UK, in terms of where waste ends up. We're the only nation, are we, to mandate the waste data flow—is that right?
And the end-destination reporting part of it, yes.
Okay, yes, because that followed some very unhappy news about bags turning up in Malaysia.
Indeed. And China—when did China stop taking—? The end of 2017, was it? Yes.
But what's interesting, I think, about the China example is that what they did was they just increased the threshold of impurities, in effect, so they said, 'We will take higher quality waste.' I think one of the things that we have tried to reflect is that the better the recyclate is, the less amount of contamination that's in it, the more market, in effect, there is for it. So, I think that's quite an important part of the picture.
I agree that's an important point, but we still don't have—. In many local authorities there's no doorstep separation of glass from plastic and cardboard, and, therefore, that contaminates. So, is this not something the Government feels it needs to make a central directive about?
Certainly, in terms of—. The Government's view is that the collections blueprint, which we published in 2011, is the best way to ensure high-quality recycling. We've not mandated it, as you know, and it all comes back to the point that Andrew and colleagues have made about the way we work in collaboration, particularly with local authorities, in order to make sure that we get the success across Wales that we have done. But, in our view, the blueprint is the way in which you can strive towards higher quality recycling.
Generally speaking, the earlier you separate, the more chance you've got of managing streams and deriving economic benefit from particular types of recycling. That then helps with people who will take it, whether it's in the UK or further afield, and it prevents the contamination that Gian Marco talked about, which can become a problem for whoever ends up sorting it out.
But that transparency point I think is important, and we are doing everything we can to try and manage this at a Wales level, and where we can't, at a UK level, and beyond that we want people to be very, very transparent, with a duty on local authorities about end destinations.
Okay. How good are you at telling people about good practice examples, like Bryn Pica recycling mattresses, which are a thorny problem? Because if we're not doing it in an area, then they become part of the landfill—a significant part of the landfill.
There's a lot of work that goes on talking with partners across Wales about all this, and indeed in sharing good practice across the United Kingdom and further afield. When you get down to the level of the citizen, we are proposing a new behaviour change programme in relation to what happens at the household and the individual level, and examples of what you can separate early and best practice in that sense to change people's behaviour is absolutely, as you would expect, at the forefront of that work.
Okay. In terms of whether we're going to meet the 2024-5 target of no more than 5 per cent of municipal solid waste going to landfill, how much do you think the—? There seems to be a bit of debate amongst some people as to what should be going to landfill, as opposed to being anaerobically digested, and I just wondered what the Government's thinking is on that.
We are statutory obliged, and indeed we think it's a good thing to follow the waste hierarchy. So, landfill is absolutely at the bottom of that. Recapturing energy is the point above that, so that brings in your anaerobic digestion, your AD point, and it would—. And I recognise that it is controversial and politically sensitive bringing incineration in as well in that element, and there are certain things where there are debates about what's best to go where. So, we take the view that ash from the bottom of incinerators can go into the construction sector, forming breeze blocks and so on. But that's not necessarily the view held everywhere, and the statistical basis on which recycling is reported—some include those figures and some don't. Andy, is that right?
But it's going to be banned, isn't it, under the latest EU directive, to have ash as part of the recycling stats?
According to the new targets set by the European Union, yes, incinerator bottom ash wouldn't count towards recycling, but it doesn't ban anyone from actually recycling incinerator bottom ash, it's just that they can't count it towards the future targets. But we've taken the view that it's a good idea to recycle incinerator bottom ash, rubble et cetera, rather than landfill it. So, it's a good way—
Yes, because it avoids extracting minerals and rocks from quarries, so it helps replace that. So, there is an overall environmental benefit through recycling it.
And waste to landfill, Andy, at the moment—we're down to about 10 per cent, are we?
Something of that sort. So, 5 per cent in six years' time—is that what we're talking about?
Yes. Back in 1999, we were landfilling 95 per cent of our municipal waste, and now we're only landfilling around 10 per cent, which is quite a transformation.
Yes, but some local authorities are up at the upper end of that, of their annual allowance—Ceredigion, Swansea and Carmarthenshire. So, are they going to meet those new targets, do you think?
I think—. Obviously, they need to find—. They've got interim solutions for their residual waste treatment at the moment. Some of them, currently, still landfill, but they are all actively working towards moving up the waste hierarchy. As Rhodri said earlier, Swansea's leading the way on determining a solution for south-west Wales for its residual waste, to move away from landfill.
Did you want to come in on that, Rhodri?
It was only just to say that there's one important connection between aspects like incineration and the previous discussion that we were having in relation to the export of waste, because, obviously, as the Deputy Minister said again in her statement in September, as a Government, the position is that we take full responsibility for that waste, but, unfortunately, there is a proportion of waste that can't, at the moment, be recycled. There is a range of actions that we're taking in order to work collaboratively with other UK Governments on that, but that's going to persist for some time, so the important thing there then is to extract as much benefit as possible from that waste, and, obviously, make sure it doesn’t become either a problem in our local environment with respect to things like litter or marine environment, or that it's exported elsewhere. And the infrastructure that we've invested in through the Wales infrastructure investment programme provides the ability to extract both heat and power in relation to then the use of that material when it comes down to incineration.
So, is it the Government's view that asbestos is the only thing where we have to landfill it because we don't have any other—?
There are some things that we are better landfilled, and that's one of them, isn't it?
Yes, asbestos is one of them, particularly. It's a difficult thing. It's hard to—. You can't recycle asbestos. You really want to get it out of the system, so—.
Okay. And, obviously, nuclear waste is one of the others. Okay, thank you.
That's a topic for another day.
Thank you, Chair. We've been looking at the collaborative change programme. I'm interested in your views around why the take-up of the support that's provided by that programme has varied, and also how important you think it actually is to have consistency across Wales, or even within the same local authority, because we've taken evidence that there are some challenges providing the same collections blueprint service to all dwellings, even sometimes within one local authority.
I think it's fair to say that, across Wales, we are about as consistent as any part of the UK, in terms of how we treat—. 'More' says Andy. Okay, so, fine, let me claim fairly rather than under-claiming there. So, that's the first thing to say. I think every local authority is, to some extent, engaged with the CCP, but you're right—various people engage with it in different ways. And, back to the point that one of the team was making earlier, we're not about beating people over the head with a stick on this. We're trying to work in partnership with local authorities, because we recognise that there are different pressures in different areas, and, you're quite right, even within some local authority areas, there are operational difficulties and differences. On the whole, the approach that Gian Marco outlined a few minutes ago is the one that we hold to—that the blueprint gives you a pretty clear separation of waste streams and recyclate, and that has benefits down the track. But there are other ways of achieving the same ends. In preparation for this session, the team were taking me through what we're doing on recycling and different responses in relation to blueprint versus other approaches. Is this stuff published?
It draws from the municipal waste statistical bulletin.
But, if the committee would find it helpful, we could forward that through to you, because I think it is quite interesting in terms of what it shows you—best approaches and how you can achieve certain outcomes by doing different things.
Okay. Thank you. Why do you think the two largest population areas—Cardiff and Swansea—haven't come on board?
I think it's probably mainly to do with concerns about traffic and disruption in the collection process, but colleagues may have had more recent conversations with those urban areas.
On the traffic side of things, we're not aware of evidence that supports the claim that the blueprint collection would increase traffic disruption. And, of course, those two authorities do vary in the way that they collect. Cardiff has a provision where the recycling is, obviously, collected co-mingled, but there is a form of separation within Swansea, so they are varied.
Obviously, what we support with WRAP is not a mandated service that works with those authorities. All we insist on is that the blueprint is one of those options that is modelled. But it looks at a range of other variables as well—it helps to support local authorities to look at efficiencies of routes for collection and all of those elements. So, there is a large number of variables that are modelled for that support, and then, obviously, the local authority is able to evaluate that information.
Thank you. Do you share the WLGA's view that implementation of separate collection requirements for businesses might provide a greater incentive for change in these areas by providing economies of scale between household and commercial waste collection?
I think we would, yes. That's something that, as Rhodri and Gian Marco were talking about earlier, is part of what we're consulting on at the moment.
Okay. Thank you. One final question from me: whether they're following the blueprint or not, what opportunities do you see for councils to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of their waste management services?
Colleagues might want to come in—Andy looks like he's ready to come in. It is fair to say, isn't it, that, in the last detailed research we had done, in bags of residual waste—the black bag—up to half of what was there could be recycled. And, of that half, half of that was—
—food waste and half dry recylables.
So, there are opportunities for further progress. This comes to the question that the committee was asking earlier—I think you were asking about targetry, Ms Howells, in terms of what happens next and what we aim for. But, in terms of what they can do, Andy, specifically—.
We've worked with the WLGA through the waste improvement programme over the last decade or more, looking at individual local authority service costs and the performance that they're achieving. So, each of the heads of service is able to benchmark their performance with other local authorities. We've worked with the Wales Audit Office on that as well, in terms of identifying opportunities for efficiencies or finding out the reason why costs are more in some areas than others.
In many cases, they're justifiable costs in terms of rurality or particular issues within that authority, but, sometimes, it has perhaps identified some inefficiencies that can be improved. So, that gives that opportunity for the local authorities to do that, because, of course, they're all under pressure to save money, so they want to find those efficiency savings.
Sometimes, it's down to vehicle costs—maybe they're running an expensive vehicle fleet. Of course, it's not easy to change that overnight, because the fleets last for five to seven years. So, it might be—particular types of vehicles is one of the classic areas. The collection costs are usually the biggest element, and the staffing side of things as well. So, yes.
Sometimes, they're perhaps not getting as good an income as possible for the recyclate stream, so that's where we've funded WRAP to provide the materials marketing support to help local authorities get a better price for the recyclate that they're putting onto the market. So, there have been some big disparities there historically, but that's got a lot better now. We had examples many years ago of some authorities that were, say, getting £40 or £50 per tonne for a particular recycling stream. Others were paying £20 a tonne for it to be taken away. But, I can say that I'm pretty sure most of that is now being improved through the work that we've done with the WLGA and Wales Audit Office on that.
It's worth saying as well that it will link through to the circular economy aspect, so that's another reason why, through the circular economy fund, we're trying to support businesses to move over to the use of recyclate, because it's important for us to help to stimulate the market creation for more of that recyclate, which then improves that revenue end.
Just going back to the blueprint, are we at 13 out of 22 authorities at the moment using it, and 15 by—
Early 2021. Okay.
Getting the public to understand that the world's resources are finite is quite a challenge. You've, obviously, told us in your paper about the behaviour change programme that you're hoping will get people to understand that there's no such thing as throwing away; it always has to be dealt with by somebody. So, it's a complicated business. How are you expecting local councils to support that campaign and to prioritise resources on that?
Well, I think—but this is a personal view, so colleagues can chip in—having been working in and around this area give or take for about 25 years, that the environment for having conversations with people about their impact on—. Sorry, the social climate for having those discussions is as good as it's ever been. So, the climate emergency, everything that's happened over the recent months, much more emphasis now on impacts on biodiversity, everything that you see in David Attenborough programmes about plastic swirling around the Pacific and so on—the level of awareness is much greater generally. So, as we come to launch a new behaviour change programme, which I think is about the first one we've done in a decade, certainly of this sort of scale, I think it's landing at a pretty good time. Local authorities will be a key part of that, not only in terms of spreading—as contributors to the messaging, but also as channels. They will have ways to communicate with households and citizens that we don't have from central Government, and that, again, will be part of a partnership, and we'll want to work on a pan-Wales basis, but, if behavioural change experts were here, they would say you also need to segment your markets and know who you're going after, particularly where you think you're going to make most progress. And that will be something that we will put into the design of the thing.
I'm sure you do. I'm sure you do. I think men feature quite highly in that, generally, yes.
I'm sure they do, yes. But I—. I mean, the figures are quite stark, aren't they? If half the residual waste—
—is recyclable, half, and then half of that is food, of that half—. So, 25 per cent of residual waste is food that can be recycled and 25 per cent is other hard materials. What's so difficult—? What is it that people don't understand about it, as far as you're aware? Or which local authority is the best at getting across to people that this is what all good citizens need to do?
I think it's fair to say—a bit back to the point about, even within local authority areas, some things vary—. So, we've got examples of good practice from across different local authorities for different elements of this challenge. So, I don't know whether we would single out any one player. They all learn from each other and we learn from them too. You have to make it as easy as possible for people to do all this. I think that's the first thing any behavioural change expert will say: if you want to effect change, you need to make it as easy as possible for that change to come into being. And I think there's also something—. One of the team was saying the other day—the more visible you make it in front of somebody, the easier it is to clock to the fact that you're having an impact on the environment. So, if you've got food waste in front of you, you can see how much you're generating as an individual, as a household. That's pretty compelling. And that's probably why, among other things—back to the food caddy liner things—something that allows you to manage that process in a relatively straightforward way is of value, isn't it, in terms of people seeing what they're producing. I don't know—. Gian Marco.
Maybe it's because I'm relatively new to this job, but I look at it the other way, as an opportunity, the fact that there's 50 per cent in the black bag that we can still recycle and half of that is food, which we've made a lot of progress on already in Wales. I suspect people in Wales are more sensitised to food waste and to the impact than elsewhere. For me, it feels like there's a real opportunity there, actually, that we can still make some significant progress on top of the progress we've made already. But you're absolutely right; I think a lot of it is about individuals recognising and truly accepting, when they throw something away, the ownership for that hasn't stopped there, that, actually, there is a responsibility beyond that. And I think some of it is visibility—an ability to see how much food waste is generated, for instance, in a household during the week, I think will help with all that. So, I think there's a big challenge, but also I think there's an opportunity there.
Okay. NRW highlighted a WRAP report on the poor success rate around on-the-go infrastructure in the street, at events, et cetera, and that people, when they're out, they aren't even doing what they may be doing at home. How much of that is down to poor signage or inadequate street furniture that's not in the right place? And how much does that make up for in terms of the quantities we're having to cope with?
I think the experience is mixed. I suspect that there's a bit of a tendency—. Occasionally, when you're at the station or somewhere like that and you watch people's behaviour in respect of recycle versus waste, you see a lot of stuff going into the wrong bag and box, and recycling opportunities or containers simply being used as bins, basically. So, I think it is a bit mixed. We are doing quite a bit. What we're doing on refills, I think, is important, isn't it?
Yes, I think that's really important in this regard. I think it's 1,700 points now to be able to refill across Wales, and obviously that's key in terms of prevention. And then, of course, in terms of looking ahead at other activity, that's one of the reasons for looking at a deposit-return system.
Okay. So, in terms of getting compliance, at the moment, there are no sticks; it's all about persuading people to do the right thing. I'm sure in Germany, if you do the wrong thing, there are consequences.
Or in Belgium, yes. [Laughter.]
So, at what point do you think the Government needs to consider actually penalising people for consistently undermining what everybody else is doing?
It's a very tricky question and it's intensely political at all levels. Our approach has been to use the carrot and to make it as easy and straightforward as possible. I think local authorities have a number of powers that they can, in certain circumstances, exercise just as we can at the national level, but the emphasis is very much on changing people's behaviour, rather than coming in and hitting people hard with fines, and so on, at the other end. One of the things that crops up from time to time, and will have been in the committee's mind, I'm sure, is a sort of—what is the term? 'Pay as you—'?
Pay-as-you-throw kind of approach, which is effectively what is happening in some other European countries, and Belgium would be—
Yes, it's absolutely so in—. Well, Belgium is an agglomeration of different jurisdictions, but in Brussels, for instance, you have to throw away your rubbish in bags that the council, in effect, provides. You can buy them from supermarkets and you pay a certain amount, and the white bag, which is the equivalent of our black bag, costs that much more than the recycling bag. That's an approach they've used and I think Flanders, which is the northern region of Belgium, has been doing that for a very long time. That's an approach that they've used to drive up their recycling rates. What I think is interesting about Wales is that we've taken some really huge steps and made some huge progress on recycling rates without doing that, which I think is interesting. And the conversation we've just had about the potential that there still is, I think, in terms of the amount of black-bag waste that contains recyclable waste, I think—
Because people who live in flats tend to have to suffer the irresponsible behaviour of their neighbours more than somebody living in a house, because they'll be doing all the right things, but then somebody else is persistently contaminating the green bags and then they're not collected and everybody is having to put up with this mess. So, at what point do you think the Government will actually need to act, because otherwise, people will just get fed up?
Well, it's certainly in the policy mix. Again, I don't want to pre-empt what we're saying in the next waste strategy consultation, but at what point does a slightly more punitive regime kick in and what are the triggers for all that is clearly part of the policy debate. In doing all that, we don't want to end up in a position where we're doing things in a regressive way, and that's one of the things that we as a team have considered quite a bit over—. If you're going to even contemplate something like that, how are you going to do it in such a way that doesn't penalise people who have the least resources and therefore could suffer most? Because you're quite right: where you've got agglomerations of people in a particular place, that kind of behaviour can have a very detrimental impact on other neighbours.
Can you just tell us, what are these tools in a local authority's box to penalise people if there's persistent non-compliance?
Actually, in a recent discussion we had with local authorities as part of the programme board this came up, so there are some local authorities that do issue notices. But, again, the emphasis there is really on the notice as a way of focusing and helping to change behaviour, not really on that progressing through to fines. So, actually, the proportion of people where that progresses all the way through to fines is very, very small. And what they've seen is that on the issue of the first notice where authorities have taken those steps, then the majority of people have started to change and adopt different behaviour with regard to the recycling.
Okay. It might be interesting for us to see those statistics if you've got them available.
It's section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990; local authorities can require their residents to put specified materials in specified containers, and they then have the power to issue a fixed-penalty notice as a last resort. The local authorities who've gone down this road obviously have a protocol of reasonableness, and issue several warning letters, and only as an absolute last resort get to a fine. So I think one particular authority I know of has issued several thousand letters and ended up with only a handful of people who they've had to have a more serious talk with. I think that's just the stage they're at at the moment.
We can certainly provide a further note.
Plus examples of the tools that they've currently got to investigate. Okay, Mohammad Asghar.
Thank you, Chair. I'll ask you anyway regarding some of the councils that haven't achieved the target—63 per cent. Is there anything on the radar of the Welsh Assembly that there should be some levy imposed on those councils, those who don't achieve this 64 per cent of recycling?
It's a good question. I think the same set of principles apply. The overwhelming thrust of our work has been to operate in partnership with others to achieve change without getting punitive about it, to get people to want to do the right thing, to put the right infrastructure in place with the right provisions, the right guidance and advice, creating the right climate for people to drive our performance on recycling and waste prevention further. There's one relatively minor case, ultimately—is it Blaenau Gwent—with a fine there. If we know there's an emerging problem with a local authority and we've got very good networks and these sorts of partnership arrangements, we will work with that authority as soon as we learn there's an issue to try and help them get on track, whether that's provision of advice or in relation to particular streams of funding. We will work with partners to try and head off a problem before it becomes a problem. All of the authorities met the 58 per cent target for last year—is that right? I think that's correct. There's a step change in the year that we're in now, the 2019-20 year up to 64 per cent, and we're working very closely with local authorities on that one. We're confident, I think, that Wales will meet the target overall nationally, but as you were saying earlier, Mr Asghar, where different authorities are in that mix is part of the discussion at the moment.
Thank you very much indeed, but the thing is I'm very much in favour of a levy on the councils rather than the public. The public might have mental health issues, there are senior citizens, and there are a lot of other issues, so they should not be penalised. I definitely would not agree with that. But my question is: what consideration have you given, as a part of your strategy development, to possible alternatives to the weight-based recycling targets that better demonstrate the impact of recycling on wider goals, notably carbon reduction?
As you were starting to speak there I was thinking there's a concern for us about how we get indicators in place in respect of carbon, so I completely agree with that. Whether you can get to a point where your target is about carbon as distinct from tonnage I think is a much more difficult proposition because you would need effectively to be in the bag looking at what was being produced, not only for one recycling or one collection point for a local authority, but all over the local authority area. That’s very difficult to do. Nevertheless, a big part of what we're about here is reducing carbon, so indicators for carbon will be a key thing going forward.
The tonnage thing, the tonnage-based system, is certainly tried and tested and it gives us a means of adding purchase to the whole system. But that doesn't mean to say that in and of itself it solves all of the problems.
Okay. Thank you. And how practical do you think it might be to measure performance differently to and alongside weight-based performance?
Is there anything more to add to what I've said about, as we go into the strategy, what we can do to look at other factors?
Well, there was a report recently published by an organisation called Eunomia that looked at the annual carbon index and looked at the performance of local authorities against municipal waste there, and that was positive with regard to the progress of Wales with, I think, Andy, it was Merthyr Tydfil coming on top of the whole of the UK.
It did, yes.
So there are those reports demonstrating that connection and, of course, the impact on carbon was a key reason for focusing on municipal waste, as Andrew said upfront of the session.
Thank you. And finally, what is the argument for including materials such as rubble and incinerator bottom ash in the headline figures?
Are you happy to pick that one up, Andy, because it ties back to what you were saying earlier on reporting standards?
Yes. We set the targets to allow local authorities to include incinerator bottom ash and rubble really as an incentive to get them to recycle loads of materials. It’s legitimate that they are recycled and can count. The issue comes when you try to look to benchmark yourself against other countries. So, the consultancy Eunomia benchmarked our performance across the world and took out incinerator bottom ash, rubble and other things that people had reported differently, and yet we still came out third in the world in terms of household waste recycling after taking away those elements from it. So, we don't artificially bump the numbers up to make us look good, we're doing it so that those materials can actually genuinely be recycled and credit is given for recycling them.
Some do and some don't. It's quite variable. The definition of 'municipal waste' in itself is dealt with completely differently in every single country. Some member states include all commercial waste, all business waste and public sector waste, others only include what local authorities collect from businesses. And some include rubble that is collected at civic amenity sites and others don't. It's just a quirk of life, really, that we've all come from different places in terms of this.
And that definition of 'waste' is a big part of the new negotiations that recently happened on the update of the waste framework directive, because the European Commission tried to bring some consistency, and it showed exactly what Andy has just said, that—
They were trying to compare apples with apples and apples with pears.
So when we talk about EU regulations, they're not as uniform as we sometimes fondly imagine they are.
It's all down to definitions, as to how tight the definition is. But, in this instance, obviously all of the member states have agreed to tighten it up.
And India, among the Commonwealth countries—. India and China are the biggest polluters of the air and we know all about it, so they should be learning lessons from you, rather than—.
That's a very good point. We do learn lessons from elsewhere around the world. As I was saying earlier, we try to look for comparator countries where there's some degree of commonality and the lessons learned can be applied back. But all of these countries are going on huge change journeys in their own rights. There was a big piece in the paper the other day about Shaanxi province in China, where one of their big landfill sites, 100 football fields, an area 150m deep, servicing the refuse requirements of about 8 million citizens filled up 25 years early. It was meant to work out to 2044 but is now already full. There are huge issues for other countries.
This was in China, in Shaanxi province.
But I think the possibilities—. Going back to Gian Marco's point about taking an optimistic view, just as in Wales there's lots we can go after in terms of next steps, so there is a lot that we can do internationally and in sharing our understanding and our expertise, and people do come to Wales to look at what we've done.
Actually, in the last few months, we've had visitations from Victoria in Australia, Estonia and also a region of Saudi Arabia, looking to us to see how we've moved from 5 per cent to 63 per cent recycling, and what lessons they can learn from us.
We've also done work as part of the Wales for Africa programme as well.
Any other questions for our witnesses? No. Okay. We've finished dead on time as well. Thank you for that. We'll send you a transcript of today's proceedings for you to check before it's finalised, but thanks for being with us, and all your officials as well.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod ac ar gyfer eitemau 1 a 2 o'r cyfarfod ar 25 Tachwedd yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting and for items 1 and 2 of the meeting on 25 November in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I move Standing Order 17.42 to meet in private for items 6 and 7 of today's agenda, and items 1 and 2 of the meeting on 25 November. Moved.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:06.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:06.