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Council determined to improve low recycling rates – but it could come at a cost

General picture of Caerphilly Council bins (Pic: LDRS)

WASTE management bosses in Caerphilly will have to make tough choices – and spend money – if the council is to avoid millions of pounds in fines for missing recycling targets.

Chris Morgan, the cabinet member for waste at Caerphilly County Borough Council, said “something went wrong” after the pandemic, when the area’s recycling rates dropped below Welsh Government targets, and have continued to languish.

One explanation Cllr Morgan put forward is that the council’s recycling centres – formerly tips – are still dealing with mountains of extra waste generated when many residents had lockdown clearouts.

He is confident a new recycling blueprint will set the standards for an upswell in performance that will satisfy government policy-makers and set Caerphilly on the road to a greener future.

Cllr Chris Morgan (Pic: Caerphilly County Borough Council)

But another councillor fears central decisions on how to recycle in Wales will end up costing Caerphilly more money.

The council ranked the worst out of Wales’ 22 local authorities when national recycling performance rates for 2023/24 were published at the end of May.

A rate of 60.1% was well below the Welsh Government target of 70%, leaving Caerphilly Council facing the possibility of huge fines.

The council already has a penalty of around £2 million hanging over its head from the two previous financial years – and will have to demonstrate to Cardiff Bay that it is taking steps to improve its recycling rates.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Morgan said a series of “quick wins” he announced last summer have already started to show positive results.

These steps include hiring a new education team to engage with people who aren’t recycling properly, and starting a free food caddy liner pilot scheme to encourage more people to separate their compostable waste.

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Requests for food waste containers have increased by around 1,500 in the past three months, said Cllr Morgan.

Each of these “quick wins” is expected to result in a 1%-1.5% improvement in Caerphilly Council’s recycling rates from next year, as will a reduction in incidents of contamination, which are usually caused when people mix food with recyclables, or don’t wash containers.

A recent public consultation on the council’s draft Waste Strategy was the largest survey of residents ever carried out in the county borough, and councillors will vote on the blueprint’s final contents in July.

The strategy contains more “quick wins” but will also lay out longer-term changes that Cllr Morgan hopes will drive improvements.

This could include a reduction in bin collections across the county borough, although no decision has yet been made.

Either way, Cllr Morgan said the council will have to expand its recycling operations, meaning investments in more staff, as well as more vehicles which could cost £350,000 each.

There are some concerns this will pile pressure on a council already facing more than £50m in savings in the next two years.

Nigel Dix, an independent councillor from Blackwood, warned efforts to upscale recycling will be “a huge burden on council resources” and claimed strategies such as using separate containers for each recyclable material will cost the taxpayer.

“The regime will not only double the cost of collecting recycling, it will also result in all households having to find space for separate containers – anyone who has visited Newport or Cardiff will see the streets littered with recycling containers,” Cllr Dix said, adding that the Welsh Government “should let councils decide how they collect recycling”.

A “draconian approach” could “simply increase the cost of collecting recycling,” he added.

Cllr Nigel Dix (Pic: CCBC)

The Welsh Government recently announced it is the second-best recycling nation in the world.

At the time, First Minister Vaughan Gething said the ranking “shows what we can achieve when people across Wales work together to deliver against ambitious targets, backed up by investment in our infrastructure”.

Huw Irranca-Davies, Wales’ cabinet secretary for climate change, said the government’s approach “helps us tackle the climate and nature emergencies by reducing our carbon emissions and avoiding the need to extract raw materials with the damage they can bring”.