Overall, I am very impressed by the amount of information available on StatsWales and My Recycling Wales. Like any data, it has got some limitations, but I feel that's not the council's fault. Some of the companies the council sells its waste to are large international merchants that supply reprocessors in countries including Malaysia, India, China and Vietnam. In 2018, China has banned certain types of plastic waste from entering the country to prevent pollution and Malaysia has recently sent back to the UK waste that was labelled incorrectly, or was too contaminated to recycle. It is difficult to say where some of Gwynedd's waste has ended up or whether it was actually recycled, but I feel that is true for the sector as a whole. Looking forward, Welsh Government has set itself some ambitious goals to reach a more circular economy and has included a plan of action to achieve those. I would recommend people in the UK to check their local council's website on what you can recycle and dispose of their waste (especially batteries and electronics) responsibly.
Gwynedd County Council is responsible for collection and management of waste from households, certain businesses, public bins and any litter collected from public places. This includes regular curbside collections of food waste, recycling (glass, metals, paper, plastics), absorbent hygiene products, garden waste (for an additional charge) and residual waste. Recyclables and food waste is collected every week, but non-recyclable waste is collected once every three weeks to encourage residents to recycle more. Residents can also request a collection of bulky household waste, such as furniture or carpets. Items that are not collected, such as batteries, electronics, textile, rubble, etc., can be taken to a recycling centre. In 2019-2020, an average person in Gwynedd produced 567 kg of household waste, of which 200 kg was not recycled. Once collected, waste is transported to a sorting facility where certain materials are separated out, prepared for recycle or reuse, and sent to recycling facilities.
In 2019-2020, the recycling rate for Gwynedd County Council was at 64.7%, which is above the UK average (45.5%). That year, 27.4% of municipal waste was incinerated with energy recovery, and 7.6% was sent to landfill. Energy recovery is the next-best option to recycling, since it diverts waste from landfill and produces energy in the process. Recycling rate is defined as the weight of material prepared for reuse, recycle or composting divided by the weight of material collected. Since recycling is often done by independent companies, sometimes abroad, it is difficult to trace whether that waste is actually recycled or not. It is interesting to note that energy recovery (burning waste for electricity) does not count towards recycling rate, but recycling ash produced in the process does.
It is reported that the vast majority of recycling stays in the UK (40k tonnes out of 46k tonnes), while some waste is sent abroad. That said, this data only reports the last known destination of waste. So, if the council had sold its waste to a company in the UK, they could then send it abroad without reporting back to the council, burying the final destination. In 2019-2020, 0% of plastic waste in Gwynedd was reported as exported, however some of the companies they sell their plastic waste to, including Newport Paper and Clearpoint Recycling, are international merchant companies that work with reprocessors located in China, Malaysia, India and Vietnam. It is difficult to track where exactly Gwynedd's waste ends up, but according to the BBC, around two thirds of UK's plastic waste is sent abroad. In an article from The Guardian, it was found that much of the plastic waste sent to developing countries is not actually recycled, and instead, is left in landfills or burned in open fires. This is a serious issue because it contributes to air pollution, which is especially hazardous for people working in those conditions.Overall, Gwynedd council recycles a wide range of materials and their statistics seem quite positive, but there is some uncertainty about the accuracy of the data, especially the actual amount of materials that are sent abroad.
I have focused my research on the materials most recycled in the 2019-2020 financial year. Collectively, all the recycling that year has avoided 17k tonnes of CO2 emissions, although I'm not sure if transport emissions (especially if the material was recycled abroad) have been accounted for in this calculation. In addition, due to difficulties in tracking waste, it is difficult to say whether all that's said to be recycled has actually been recycled.
In 2019-2020, Gwynedd County Council has recycled over 11.7k tonnes of organic waste by anaerobic digestion or windrow/in-vessel composting. During anaerobic digestion, organic matter is decontaminated, shredded, pasteurised and then digested under anaerobic conditions to make biogas and fertiliser. The biogas is extracted and transferred to a combined heat and power unit, so the heat it generates in used on-site and the electricity is fed back to the grid. Windrow/ in-vessel composting involves heating organic waste to approximately 60 degrees C to produce compost to be used in parks, gardens, etc. The council has sent 5.8k tonnes of organic waste and 3.1 tonnes of rubble to a company called Parry Harry Morrus, but I was unable to find this company on the Government's website (Company House), which seems rather strange. It is estimated that this has avoided 703 tonnes of CO2 (or equivalent) emissions and has saved the council more that £1M in landfill fees! Diverting food waste from landfill prevents the release of methane into the air. This is important, since methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
During the same year, the council has also recycled 6.6k tonnes of waste paper, which has avoided 3,650 tonnes of CO2 (or equivalent) emissions. Once collected, paper waste is shredded, pulped, filtered, de-inked and finished to make packaging, newsprint paper or tissues. It seems that most of this paper is sent to recycling plants within the UK owned by companies including SAICA Paper, Palm Recycling, UPM Kymmene and Kimberley-Clark, which not only recycle paper, but also make products from it. I feel this proves that this waste paper is actually recycled and used. Gwynedd has also recycled 4.8k tonnes of glass, 2.0k tonnes of metal, 2.0k tonnes of plastic and 24 tonnes of batteries, collectively avoiding 9.8k tonnes of CO2 (or equivalent) emissions. Glass and some metals can be recycled infinitely without losing their quality, which us not the case with plastics. Recycling metals reduces demand for mining more raw materials, saving energy required for excavation and extraction. Batteries can contain precious metals and toxic (such as lead and mercury) substances that could leach in landfills and cause pollution. Hence, recycling batteries into metals or metallic compounds is extremely important for sustainability. The council has used a mixture of UK-based reprocessors and international merchants (those sort the waste but transport it elsewhere for recycling) to deal with those materials, and I found much less information available on their websites (in some cases no website at all).
Most of the remaining waste (27.4% of the total, 19.4k tonnes) is incinerated with energy recovery to produce electricity and some is incinerated without (18 tonnes). In both cases, this produces incinerator bottom ash that can then be recycled. During the recycling process, metals are separated out and the remaining aggregate is used in construction. Overall, this leaves only 7.6% of waste to go to landfill, although this number could be higher, since the companies processing recycling often sort the waste further to separate out the contaminants. There is a very large and comprehensive amount of data available on My Recycling Wales and StatsWales. Like any data, it has got limitations, but I feel this is not the council’s fault. I do have doubts about plastic waste especially, since the UK as a whole does not recycle much of it and approximately two thirds are sent abroad. However, it is difficult to track the waste, especially when it is sold to large international merchants, so it is not possible to say whether Gwynedd’s waste in particular ends up in a landfill abroad or not.
As part of their circular economy strategy - Beyond Recycling, Welsh government has set itself some ambitious goals with respect to waste managment. By 2025, Wales aims to cut waste by 26% and cut avoidable foodwaste by 50%, recycle 70% of their waste and send zero waste to landfill (presumably disposing of the remainder by incineration with energy recovery). By 2050, the aim is to achieve a further reduction in waste production, 100% recycling and net zero carbon emissions. In order to achieve this, the government will prioritise use of sustainable (and recycled) materials in construction and refurbishment of schools and social housing, encourage and support businesses to use secondary materials derived from waste, introduce ultra-low emission vehicles powered by renewable energy for kerbside collections, invest in training and skills necessary for re-use, repair and remanufacturing and will also introduce an Extended Producer Responsiblity scheme for packaging, to hold packaging manufacturers accountable for the full lifecycle of their products. In addition to this, Gwynedd County Council (along with some others) is offering parents a £30 voucher for reusable nappies to reduce waste and help parents save money. North Wales Police has donated 300 pieces of their redundant IT kits to North Wales Recycle IT, a local charitable organisation that repairs PCs and gives them out to elderly people in care homes, nursery groups and school pupils. This helps people in vulnerable situations by improving their access to online resources and promotes circular economy. In order to raise awareness of recycling, Welsh government has launched a Wales Recycles Campaign with useful tips on how and what to recycle. However, since it's mostly online, some people may not have access to it. In conclusion, I feel like the Welsh Government has a great approach to recycling and waste management.