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Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus

Public Accounts Committee

14/10/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jenny Rathbone AM
Mohammad Asghar AM
Nick Ramsay AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Rhianon Passmore AM
Vikki Howells AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Adrian Crompton Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru
Auditor General for Wales
Bettina Gilbert Rheolwr Ardal Rhaglenni, Datblygu Marchnadoedd, WRAP Cymru
Programme Area Manager, Market Development, WRAP Cymru
Craig Mitchell Pennaeth Cymorth Gwastraff, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Head of Waste Support, Welsh Local Government Association
Dr Tim Peppin Cyfarwyddwr Adfywio a Datblygu Cynaliadwy, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Director of Regeneration and Sustainable Development, Welsh Local Government Association
Emma Hallett Rheolwr Tîm, Rhaglen Newid Cydweithredol, WRAP Cymru
Team Manager, Collaborative Change Programme, WRAP Cymru
Matthew Mortlock Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Wales Audit Office

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Claire Griffiths Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Fay Bowen Clerc
Clerk
Meriel Singleton Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

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 y cyfarfod am 13:01.

The meeting began at 13:01.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Welcome, Members and our witnesses, to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. The usual housekeeping applies. Headsets are available for translation or for sound amplification if you should need it. Please switch off any phones. In an emergency, follow the ushers. We've received two apologies today, from Adam Price and Gareth Bennett, and there are no substitutions. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make? No. Okay.

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Papers to note

Item 2 and a couple of papers to note. First of all, the Permanent Secretary has responded to my letter of 25 August following the committee's stakeholder event held in July, when we discussed and shared good practice on counter-fraud in the public sector. I think the letter's very positive and both recommendations have been accepted by the Welsh Government. We're due to get a further update by the end of this financial year. Happy to note that letter? Good.

And, secondly, I wrote to Andrew Slade seeking further clarification based on information contained in a letter that we considered on 15 July and evidence we received in May relating to the Welsh Government's youth discounted mytravelpass scheme. The latest response clarifies some issues, together with some further information promised about the estimated journey dates for 2018-19. However, the response does suggest that the number of 19 to 21-year-olds holding passes went backwards not forwards between May and August 2019, with only 551 live passes in circulation for that age bracket at the start of August, compared to 834 for the previous mid May. So, I propose to write back to Andrew Slade raising concerns about progress that's been made in increasing the uptake among the 19 to 21-year-old bracket, and I'll copy that letter to the Chair of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee so that issues around the marketing and budgeting scheme can be picked up then. Are you happy for me to take that course of action? Yes. Good. 

3. Rheoli gwastraff: Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda Chymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
3. Waste management: Evidence session with Welsh Local Government Association

Okay, item 3, and our first evidence session on waste management strategy. I welcome our witnesses from the Welsh Local Government Association. Thanks for being with us today. Would you like to give your name and position for the Record of Proceedings?

Yes, good afternoon. Tim Peppin—I'm the director of regeneration and sustainable development at WLGA. 

Good afternoon, my name is Craig Mitchell. I'm the head of waste support at the Welsh Local Government Association.

Great. Thanks for being here. We've got a number of questions for you. If I kick off with the first couple, and what's your take—with regard to issues at the bottom of the waste hierarchy, what's your take on the overall impact, likely value for money and general governance and management of the waste infrastructure procurement programme?

Our overall assessment?

I think we can look back with some sort of pride, really, on the progress that's been made together. It's been a good collaborative venture between Welsh Government, WLGA, local authorities, other bodies like the Waste and Resources Action Programme, that have worked very closely together to try and take the programme forward. I think there were real benefits in having a structured programme and having expert advice through Local Partnerships as part of that programme that brought a degree of rigour and professionalism to the way that the programme was taken forward. And I think it was a good example, if you like, before its time, of the Well-being and Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015: it was taking a long-term view and trying to make sure that we could move forward in a way that was going to take us to a more sustainable way of operating in the longer term. So, in general terms, we've been very positive about the programme. We think that—. We can look at the achievements that have been made, but that's not to say that—you know, there are still a number of areas where we need to improve and progress over time.

13:05

And, perhaps, if I could add, clearly, from our point of view, the fact that the—. The collaboration that was encouraged through this process was very positive, and I think the report is very useful, because local authorities are seeking to continue to collaborate around waste and waste treatment facilities, and therefore the lessons learnt from this process are incredibly valuable to feed into future activity that we'll be undertaking.

And the development of this area was dependent or is dependent on a long-term financial commitment from the Welsh Government. It's one thing having the future generations legislation, but you need the finance backing it as well. How sustainable do you think that investment is from the Welsh Government? And how important is that aspect of the funding?

The funding support was absolutely vital, and that was what exercised a lot of time at the beginning of the process, but there had to be a long-term commitment to the solution that we were coming forward with, and it was dependent on the local authorities having some support over a 25-year period towards the gate fee. I think the way that that was negotiated—. It was quite a complex process—it took a lot of time and effort, a lot of investment of time from Welsh Government officials with Ministers to work that through, with a number of different Ministers involved. But I think what it has done is it's given us a solid platform to take this forward, and it's something that perhaps local authorities haven't done on that scale in many other areas. So, it was quite groundbreaking. 

I think the key thing was certainly that it helped spread the risk in terms of the project and demonstrated the commitment from Welsh Government to take the approach forward. So, I think that was very important for local authorities—to see that commitment on the table and to be prepared to enter into very long-term agreements in relation to this area.

You mentioned the—. Tim, you mentioned the gate fee, and uncertainties around the structuring. There are other uncertainties, such as future waste volumes. So, what's your overall assessment of the balance of risk that surrounds all of this, looking to the future?  

Inevitably, when you go for a long-term project like this, you can't predict the future with certainty. There will always be risks associated with it. I think there was—. A lot of work went on by the local authorities involved in the different projects to work together to look at the risks, and the inter-authority agreements that were drawn up gave a degree of stability in terms of the relationships that were needed. And, as far as you could—you know, there was a joint working group that met on a regular basis that had an ongoing risk assessment, and those risks were looked at in detail, with a mitigation plan to try and minimise the risks that could arise, and, touch wood, I think, so far, that has proved worth the time that was put into it. 

And with the 10 projects that are going—under way—at the moment, are they operating in line with your expectations and forecasts? Or do you think there'll be a need, as time moves on, to upgrade those forecasts? 

Well, the anaerobic digestion plants dealing with the food waste have been successfully operationalised and they're up and running. They are now in train for the next 15 years. We will have to look at the volumes and make sure that we're getting sufficient food waste out from the residual stream to keep up with the guaranteed minimum tonnages, but they do seem to have developed very well. There's a good track record of anaerobic digestion. I think, with the residual projects, obviously there's one up and running now in the south-east, and one in the north that we're anticipating coming on stream shortly. There will always be risks associated with a long-term project of that nature. Anaerobic digestion is 15 years; the energy from waste 25 years. It's very difficult to know over that length of time, in terms of volumes and in terms of all the different demographic changes and societal changes that could impact it. But, again, I think, as far as is possible, the contractual arrangements that have been put in place do allow any changes in circumstances to be discussed. 

Did you want to add? No—happy. Okay, Rhianon Passmore.  

Thank you. Bearing in mind the total cost of the infrastructure programme, I think—is it £1.4 billion? And it’s coming in under that—where you see this at the moment. Has there been any European money that’s gone into that, or is it purely—?

13:10

As far as I'm aware, there was no European money.

No, as we understand it.

Okay. So, obviously, in terms of the programme itself having been deemed to be positive and well managed, and recycling is on the up—that’s obviously a very positive overview and oversight of that. In terms of the future, what impact do you feel that the issues around the export market for recyclables will have on the amount of waste that is being sent to landfill, and how confident are you that all our councils will meet those landfill targets, bearing in mind that we are now in a climate emergency, and what may have been satisfactory four years ago may not and will not be satisfactory in the future?

Perhaps if I can pick up the landfill question first, from the information we have from authorities, they are very confident that they will remain within the landfill allowance targets, and, as the report makes clear, the majority of them are well below their targets and seeking to reduce them to as little as possible. With the energy from waste plant coming onstream at Parc Adfer in north Wales, that will, essentially, be another part of the jigsaw in enabling us to deal with that.

In terms of the export, I think there are probably a couple of issues there. One is that we’ve all seen in the last 18 months or so a tightening of the Chinese market for recyclables, for example, and that was the destination for some of the recycling in Wales. So, that has caused certain issues in terms of the capacity and where the recycling goes, and the value of that recycling. And local authorities are working very closely with WRAP to try and resolve some of those issues. The other aspect of that is—the reason we’re discussing the next round of potential infrastructure projects is because we agree with Welsh Government that we should be dealing with more of our recyclable material in Wales, and we’re currently looking at an adult hygiene product/nappy, potentially, facility in Wales, and we’re also looking at the issue of wood waste, because that presents particular problems in terms of recycling those materials. But that’s—

So, in that regard—and that’s interesting to know—does that mean that we're looking at more incineration in Wales? Because, obviously, in terms of what China does with what we send to it, it’s not renowned at all for what it does, in terms of pollution. So, how does that come into that mixture? 

In terms of the recyclables, it’s very much about finding a reprocessing process and finding end markets for the material that comes out of that, which is sometimes the difficulty with some of these processes. Obviously, in west Wales, there were a couple of authorities that were exporting residual waste as fuel for energy from waste plants in Europe, and that no longer happens for a number of reasons, which I think the report draws out, but not least because of significant changes in the exchange rate meaning that it no longer meant value for money, but also, quite probably, uncertainty about the future trading relationships that may be in place.

If I could just add, I think this whole concept of the circular economy is an issue here where we've—we’re in agreement with Welsh Government on the need to develop that circular economy. As Craig said, we need to look at more reprocessing capacity within Wales, and there are discussions under way about taking that forward. But, ideally, what we want is for the materials to be collected locally, reprocessed in the area, and then the reprocessed material made available for local companies to then use, so you start to create jobs on the back of this and you then get this circular approach, as opposed to that traditional linear 'buy, use and then dispose of'.

Okay. Thank you. In regard to—. Let’s move to Wrexham—you’ve mentioned north Wales. What is your view of the value for money of their council’s private finance initiative waste management contract? I believe that it’s got quite high costs attached to some of their schemes.

Wrexham went into a PFI deal early on, so they were ahead of the game in many ways at the time, and they took a decision to deal with all of their waste through a private finance initiative. Had they been a few years later, then they would almost definitely have been part of the north Wales consortium and done it collectively. I think, sometimes, you're penalised for going early, aren't you? They took that early step and, as a result, perhaps they got locked in. Certainly, the benchmarking we do shows that their costs do come in higher than other authorities.

13:15

Typically, as, again, some of the data in the report—. But we also produce annual benchmarking reports and finance reports, and particularly Wrexham tend to be at the higher end of the scale of the expenditure rounds.

Very often, it does depend on how you slice the cake, and that's one of the points I was going to make. Obviously, how you apportion costs between different elements of service makes a difference to where you sit, and whether the PFI contract is arranged in such a way that they present certain costs into our benchmarking that gives them savings elsewhere in the system, our benchmarking doesn't give us that level of nuance, if you like. But, on the whole, the perception is that, clearly, they're at the top end of many of the costs tables that we produce.

So, presuming, because they are tied in and I believe that it would be very difficult to undo that on many different levels, everybody else goes in a different direction of travel, does that mean that they are stuck in that position at the top of that financial tree? For how long?

I'm not sure what the number of years left on their PFI contracts is. Sometimes, there are opportunities to renegotiate the PFI deals as well. But they would be locked in for whatever their contracts are. 

Okay, thank you. So, in terms of progress with talks and collaboration with the private sector in managing residual waste facilities across south west Wales, where have those got to in terms of Pembrokeshire and the like?

South-west Wales? Yes. Well, there was a consortium in the south west that was trying to develop food waste provision and that fell through at the last minute, which had an impact on the working in the south west. However, six of the authorities there are now actively working together to try and look at a residual option and that could involve—if the tonnages are adequate—looking at trying to procure a new facility. Alternatively, it could involve looking at one of the existing facilities to see if there's a contractual arrangement that can be struck there.

So, with regard to the health and status of where we were and where we need to be, how confident are you that we will be in a stronger position moving forward in terms of meeting those landfill and residual waste targets?

I think we can be pretty confident on the landfill front. Once Parc Adfer is up and running, then the north Wales authorities' tonnages will go in there rather than landfill. So, we'll see a further drop. I mean, we're already well below the landfill percentages that we need to hit. So, I think, on the landfill front, it's fine.

On the residual, with those facilities in place, I think the question mark, which the report highlights, really, is: are the tonnages required by those facilities consistent with the long-term goal of moving towards zero waste? And that is where some of the contractual issues will come into play, because if the tonnages start to change, then I think it's a question of looking at filling those gaps with alternative materials.

Yes. I mean, I think that's part of the scoping process for the south-west, because now that we've got a more mature energy-from-waste market in Wales, can their needs be met by using the facilities that are up and running, once you take into account, obviously, the transportation costs from south-west Wales? Or do they have enough tonnages to develop a facility for themselves at a cost-effective price? And I think our understanding is that that's where the discussions currently are, and I think there's certainly a degree of urgency in resolving those discussions so that south-west Wales can deal with their residual waste problem.

I suppose what I'm trying to understand, really, is with regard to where we are—we're in a good position. Bearing in mind where we need to be, too, in terms of our announcement around a climate emergency, have we got everything we need infrastructurally to be able to deliver at a much faster pace?

I would imagine, with the capacity that's online and coming online, we should be in a pretty strong position. If there is a need to develop a new facility, then we've seen these things can take a number of years, but you can have interim arrangements to deal with the waste while those new facilities are being developed. My hunch would be that the existing capacity would be enough to deal with the demand from the south-west.

13:20

Thank you, Chair. Looking at the collaborative change programme, why do you think the take-up of the support that's offered there has been so varied across different local authorities?

Obviously, as WLGA we're part of the collaborative change programme steering group, and I think the programme has developed significantly over time, and evolved over time. I think at the outset of the programme, there was a business plan toolkit that was developed, and that's what WRAP used with Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil in terms of reviewing their services. But what that found was that that was quite an intensive process to get through that, and whilst it was very robust and had rigour, it also required a lot of resources from the authorities in question. So, I think the programme has evolved to really continue to provide that support around overall service reviews, but does it perhaps in a more light-touch way, but also to identify potential opportunities in conjunction with the individual authorities about the areas that they feel that they need to prioritise. That's where some of our benchmarking data is useful, because it identifies the sort of outliers in terms of performance in certain areas. So, you may have an authority that recognises that they have a problem with their household waste and recycling centres. Well, that could potentially be a piece of work that is not quite stand-alone, because it's clearly part of a wider service, but could be prioritised. I think that is the way that the support has tended to develop, depending upon what the priorities are for individual authorities.

I think where the discussion has been is really about the overall service review, and I think a number of authorities have felt that, for whatever particular reason that they have, now is not the time, necessarily, to go into that process, partly because of the resources required for it, but also depending where they are in terms of contracts, where they are in terms of their vehicle life span and so on and so forth. So, there will always be a process of different authorities being in different places and requiring different help, and I think the programme has become a bit more nuanced in providing that help over the life of the programme.

Some councils have criticised the programme in saying that it focuses too heavily on just rolling out the Welsh Government's collection blueprint. What would you say to that?

I think the programme has certainly been seen as a way of getting support to move towards the blueprint, and some authorities that weren't minded to move towards the blueprint have perhaps felt that they've been disadvantaged as a result of that. I think Welsh Government is taking the view that they've got limited resource. We did have a period where there was a very unproductive debate going on about the merits of different collection systems, and Welsh Government took the view that they would work with those who were interested in moving towards the blueprint and use their resource to support that. Obviously, some authorities feel that their system, which may be partly blueprint—. And that's an important point—most authorities are doing parts of the blueprint. It really comes down to the collection method, which is often the element of the blueprint where there's a bit of disagreement, and that's generally whether it's co-mingled twin-stream or kerbside sort. So, moving towards a kerbside-sort system is very resource intensive: you need the vehicles, you need the receptacles to collect the materials separately, you need the training, you need the communications. So, if you're going to move across you do need some intensive support, and Welsh Government took the view that they could use the collaborative change programme to facilitate that change.

Following on from that, I wondered just how important you think consistency is across Wales. We're a small nation of 3 million people. I remember reading an article about two years ago that went through all the different local authorities and how they actually carry out their recycling, and I thought I knew quite a lot about recycling, but I was amazed at the differences from one local authority to another. As you say, some of that is based around the process of collecting recycling. But when you look at the fact that there are some local authorities in a small area that are right next to each other, where some do nappy recycling and others just send it all to landfill, there are lots of questions arising from that. So, how important do you think consistency is?

13:25

There's a deceptively simple view that if everyone did the same thing everywhere, then it would be a lot easier. I think what we've seen, over the years, is that there are differences between places and there are differences in the make-up of communities. The local authorities understand their place and their communities and they try and tailor their services to meet the local need. And that means that if you're in a rural area, a lot of people will home compost. You don't want to send a green-waste vehicle down long lanes where there may be only one or two properties to collect green waste. If you're in an area where there's a high student population, then you need to make allowances and collect in different ways because of the nature of the population you've got. So, authorities will develop their systems to meet the local circumstances. Having said that, I think we can overplay the differences, because if you look across Wales, all authorities provide food waste collections separately; all authorities collect dry recyclables like paper, glass, metals and so on; and all authorities then collect a residual amount. So, the basic collection method is the same across Wales, it's just there are slight differences at the local level.

Just before you go on—Jenny Rathbone, did you have a supplementary?

I just wanted to pick up on the point you were making about how we need different systems for student populations. Why?

Often you'll find that it's quite difficult to get a recycling system to work when you've got a high student population.

Because they're transient, in the sense that they're there for a short—

They're supposed to be educated people. They're capable of reading what it says on how you recycle.

Sure, but they are there for a short period and then the term ends and a lot of them will go away. And you get different periods in the year where they're either moving in or moving out, and it does affect the demand on the service.

I don't understand why we can't expect educated people to put different aspects of recycling into different containers—

Absolutely, yes—

—and particularly students who are better educated. They absolutely have no difficulty reading the instructions or looking it up on their phone. So, I'm astonished that you argue this, or rather that local authorities argue this.

Yes, I mean, really, this comes from some of the work that we used to do with Waste Awareness Wales. We worked with individual authorities who have high student populations, and it was really the fact that they identified to us that they had an issue in these areas where the recycling rates were lower, with potential for materials being put out at the wrong time on the wrong day, for example. So, I think the issue is more about, very often—

Surely, they just have to apply the carrot and the stick—if you don't do this, we're going to fine you.

I think that's where a number of authorities are now moving towards. For students who clearly are moving from a different area that may have a different system, where that issue of consistency, perhaps, is an issue—. Food waste collection, for example, is very much lower in England than in Wales, for example. And very often, individuals are in halls of residence in their first year, and one of the issues that we have is trying to work with the universities so that they install the kinds of recycling systems in the halls that mirror life in the community outside so that individuals get used to how the system works.

But the issue for authorities, I think, more than anything, is the amount of intensive resource that they have to apply in these areas because of the nature of students moving in and out. So, at the beginning of term, there has to be a lot of engagement in those areas, and I think over the longer term, that is obviously quite expensive to keep doing on an annual basis. So, I think authorities are trying to work with universities so that they get a more systematic way of engaging with the students to encourage them. And you're right, we're working with Ceredigion at the moment, who are looking at the possibility of developing the app-type technology that may actually engage with this group in a better way. And, again, another part of the issue is that in terms of engagement, communication and behaviour change, different parts of communities like to be engaged in different ways. We undertook a segmentation exercise, which we worked with authorities on, around people's different motivations and drivers in relation to waste. For some, it's around environmental issues; for others, it's around the fact that this could support local jobs, and so on and so forth. So, part of it is trying to understand what would motivate those students to engage and then finding a way to deliver that message in a way that works for them, and that's part of the problem that we've had. Cardiff Council, for example, set up a text-messaging service a few years ago, which proved to be very successful, but unfortunately proved so successful that it had over 10,000 people signed up to it and those students moved away, but they remain on the text-messaging service, and Cardiff found, for example, they pay per text, so unless people disengage from the text process—which is why we've moved towards this idea of—

13:30

Well, perhaps they just only have them on the system for three years unless they renew. That might be one little measure they could use.

It would be good. But I think the idea of an app is that once people positively engage with it, then you're able to push out information to them that's pertinent to them, even down to a postcode level in terms of, 'Remember to put out your recycling tomorrow' kind of thing. But, again, that requires development and requires investment on that side of things. 

Okay. It seems to me that this is one of the groups that would find it easiest to comply. They don't have disability problems, they don't have the literacy problems that some of our other communities face, so I find it difficult to understand how local authorities are arguing this case.

We've exhausted this line of recycling. Anyway, the point has been made by Jenny, I think, and it may be something that you can look at again in the whole course of things. Back to you, Vikki Howells.

Thank you, Chair. Looking at the take-up of the Welsh Government's blueprint, it's notable that our two most densely populated areas—that's Cardiff and Swansea—haven't taken it up. Why is that?

I would imagine that there are a number of reasons. One of them is, with kerbside sort, you do have vehicles with sorting taking place at the kerbside, which can take a little longer than when they just chuck a bag in the back of the vehicle and it moves on. In densely populated capital cities, Swansea and so on, that can cause problems with traffic congestion. So, that would certainly be one consideration, as well as the health and safety implications of people lifting potentially heavy crates of glass and so on in an area where you've got high volumes of traffic. So, there may be health and safety considerations and there may be traffic management considerations that are at play, and there will also be issues around feedback that councils have had from their local residents over what systems they like. And, quite often, the feedback councils get when they ask is that people prefer a simple system where everything goes in one bag, rather than having to sort. That may not be the best system for getting the cleanest stream of recyclate, but often, if residents are asked, they would tend to prefer a simpler system.

Okay, thank you. And, what lessons were learnt from the experience of rolling the blueprint out in Blaenau Gwent?

Sorry, could I just quickly add to what Tim mentioned very briefly? Obviously, Cardiff and Swansea also have a significant trade waste service and they very often double-use the vehicles in terms of municipal and also the trade waste collection. I think when Part 4 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 is brought in, which requires businesses to present their waste separated, I think that will increase the business case, both for Swansea and Cardiff, to consider the transition to the new model.

I think in terms of Blaenau Gwent, it's quite interesting to compare and contrast that with Merthyr Tydfil, which made a similar change at the same time and had more positive outcomes. I think the issue that cannot be stressed enough is really the issue of engagement and communication and ensuring that the public understand why this change is necessary and what the benefits are to Blaenau Gwent and their communities on the back of this, because clearly you're asking people to do extra things. Very often, you get feedback from residents along the lines of, 'Well, what do I pay my council tax for? This is the only thing that I get.' So, I think starting that communication early and being very clear and robust in what you're doing and saying—.

I think the other issue learned from Blaenau Gwent is very much around the timing of changes and the phasing of changes, and I think that's been learnt in other local authority areas where, for example, the Vale of Glamorgan are going through a similar change now. They're doing it in a phased way in terms of geography, so focusing on particular areas first, getting it right in that area, and then moving on. Clearly, that presents communication issues for the council, in making sure that that's well managed, but also in terms of a step change in the method of recycling. So, in their case, they moved from where you're allowed to put all your recyclables in plastic bags to reusable bags, and then they're now moving to having separate containers for different materials. So, it allowed a phased roll-out of the process and in terms of the logistics, the management and the capacity to be able to implement that change, I think that's a more sensible approach in terms of the kind of project management of the process.

13:35

Thank you, and I'd like to finish with some questions around value for money, as well. So, do you share the Welsh Government's belief that, if applied optimally, their collections blueprint offers the most cost-effective overall means of collecting waste from households?

I think the work we've done suggests that you can have very good co-mingled systems and you can have poor kerbside sort and vice versa. So, the value-for-money aspect depends on how the system is applied locally. So, you can make sure that any system provides value for money if it's run effectively. I think the Welsh Government's view is that the blueprint, in the round, provides the best system, because if you collect separately, there's more chance that the materials being collected won't be contaminated and, therefore, they're going to be easier to recycle. The counter to that is that some of the co-mingled collections actually collect more, and then, once you take out the contamination, they may still offer sensible value for money for their systems.

Sorry, just to add. Obviously, through the benchmarking work, we collect data about all 22 authorities, some of which have transitioned to new systems during the life of the benchmarking project. Again, as the report makes clear, if you tended to be a high-cost authority before you changed system, you might still remain a high-cost authority. So, again, research from WRAP, who I understand are giving evidence later, has shown that there's probably a greater degree of correlation between the kind of social demographics at play in the area, the level of rurality, and the other physical challenges in the area than the type of collection system being the main determinant of cost, notwithstanding the points that Tim has made, potentially, about the quality involved.

The other issue to mention is, obviously, there are transition costs involved in the process, and authorities have to make that cost-benefit analysis of whether the additional recycling that they model receiving is actually worth that level of investment. As we get higher and higher levels of recycling performance, again, as the WAO highlight, there is a marginal cost to every additional level of recycling, and is that the best area to invest that money in, or, with limited resources, is it better to invest in other areas of policy? I think that's a question that the WAO raise in their report.

If I could just come in, the transition costs that Craig mentioned are critical, because if you just compare the cost before and then the cost after, you don't look at the whole picture, as you haven't also taken account of how much it cost you to get to the new system, because, clearly, there will be a range of infrastructure in place with the old system that you're effectively jettisoning when you move to the new system, and you've got to then invest in a whole load of new infrastructure. Now, yes, those costs may be covered by grant assistance, but if you want to make a proper assessment of value for money, you've clearly got to take those transition costs into account as well.

Thank you. And my final question is whether areas are following the blueprint fully or partly or not at all. What opportunities do you actually see for councils in Wales to be more efficient? And also, how confident can we be in the accuracy and the comparability of their financial data?

13:40

Yes, if I can pick that up. Through the waste improvement programme, we obviously publish the finance data annually, and again, as the report makes clear, there's quite a variation in some of those costs. Clearly, the benchmarking is really a starting point for authorities to review their costs. We've developed a benchmarking portal that has all of the raw data on there, available to every authority. So, they can go in and compare their costs against neighbouring authorities, or comparable authorities.

What we've also done is, historically, we grouped authorities—whether they were Valleys, urban or rural, which is a very rough-and-ready typology given some of the diversity across Wales. So, what we've started doing in the last two years is a couple of things. One is that we're now benchmarking all 22 authorities when, at the beginning of the programme, it was always a sample of authorities. We're now benchmarking the three main cost centres for waste management—so, that's residual waste, it's food waste and it's recycling—so that we start to develop a timeline of data and so that we can make comparisons as figures change. But we're also presenting that data to authorities in a slightly different way, in a different analysis. So, we take into account rurality by the miles of highway the authority has, so we have some idea of the kind of distances vehicles are having to travel, where you may have a vehicle that has 20 minutes between pick-ups whereas in Cardiff it would be less than 20 seconds, so that would clearly make a difference. We're also presenting the data as cost per recycling point, so an authority may appear to be higher cost, but clearly, if their performance is better, the cost per recycling point would be better. So it's trying to find different ways to compare authorities on a like-for-like basis.

We're also starting to group authorities in terms of the Wales index of deprivation. So, we're trying to include demographics in terms of the analysis. We group them not only by whether they're a Valleys authority, but also by the level of deprivation. That's useful to determine levels of performance, but also for those authorities to be able to compare themselves to similar authorities. We've had a group of eight authorities working this year, looking at and reviewing the data, both in terms of: are we collecting the right thing in the right way? Is this actually useful to you in terms of your operational changes that you wish to make? But also in terms of how we present the data and make it available for their use—are we doing that in a way that supports their improvement? I think that's fundamental to the future of the programme.

Rhianon.

Just briefly, I'm interested in terms of what you said about groupings, and clustering data and councils in terms of the Welsh index of multiple deprivation data. Can you just explain to me why you think that's relevant? Because surely, irrespective of your income bracket, if you've got a recycling regime it should be the regime.

Again, this is really drawing on the WRAP research, which seemed to suggest, from a macro analysis of England and Wales, that there was potentially some relationship between levels of deprivation and recycling performance. Now, potentially that could be because of a whole range of factors. It could be that if you do not have space in your accommodation, for example, for the range of different recycling receptacles that you need to use, that may present you with problems. It certainly doesn't prevent people from recycling, but it's just an additional barrier that people have to deal with.

Equally, if people live in flats, for example, again that works both ways in terms of demographics, but central collection points typically aren't particularly well-performing in terms of recycling. There's that lack of engagement with what you're putting outside your kerbside and being able to put things in a general wheelie bin. So, that's a factor potentially. It really stems from that research, and it's trying to explore whether that is a determinant that people need to be aware of and how they deal with it. The other aspect is also whether—and unfortunately, I don't think the compositional analysis that was undertaken two and a half years ago necessarily gave us the answer—different demographics tend to present different materials and, in that way, is there a difference in how they use their recycling service. So, I think it's really there as an area that potentially we need to explore more, not least because we may need to use different messaging and different ways of engaging with people in those areas.

13:45

Thank you, Chair, and thank you; I listen to you and more questions come into my mind. The thing is—. My personal experience, then, before I ask the questions: in the last six years, Newport City Council has changed three sizes of black bins, from four ordinary black bins' capacity, then three, now we've got the two. And they changed it overnight, without consulting or without anything. The black bin was taken weekly, now it's two-weekly. So, what happened to those old bins and why is the public not being engaged through consultation when they change the bins? And how much did it cost to buy the new ones? Don't you think it's a total waste of public money?

It's very difficult, because, probably, through the programme we're not directly involved in the changes that have happened in Newport to comment specifically on those, but, in more general terms, clearly, residual restriction is increasingly seen as a way of incentivising households to recycle more, because clearly if you don't have the capacity in your wheelie bin, then you have to perhaps deal with the waste that you have in your household in a different way. So, I think that's why a number of authorities have moved down that track. Clearly, there is a cost associated with it and, unfortunately, I don't have the costs to hand. Probably Newport would be able to respond to that. But I know that they do attempt to ensure that the wheelie bins are collected and either reused, with the larger ones for households who—you know, a number of authorities have an allowance for larger households, which allows you to have a bigger bin or bigger residual restrictions, so they do use them for that. And, where they can't, then I'm sure they would endeavour to try to ensure that they were recycled. But I do know, going back to the earlier point, that that communication is absolutely critical to explain the change, to explain why it's happening, and obviously, from your experience, that was very unsupportive in that case, but I know, from working, from a number of authorities across Wales, they do put a lot of effort into that side of things for that very reason, so that people understand why the change has happened. 

And these—the other councils in Wales, they actually ask people when they change the bins, you mean.

Well, some of them have. Torfaen, to use it as an example, undertook a wide-ranging consultation exercise, and one of the questions that they asked households was their preference of having reduced frequency of collection—and we've seen Conwy, as an example, going four-weekly for residual—or would they be happy with a smaller bin. They did this thing they called 'slim your bin', which effectively means that they have smaller wheelie bins, but still maintain a fortnightly collection. And the response from the public in that case was, 'We're happy with a smaller bin.' And part of that debate was also demonstrating to the public how much of the residual bin is recyclable now, at the kerbside. And that's what that compositional analysis showed us two and a half years ago: that up to 50 per cent of what was in people's black bags could be recycled at the kerbside at that current time. So, clearly, it's all part of that dialogue with the public that councils need to have. 

No, I'm not denying it. Thank you very much for telling me, but the thing is, there is a blue bin, a black bin, a yellow bin, a green bin, a brown bin—so, different. And don't forget the ageing population and people with colour-blindness and people in high-rise flats and people bringing these heavy things. It is totally unacceptable in certain areas. You're doing maybe research in certain areas that are quite okay, all flat ground or little hill; why can't we just fix some bins outside the home and get the collection regularly, like Germany and other European countries? You're just changing the bins year by year, costing public money. I think that is not the right way to engage the public or spend public money. 

I'll come to the questions now, anyway. The auditor general's report noted that the Welsh Government was working with councils to develop a new behaviour change campaign. What impact are wider financial pressures having on councils’ efforts to encourage behaviour change, for example through communication campaigns and access to recycling facilities?

13:50

Again, as part of the benchmarking work, four or five years ago, we benchmarked communication activity within authorities. Part of that was really trying to understand what the level of communication was and the level of engagement. At that time, we found that it had reduced significantly from four or five years previously, when we had last undertaken that benchmarking. So, I think what we drew from that was, clearly, one of the challenges authorities had, with diminishing resources, was having to prioritise the delivery of service, and that the communication aspect was perhaps diminishing. To us, that's a real longer-term risk, because you do get turnover in population in terms of households, and you do need to keep refreshing people's understanding of what the recycling system is, how to use it, what these different receptacles are for, how often you put them out, and so on and so forth.

Now, I think a number of authorities are getting more sophisticated in terms of using social media. Some have developed apps that, once households sign up to it, they do get information pushed out to them to say, 'Don't put your bins out today because of the snow—we're not collecting', or, 'Remember tomorrow is your recycling day'. So, I think authorities are getting more sophisticated and are able to use different methods more cost-effectively, but I think that is a general concern: that there needs to be a continuing dialogue with communities about, firstly, the practicality of using the service—how do you use it—and, secondly, the drivers and motivation for using the service. It goes back to the earlier point about people use the recycling service for lots of different reasons. It's not mandatory—no-one has to do it. Certainly, early adopters were typically people who were environmentally aware and wanted to engage on that front. Other people have different motivations, so we need to keep looking at behaviour change—how we can engage with different people in a different way to keep them engaged in this if we're going to continue to make progress in increasing recycling, and not plateau or regress. 

Okay. What is your assessment of the role that WRAP Cymru is playing to support wider communication activity, including Recycle Week in Wales, and how useful do you think the new MyRecyclingWales is as a tool to support communication with the public?

If I pick that up, obviously, WLGA used to deliver Waste Awareness Wales, which was the communication engagement campaign in Wales, and that moved across to WRAP four or so years ago—maybe a little bit more. And I think part of the rationale is, obviously, WRAP were engaged on a UK level around a range of different initiatives around the Courtauld 2025, which is around food waste. They're engaged in the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. They're engaged in a number of different initiatives. And I think the rationale was that, clearly, there were potential economies of scale and synergies with working on that basis.

Clearly, in Wales we're in a different place to England, and therefore the messaging is different and has to be bespoke for Wales, which is why Recycle for Wales has continued to exist as an engagement and communication campaign. We're probably not well placed to be able to comment on the efficiency of that process; obviously, they would have an awful lot of data about the engagement, and so and so forth, which I'm sure they'll pick up in their session.

The other aspect to it is they all work, through the collaborative change programme, in helping authorities in terms of communications and engagement around service change. So, those authorities that are currently going through that process—the Vale of Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire and Denbighshire—will be working very closely with WRAP and drawing on their expertise, but also the experience of Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent and other authorities who have changed and the lessons that they've learnt in terms of that engagement. So, I think it's a critical role, and it has to be there to support authorities in that process.

13:55

Okay. And what support is needed to help councils to use existing powers to sanction those who do not participate in recycling as expected, and what do you see as the right balance between the carrot and the stick?

Obviously, as you know, some authorities in Wales have explored the potential to use section 46 of the Environment Protection Act 1990 to direct householders not to put recyclable material in their residual waste. And Swansea have gone down that road. I know Rhondda Cynon Taf are looking at it and developing it, and some other authorities are also looking at it. Now, this is partly a response to public feedback to authorities along the lines of 'Why am I doing all this recycling and my neighbour doesn't bother? What are you going to do about them?' That's a regular message that we get on the doorstep. And, really—

And that's led some people to feel that there have been intrusions and close monitoring of one's rubbish, to put it politely. [Laughter.] A couple of stories. 

Yes, absolutely. But, clearly, public money is paying for the collection of this waste and dealing with this waste. So, therefore, we need to check that recyclables are not contaminated, and we need to make sure that we're not throwing away or burning valuable materials that could be recycled. So, through the waste improvement programme within WLGA, we've commissioned some guidance for authorities on this, because we want to make sure that they're getting it right. So, that was seeking legal counsel in terms of was this a right and proper use of section 46 of the Environment Protection Act 1990, and that guidance—yet to be tested in court, it is fair to say, but that legal counsel was that this is a proportionate and sensible way to use the Act.

The majority of the guidance, however, is around communication and engagement, because the mantra that we use in relation to this is—. This has the threat of fixed-penalty notices: fines for people who continue to put recyclable material in their black bag waste. Now, clearly, there is a whole range of engagement before you get anywhere near the point where you are fining people. And what we are finding is, particularly in Swansea's case, if there were—an arbitrary figure—1,000 people who received a letter, or received a knock on the door about having recyclables in their black bags, when that came to be checked the week after, that figure had dropped hugely, and, when there was a second call or knock on the door, that figure had dropped down into probably single figures. And I think—I may be wrong in this, but I think Swansea have probably issued one fixed-penalty notice in terms of the roll-out of their enforcement regime. And that one fixed-penalty notice is considered as a bit of a failure by the council, because what they want to do is to get people to use the services that are available for them to use, and it's not about fining people or, you know—.

And to pick up your point earlier, clearly, there's very good guidance in the guidance about how you deal with different households where there may be particular challenges in terms of issues around age or disability, and so on and so forth. So, being sensitive to those issues is absolutely critical in terms of rolling out the programme.

Sorry, Oscar, I think Rhianon Passmore had a supplementary on that. 

Very briefly, yes. It was just really in regard to, in a sense, it's a little bit like an anti-social behaviour order—you're a failure if you've reached that stage because the behavioural change should have occurred prior to that. So, Swansea's obviously doing that, and it's doing it effectively. Surrounding all that is a massive media hatred of the nanny state, saying, 'They're looking in your bins' and—. How is that being contextualised in your messaging, and is Swansea the goody in all of this? Have we got any councils that are actually going out there slapping hundreds of fixed-penalty notices on? Because that's the impression you get from the media anyway.

I don't think any authorities want to go out fining residents. What they want—. They've invested a lot of money in their systems, and part of making sure that investment has a good return is (1)—

So, you would say Swansea is actually on a par with the others, then. 

I think they're probably ahead of the game in terms of looking at the recyclables in the black bag. Other authorities have done enforcement around side waste. So, typically, if you have a wheelie bin, then that's your capacity. If you're putting out black bags around the wheelie bin, then, typically, you would get a visit from a recycling officer and be encouraged and helped and provided with support to use the recycling service. Because, typically, going back to the compositional analysis, much of what was in that wheelie bin and those additional bags was probably recyclable. So, I know, in Swansea's case, there are three visits before they get to the point of issuing a fixed-penalty notice.

14:00

So that is guidance from the WLGA, as an exemplar, good practice model of how to change behaviour. How are you advising councils around that?

As I say, we're at the point of being about to publish the guidance. We've presented it to all 22 authorities at the heads of waste meeting recently, and we will be doing training for authorities in terms of the guidance.

Because I think that's very important. Okay. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you very much, Chair. Do you share the Welsh Government's view that the existing legislation is sufficient to support enforcement, and what approach are councils taking towards charging for waste collection? And are we seeing the use of charges increase, and, if so, on what service?

If I can pick that up. In terms of the enforcement, again, part of the reason that we sought legal counsel was to give assurance to authorities that using section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 was a legitimate response. And, as I say, it's yet to be tested in court, but that was the legal opinion. Again, the idea of doing that once, rather than 22 authorities doing it 22 times, was clearly that it's more cost effective to do that. But each individual authority would need to still satisfy themselves that what they're doing is legitimate and proportionate.

In terms of charging, again, a number of authorities are having to look at charging around discretionary services as a way of being able to fund the delivery of those services. It's the reality of where we are in terms of reducing resources. So, again, WLGA, through the waste improvement programme, produced guidance on charging last year, in which we went through, again, all the legal basis for the different aspects of charging—what you could charge for and what you couldn't charge for—to make sure that authorities were doing that correctly, but also giving guidance in terms of how you develop your charges. For example, again, the Wales Audit Office has been very clear on this: it can't be a money-making exercise, it has to be about recouping the cost of delivering that service.

Now, areas where, typically, authorities are starting to have to think about charging are in relation to green waste. A number of authorities now charge for green waste, and that has pros and cons in relation to it. Clearly, one of the issues that authorities have to think about is the differential impact upon households and their ability to be able to pay those fees, which I think is very important in terms of their review. And the other area is around bulky waste. Now, clearly, there's a balance to be had there in terms of the cost of the service, but also trying to ensure that there is a good service that people are able to use, that perhaps prioritises the reuse of those bulky items, as much as recycling, and also that it doesn't in any shape or form encourage fly-tipping, because fly-tipping does remain a significant problem for certain communities across Wales. So, they do it very mindful of those issues.

Thank you very much. And finally, Natural Resources Wales have highlighted a WRAP report that suggests that the current street recycling on-the-go infrastructure is not being utilised correctly—so it's not utilised correctly outside the home. What solution might there be to maximise these recycling opportunities?

I think this is a bit of a perennial problem for authorities, in as much as there isn't an awful lot of recycling on-the-go infrastructure out there. Certainly, there's some in the centre of Cardiff, and in certain other hotspots there have been facilities put in place. The problem with that is, clearly, one of contamination. And what authorities are reporting is, very often, what they collect in these on-the-go facilities is so contaminated that, effectively, they can't recycle the material. There's probably an issue whereby the public need to be more aware of the on-the-go facilities, i.e. they have to be more readily available to people, so that they understand what it's there for and the purpose. And, secondly, there has to be better communication and engagement with the public around how to use those facilities. So, it is slightly chicken and egg, in as much as authorities have been slightly loathe to roll out on-the-go provision because of the experience of the early adopters in terms of the level of contamination, but perhaps until we get to that critical mass where it's readily available and people understand its purpose and role, we're going to continue to get the contamination.

So, I think this is something that authorities will have to address, but equally there are initiatives such as Wales becoming a refill nation, whereby hopefully a lot of the plastic bottles that people recycle on the go won't be necessary in the future. And equally, there are initiatives on a UK level to develop a deposit-return scheme. There are again pros and cons with that, very much, for local authorities, but the thinking around that, clearly, is it would help deal with litter issues, because clearly there's a value in this material now, and equally people will tend to want to be able to get the deposit back, rather than use the on-the-go facilities anyway. So, it really depends how deposit-return schemes are rolled out, their extent, and the materials covered by them.

14:05

Just before I bring in Jenny Rathbone, do you think part of the issue for the public is that these schemes tend to come and go? Local authorities are often changing—. I appreciate that some of that is due to innovation centrally as well and changes from Welsh Government, but local authorities change their schemes quite rapidly. So, just as the public have caught up with one system of recycling, suddenly there's a new system introduced. I know in my own authority there have been some changes recently with the different bags that are used. I think some people who don't have the time, perhaps, do find it all quite confusing.

I'm sure that's right. It's always difficult when there's change, isn't it? But, there is also a much greater willingness amongst the public now to engage in this type of thing, because I think there's a much greater awareness of the issues associated with single-use plastic in particular, and therefore there is a willingness to have a look at new and innovative ways of doing things to try and deal with the problem. We all recognise there's a need to up our game on that.

Sorry, but to pick up on that point, clearly, one of the difficulties is the range of materials that come onto the market, and the fact that people actually have a life and don't spend their time studying recycling constantly.

I think a lot probably spend more time than we realise. [Laughter.]

So, do you know that that material can be recycled? Do you know what kind of plastic it is? Crisp packets, coffee cups, and so on and so forth. One of the things that we're very keen to see develop is, again at a UK level, there is a move to develop an extended producer responsibility scheme, whereby the people who bring these materials onto the market have a greater cost driver to actually produce material that is 100 per cent recyclable, because they'll pay a lower modulated fee probably on the back of that, but also that those materials are actually recyclable on a local basis.

So, one of the problems that we've had recently is around the growth in biodegradable plastic, which clearly, intuitively, you think, 'Well, that must be a good thing.' The difficulty is we don't necessarily have the systems set up to deal with biodegradable plastic. If they go in the plastic stream, then it causes contamination. If it goes in the food waste stream, because it goes to anaerobic digestion, it causes contamination. So, primarily from the public trying to do the right thing, they're being confused by the process itself.

So, we think EPR potentially is a game changer in terms of simplifying the process, but also providing funding for authorities to deliver the kind of services that we want. But also it's a recognition that we need to continue to communicate and engage with the public around these emerging materials and differences, so that they understand what it is that I'm supposed to do with this item that I have in my hand.

There has been talk about developing apps, for example, that read a barcode on a particular item that will tell you exactly what it is and what to do with it with your local services. So, again, I think there are mixed views on how useful that would be, because clearly it is quite onerous to keep checking different materials, though I guess once you've done it once you learn what it is. But there is also quite a significant back-office function to be able to power that app with the relevant information and have a way of understanding what different materials producers use in different things. The classic example often given is the Pringle box, which has four or five different materials in one piece of packaging. So, as a householder, how do you deal with that?

14:10

For a long time, our plea has been to actually look at things upstream, when the producers are actually designing and making the products. So much of the effort has been at the end of the pipe, dealing with the problem once it's been created, and then local authorities trying to sort that out. Whereas EPR—extended producer responsibility—forces the people putting this stuff onto the market to think in advance.

Yes, the cardboard packages with the silver foil inside and then the plastic top on them are a big—. If I've got the time, I tend to cut all the bits apart, but I think that's a bit of an aside. [Interruption.] Yes, I have done that in the past, yes, but only if I've got the time. Rhianon Passmore, then Jenny Rathbone. 

Can I just very briefly? Absolutely, in terms of what you've just said—you're doing what you need to do as local authorities in that regard, but on that other end user looking at it strategically, outside of that EPR framework, which sounds very exciting, are there other levers that Government can utilise, or even UK Government, in terms of taxation or tariff in terms of products that we don't want to be using that we can phase out?

Yes, I think the fiscal system—. The taxation possibilities are there and there have been talks about— 

And from your view, would that significantly assist in the longer term?

It potentially could. I think the EPR has got the greatest potential, because, at the moment, I think about 10 per cent of the costs are borne by the actual manufacturers and producers. If you could shift that to 100 per cent, then you'd be looking at a different game altogether. 

I've initiated a whole discussion at this end of the table about Pringles, jars and other containers, and the baby-milk containers that I've been dealing with lately. Jenny Rathbone. 

Thank you. Just before we leave this subject, what pressure are you able to bring to bear on Governments, both in Wales and in London, to bring forward EPR, which I understand is not due to happen until 2023?  

We work closely with the Local Government Association on issues of UK-wide importance, and we've been linking closely with them and with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Northern Ireland Local Government Association on issues such as EPR. With the Welsh Government, we responded recently to the joint consultation, feeding in our views on how we think that should be taken forward. 

The only thing to add is that one of the concerns that we have is, once EPR is established, then obviously the manufacturers will have to pay a fee for their obligated materials and the cost of dealing with them. What we want to ensure is that the very wide-ranging and robust recycling services in Wales are properly funded through that process. So, we're working with Welsh Government to look at what an efficient and effective recycling service in Wales should be costing, so that we can feed that information collectively into DEFRA to say, 'This is what these materials cost us to deal with in Wales, and this is what it should cost us to deal with in Wales', in terms of promoting the wider benefits of recycling, such as the circular economy, such as the foundational economy and those sorts of issues, so that we maximise the policy impact of recycling and make sure that EPR isn't about manufacturers leading a race to the bottom in terms of collection services, i.e. the cheapest way of doing it, because that's all we're willing to pay for. So, Welsh Government are very keen to work with us on that so that we're actually representing the reality in Wales and the potential in Wales. 

Okay. That sounds like important evidence, given that Wales is doing more recycling at the moment. So, recognising that the official figures are going to be published shortly, what are you expecting to see in the way of significant improvements in the recycling rate for 2018-19?

In our discussion group of authorities, we believe that every authority should meet the target, which is obviously a positive and an improvement. 

Right, sorry. 

Well, sorry, for the next year it's 64 per cent. So, it's still 58 per cent.  

It's 58 per cent for these published figures. 

Now, clearly, what we've seen in the last year, was a slight plateauing and decrease in performance for a number of authorities, and again it's the role of the collaborative change programme to work with those authorities and determine what they feel are the key issues. One of the issues, obviously, last year was the issue of wood waste, which is why, in terms of the infrastructure programme, we’re looking at that material, because it became apparent that authorities, in good faith, were reporting recycling figures that, when they were reviewed by NRW, there seemed that there was an issue. One facility was dealing with a number of authorities’ waste and reporting recycling figures to them, as they’re contractually obliged, but when NRW were looking at that facility, they found that the throughput of materials didn’t match with that. So, there had to be a slight rejigging of the figures, because once we were aware of that, then the figures had to reflect that. So, I think there were certain one-off issues last year that meant there was a reduction in figures.

Clearly, part of the reason that three authorities are going through significant service changes are because they feel that that will enable them to move towards higher recycling figures. So, it’s really for each individual authority, and, again, why Swansea were looking at enforcement, Rhondda Cynon Taf were looking at enforcement, and the six north Wales authorities explored the potential to have a regional enforcement process. The reason we’re doing these things is really to keep the momentum around recycling performance and be mindful of maintaining that carrot-and-stick approach, because, clearly, getting the public to engage and willingly recycle is clearly far, far better than having to use enforcement too vigorously.

14:15

Okay. So, the laggard last year was Blaenau Gwent, who had to pay a fine because they failed to meet the target. Are they one of the ones who are now implementing the blueprint?

They are. They migrated systems the same time as Merthyr Tydfil, and I know that it’s referenced in the report that the Wales Audit Office did. They did some work reviewing that and found that there were some implementation lessons to be learnt, in terms of how that process worked in Blaenau Gwent.

Okay, but you think that they will definitely meet that 58 per cent target.

That's what I'm understanding, but, clearly, until the figures are published—

Okay. And, clearly, everybody understands they've got to meet 64 per cent.

Good. But I think there are certain issues that I just want to explore again. You mentioned wood, which isn’t’ really—. It’s not domestic waste, but it is, obviously—. People do create wood waste. There are some clear indications under the new EU targets that we can’t be considering construction waste in with recyclables as well as bottom ash from energy from waste. So, is this something that you’re actively working on to ensure that they—? Otherwise, we’re comparing apples and pears.

One of the discussion points around the wood waste infrastructure project is, 'Is this a sensible way to go?', for the very reasons that you mention—the fact the definition is likely to change, therefore wood waste is unlikely to be included, therefore it won’t be recycling. However, there is a wider point, which is, ‘What is the best environmental outcome for this material?’ Part of the problem with wood waste is, obviously, a large amount of it is treated wood and therefore it is very difficult to recycle or reuse in that way. So, potentially, for that stream of wood, energy from waste might actually be the best possible outcome. But that’s a debate to be had, and I think, as part of the Welsh Government’s review, or the circular economy route-map and the consultation around that, one of the key things will be the definition of recycling. As you say, the current targets are predicated on the fact that wood waste is included and that incinerator bottom ash is included. So, we would expect a debate at that point about, 'Okay, we changed the definition—we need to think about what is practical in terms of recycling rates over the next period in relation to that.' So, we would expect that to be part of that discussion. And, equally, there’s likely to be a discussion around, 'Are weight-based measures the best way of tackling this, and should we find another way of looking at that?'

Well, clearly, this is a discussion I had with stakeholders before the end of the last Assembly. Clearly, weight-based targets do produce perverse incentives. Garden waste can be considered something that encourages councils to collect garden waste even if it's easily recyclable, whilst we have to recognise that certain garden waste is not easily recyclable. So, lopped branches of holly or pyracantha—these sorts of things take years to compost, so it's not practical for people with small gardens. How would you see that being developed into something that recognises that we don't want people to be burning this sort of waste, because that produces other unsatisfactory environmental outcomes, but we do want people to be composting things that are easily compostable, like grass cuttings?

14:20

Absolutely. I think one of the things that—. We have regular meetings with the heads of waste network, and one of the things that they asked the waste improvement programme to do was to look at the whole issue of carbon metrics as a way of measuring performance, because I think they realised that, with the decarbonisation agenda and so on and so forth, we need to be more sophisticated in how we look at and measure the performance of waste services.

We commissioned some work in relation to that, looking at the Scottish example referred to in the WAO report, as well as others from around Europe. One of the issues that we have is that, as always, there's a tension between the robustness of the information and the cost of collecting the information. One of the difficulties often mentioned in relation to the carbon metrics around waste is that you need to keep doing compositional analysis so that you know exactly what is in each different waste stream, so that you can apply certain benchmark carbon scores to it and therefore you understand how well your service works.

We did a compositional analysis on residual waste two and a half years ago, and it cost a significant amount of money to do that. So, I think there will always be a tension between how accurate the data is. 'Is it good enough for the purpose it's required for?' I think is the debate that we need to have. So, I think that, in itself, is a debate that will happen around the circular economy route-map, but, equally, it then opens up that debate about different materials and prioritisation that they have.

One of the things that I think we may need to explore is, potentially, having different targets for different materials, so that for more carbon-intensive materials you would have a higher target so authorities are incentivised to prioritise that material, whereas other material that, frankly, as you say, perhaps, is better dealt with in home composting, for example, where people can do that, has a lower targeting or a lower level of target. Therefore, it becomes a bit more sophisticated and nuanced. Again, the difficulty is how far you go along that line for it to still be practical for the authorities to deliver and not too complex for everyone to grapple with.

Okay, just looking at some of the perverse incentives that are still in the system and the value-for-money issues, just conferring with my colleague here, some councils are still charging for compostable food bags, which seems to me an invitation to do the wrong thing. You know, if you haven't got the money for the bus fare, you're certainly not going to be buying compostable food bags.

No, no, absolutely. As the waste improvement programme, we collect service information. We have a data compendium, which details the range of different receptacles authorities use and their policy for replacement of those receptacles, because some charge for replacement of some of those. Within that, we would have information about charging for food waste bags. Now, I'll be honest, I'm slightly surprised that some are still doing that, but, clearly, they are. We can double-check how many are doing that.

I think for some authorities, they actually don't necessarily provide food bags, and the suggestion is—. The corn starch bags that typically get used have to be stripped out from the food waste before it goes into anaerobic digestion because they do not digest in the AD plant. They then have to be taken to an in-vessel composting plant where they do compost. So, you can imagine that that's an additional complexity in the system.

14:25

In that case, tell people to wrap them in newspaper, which is compostable.

Which is what one of—. I think Caerphilly do that.

I mean, why are local authorities struggling with this? 

Because, again, the public perception around food waste I think is different to dry recycling. The participation rates for dry recycling are up—70 to 80 per cent of households use the service at some point. For food waste recycling, I think participation rates are probably nearer half that. It does remain a service that people are squeamish about using. They don't like the caddies in their kitchen and the fact that they can smell. The fact that there's a bag provided encourages people to use the service. So, it's that tension between getting more people to use the service by providing this bag or potentially having people disengage from the service, and what we've found, again from WRAP research, is that once people use the service, find they don't like it and stop using it, they are incredibly difficult to get back into using that service.

Okay. So, there's a lot more work to be done, then, on encouraging people with food waste and finding the most appropriate way of getting them to do it, because if we're being invited to use bags that then have to be stripped out, that's, you know, really—.

In my own area, in Monmouthshire, I know we've just gone from the compostable food bags back to plastic for exactly the reason you said. Actually, it worked out that there was more energy needed in separating the compostable bags from the waste inside them and then getting rid of them than simply using plastic bags to start with.

And the corn starch bags, because they do stretch considerably, foul up the machines and cause problems with that. The difficulty, I think, authorities have is what message does that say to the public—you know, 'Put it in a plastic bag'? It's slightly between a rock and a hard place.

Why not wrap it in newspaper? Everybody's got some form of—. There are free sheets coming through the door. 

Yes, but, again, I think people like the fact they can tie it up and take it to the outside caddy.

Okay. You still need a container to put it in, obviously, to prevent the foxes getting at it. Could you just describe what the value for money is from still co-mingling glass with paper and cardboard, which obviously contaminates paper and cardboard value in terms of recycling? Because you were talking earlier about when we're looking at different systems and which is the best value for money—I struggle to understand how some local authorities, including my own, are still co-mingling glass with other recyclables, which means, obviously, the glass shatters and instantly contaminates the other recyclables that have higher value. 

It depends on the compaction, really. If they don't compact it too much, then a lot of that glass won't shatter in the back of a vehicle and then it gets taken to a material recycling facility where they will separate out all the different streams. So, it's just different systems, really: one is you separate them out at source and then put them out; the other is you put them all in one bag and it separates out when it gets to the materials recovery facility. 

The only thing I'd add is, obviously, refuse vehicles, recycling vehicles typically have a life span of about seven years. So, sometimes we're dealing with legacy systems that were procured in a period before our understanding and knowledge weren't, perhaps, as advanced as they are now, and, equally, markets for materials are highly volatile and this is something that authorities have suffered from in recent years—the fact that paper and card, for example, have fluctuated significantly in terms of the income that they generate. So, it depends when you do that calculation, but, clearly, in terms of preferable outcomes, then the cleanest material possible is the best outcome.

Just finally on this business of chasing heavier materials, when do you expect rubble and incinerator bottom ash to be removed from the recyclable, given that they're no longer going to be admissible under EU regulations?

I think, again, as the Welsh Government revise their policy with the circular economy route-map, there will be that discussion about the targets, the definition and how we count the recycling figures in the future. So, I would imagine that that is fairly imminent, that discussion.

14:30

Well, it's supposed to be before the end of this year—the calendar year. Is that right?

Okay. Well, we look forward to that. Could we now just turn to the responsibilities of local authorities to ensure that the materials that they're recycling are appropriately disposed of? Because, obviously, we've had some very high-profile exposure of some of our recycling ending up in land waste in countries that certainly can't afford to clear up our mess. How have local authorities improved their controls on this?

Authorities will have contracts that they've signed with reprocessors who take materials from them and, within those contracts, they will have agreement on what's going to happen to those materials. So, they will pass them on on the understanding that those materials will be dealt with in a particular way. Obviously, once they've gone to the reprocessor, that material will go to their yard or wherever and be mixed with a range of other stuff from other places, and it becomes impossible, then, for a local authority to know where its own material is, because it's part of a much bigger—

Well, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall stood on a site somewhere in Asia—I can't remember exactly which country—and picked up bags from Rhondda Cynon Taf. So, it's perfectly possible to track a lot of this waste in ways that I'm sure RCT weren't very happy about.

Yes. Obviously, local authorities have a duty of care for their waste—a legal requirement to try and understand where it goes. We undertook training with all 22 local authorities in terms of contract development to ensure that the right clauses and the right wording were incorporated in those contracts. The difficulty, as Tim suggests, is that, once the material goes to a broker, or once it goes on to a reprocessor, then that material is mixed with other sources. It tends to be then sorted, and, if there's contamination, some elements of it will, perhaps, go somewhere else and you're actually finding that the material goes through several sets of hands. 

Now, clearly, Natural Resources Wales and the Environment Agency in England have a duty to license those premises and basically watch what is happening with those premises. The frustration, I think, for some local authorities is, clearly, we cannot basically send people to all these facilities to check what they're doing, because that is NRW's role and the Environment Agency's role.

Yes, but we need to be procuring contracts in a way that there's comeback.

Absolutely, and there will be, and I know that there has been comeback for the company involved with that RCT case, for example, because the authority did then exercise the clauses within the contract when they became aware of it. But I think the frustration is—. There is overview and regulation of the market by NRW and Environment Agency to—. There are waste transfer notes, so, every time you move waste, you have to define what it is and where it's going to; that has to be lodged with the regulator. So, they have oversight of the system. On occasion, we've asked them could they provide us with that information so that we have a better view of being able to track the waste, and their view is, 'This information is provided for that regulatory process and therefore we can't share it with you as a third party'. 

Can I just simply ask about the attempt to create a better circular economy, so that we're not sending our waste off to foreign countries, but we're using recyclables to make new goods here in Wales—how successful can we say we've been to date? What progress, anyway, on this?

Well, certainly, with the food waste, that was a successful operation. As Craig said earlier, we're now looking at absorbent hygiene products, we're looking at wood waste, to try and look at opportunities to develop infrastructure within Wales to deal with materials from Wales. There are also discussions on the plastics front, and some companies involved in those discussions, about possibly creating a facility within Wales. So, I think there are discussions under way on a number of fronts, but there's a long way to go to get from where we are today to where we want to be, which is, as you say, having an opportunity for a true circular economy.

Okay. So, do you think that the waste tracking project that the auditor general's report refers to—so we have a single UK waste data collection system—do you think that will enable us to be much clearer about the type of waste we're generating and, therefore, the market for reusing it before we recycle? 

14:35

Certainly, the e-doc system would mean that that information was more readily available and manageable, but I think it probably doesn't significantly add to what the waste transfer notes currently record, so it won't tell you necessarily, once an authority's plastic waste has gone into a bulking place, where exactly it would go.

The only thing, sorry, to add to what Tim said was—. I think the critical thing for us in Wales is developing the end market for the material once it's reprocessed. That's the—

—critical thing. But also the fact that waste is a commodity, it does get traded worldwide, as we know to our cost, and there is a—well, not a danger, but certainly there will come a point perhaps where authorities who have this feedstock may have to find a way of providing that feedstock to indigenous Welsh companies, in a way that doesn't contravene procurement rules, to ensure that it doesn't get sold to the highest bidder, which may be a factory somewhere else in the world. Now, that's going to be a difficult debate because, obviously, there's an opportunity cost for that authority of that forgone income from that material but, again, we would argue, taking it back to the well-being Act and considering those round of issues, that that would be a better outcome in terms of the—

And that is a difficult debate for us to have another time. As I say, we have overrun but I think it was worth it, because, for our first evidence session in this area, that was very useful. So, thank you for giving us the benefit of your experience. We had a couple more questions for you, but, if we can write to you with those, then that's how we will proceed with that. But we'll send you a transcript of today's proceedings for you to check before it's published. Thanks for taking part and that was a very interesting first session. 

Okay, I propose we have a few minutes' break and reconvene at 14:40. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:37 a 14:43.

The meeting adjourned between 14:37 and 14:43.

14:40
4. Rheoli gwastraff: Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda WRAP Cymru
4. Waste management: Evidence session with WRAP Cymru

Welcome back to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee and our second evidence session on the issue of waste in Wales. Can I welcome our witnesses from WRAP? Would you like to give your name and position in your organisation for our record?

Yes. Hi, I'm Emma Hallett, and I am the team manager in the collaborative change programme in WRAP Cymru.

I'm Bettina Gilbert. I'm our programme manager for market development. 

Great. Thanks for being with us this afternoon. This is the only the second session of this inquiry, so it is helpful to us to hear your views. I'm aware that some people watching this may not know about WRAP and the things that you deal with. I think I'm right in saying that around a quarter of your staff are based in Wales, and similar proportion of WRAP's income comes from the Welsh Government. 

Yes, that's broadly right. We've got an office in Cardiff, which has about 40 people working out of it, most of them working on Welsh programmes, but some of them working on UK-wide programmes as well. 

And are you still operating on a basis of core funding from the Welsh Government, and are you expecting that to continue in the future?

Yes, we currently have a grant from Welsh Government for this year for our core funding and our collaborative change activities as well. 

14:45

Great. You've been given responsibility for administering the £6.5 million circular economy fund. Could you tell us how that fund is being prioritised, and what uptake there's been?

Okay. So, the circular economy fund is designed to support manufacturers in Wales who are seeking to increase their use of recycled content, or to use recycled materials in the products, packaging, or components that they manufacture, and particularly we're working with businesses that use recycled materials that come from post-consumer waste—Welsh post-consumer waste—and recycled plastics. On the demand to date, we've had two calls for applications so far, we've received 21 applications for funding, and, based on our experience of running similar grant schemes, we feel that we've received a high level of demand to date. For example, the ARID project, which had a similar grant scheme, to encourage manufacturers to use recycled content in their products, received nine applications over a three-year period. So, we feel there's a lot of interest in this area.

In terms of the Welsh Government and how it monitors your work and ensures value for money, et cetera, how does that happen?

Okay. So, with that grant scheme, we are reporting to the Welsh Government on a quarterly basis, and we're capturing data on the increased demand for recycled content—so, the amount of additional recycled content that businesses are using, jobs created, increased turnover, carbon emissions avoided, cost savings, and also the match funding that's coming from the grant beneficiaries. And, at the end of the project, WRAP will procure an independent evaluation of our performance and the performance of the grant scheme.

Right. The Welsh Government funding supports your wider work, in terms of the UK plastics pact—am I right in saying?

Obviously, that's a UK-wide scheme, so how do you ensure that the amount of activity that's happening in Wales is proportionate to the amount of funding you get in that area?

Okay. So, the plastics pact is actually managed through our main office, in Banbury. There is a small contribution from the Welsh Government to that programme. We have a number of packaging companies in Wales that are part of the plastics pact, and we ensure we work to actually promote the work of the plastics pact, and the research, and disseminate that to relevant businesses that we work with in Wales. 

Great, thanks. Okay. I'll bring in some other Members now. Rhianon Passmore.

Thank you. Before I move on to my questioning, you mentioned your independent evaluation at the end, and so, in terms of other Welsh Government evaluation of what you are doing, is there anything else that you could point to from that end?

Okay. I'm not quite sure I understand your programme [correction: your question]—in terms of the Welsh Government evaluation?

Yes. You mentioned that, at the end of the programme, you're going to get an independent commissioning of an evaluation of the success of your project. So, in the interim, how are you being assessed, in terms of your outputs? Because, obviously, it's a very healthy budget, we are the Public Accounts Committee, and I'm just trying to understand a little bit more, if you could extrapolate, what other oversight there is of your organisation—

Yes, of course. So, we have a governance process in place. We report quarterly to the Welsh Government on the financial management but also on the performance of the grant scheme. There's a member of the Welsh Government who is actually on the assessment panel for the grant scheme. And the Welsh Government is actually a—. They sit on our board of trustees, so we report to them on an executive level as well, in terms of the performance of the grant scheme.

And then, in terms of WRAP Cymru's wider work, we have a regular reporting cycle with Welsh Government. The programme that I'm involved in also has a steering group, which colleagues from the WLGA and the heads of waste sit on. And that's not really finance focused, but more on the work programme, the activities that we're taking, and making sure that we're taking lessons learned from one place and are able to share that with other authorities as well.

Okay, thank you. So, in regard, then, to your perspective on the impact and value for money of the Wales infrastructural procurement programme, what is your positioning around that? What do you feel about it?

Well, I think it's probably worth saying that we haven't really been directly involved in the programme itself. So, we wouldn't really feel in a position to comment on the details of the contracts or the value for money for it. Obviously—

And the impact of it? Obviously, it's something you would be aware of.

Yes. So, obviously, in terms of the services that the authorities we work with are able to provide, that means that there are routes for them to use energy from waste recovery, rather than disposal to landfill, and that's obviously changed a lot over the length of that programme, and also the development of the AD hubs, enabling all Welsh authorities to offer food waste collections where they haven't been able to minimise that food waste in the first place. So, that's obviously something that is of use to those authorities—that they are able to do that and that they know that that will be something that they can continue to offer without any questions about the market.

14:50

In regard to local authorities' very heavy investment, and rightly so, in terms of waste management collection and recycling, and their investment, financial and reputational, you obviously are very aware that local authorities are living through the same period of austerity as other public agencies and have also received cuts. So, in that regard, what is your assessment of the balance of risk facing local authorities around residual waste contracts, especially in the light of some of the gate fee structures, the uncertainty of future waste volumes, technological developments, and those tie-ins, perhaps, to longer term contracts? Have you got a view on that?

I guess we don't get involved so much on the disposal side of the work that the local authorities do; our focus is very much on the recycling side and then hopefully moving even further up the waste hierarchy—so, reducing.

So, really, it's something very adjunct to your core business. Is there any involvement with the WLGA or local authorities?

We work relatively closely with the WLGA on a whole range of things, but we wouldn't specifically be looking at the sources for what authorities are doing with their residual waste and those types of contracts.

Do you see that there is any role for you within that, bearing in mind the conversations that we had earlier? I think you were listening to some of that. 

Yes, we were listening. I think what we've really focused on is how we can minimise that residual waste, really. So, I think you've already heard a couple of times that half of what is in those black bins is already recyclable, using the services that are there for people. So, I think, for us, that's one of our big focuses, looking at how to get that material out of those black bins into the recycling services that are already there.

So, in that regard, you don't really see your role as having any benefit in terms of wider conversations at that end with local authorities in terms of their ability to be able to, at the bottom end, disaggregate. You don't see that there's any synergy there at all.

I guess the sort of advice that we would often be talking to them about—options—would be how that material is collected, and we know that reducing that residual capacity is one of the things where there's very clear evidence that pushes the amounts that are recycled. If you are collecting the residual waste either with a smaller bin or less frequently, that is one of the things that really pushes an uptake in food waste recycling in particular, but also dry materials. 

So, would you have any view in terms of—? We mentioned a number of authorities have numerous bins, some have not quite so many in terms of them being fit for purpose for their local area. You wouldn't have any view on what would be an optimum mechanism for that, or you just don't see it as your role?

We know that it is for each authority to decide exactly which materials and how they collect them, but our view would be that it's essential materials are collected for recycling in as clean a way as possible and that a lot of the evidence shows that collecting it separately at the kerbside is a way in which that improves the material quality, which means it finds a market much more readily, hopefully within Wales or within the UK, and that the environmental value of that material is also much higher, so it can be used for like-for-like recycling, rather than more of a downcycling process, which might happen with a less pure material stream.

Okay, thank you. In regard to the impact of some of the issues that are facing export markets at this moment in time, have you got any perspective or view or position on the amount of waste being sent to landfill or treatment facilities, as a potential result of what's happening more externally to us?

14:55

I guess, for us, it probably also comes back again to the message around the quality of the materials. If you're collecting high-quality materials, there's less of a need for those materials to be exported, and there is more reprocessing capacity to take those materials within the UK, and those materials then we know will be used for the right purposes, rather than ending up in places where nobody wants to see those materials. So, I think we would very much see that it's important that we collect the materials and build capacity within the UK. The two have to go hand in hand, so that there are markets in Wales or in England particularly to take those materials. 

Okay. With regard then to the importance of local authorities' role in terms of their collection and their waste management, can you just explore for me, because I don't quite follow, your relationship with them, bearing in mind your mandate, their mandate—very distinct, I understand that—but a huge crossover? So, how do you liaise with the WLGA? And what is it that you do with them? Or how do you guide them? What happens from yourself to them, and vice versa?  

Well, I guess we have individual relationships very much with the individual local authorities. So, most of our work will be one-to-one or with potentially a small group of authorities working together on specific activities. So, the relationship tends to be with the individual authorities, and we have worked, through the length of the collaborative change programme, with all 22 authorities in one shape or another—some of them at great length and in great depth, some of them less so, but we would see that being the main relationship that we would have on individual activities. But we would liaise with the WLGA on, I guess, a more broad, more strategic approach. So, for example, the work you're hearing about around clarification of the legal status of some of the enforcement work, that would be something that we would also co-operate with them in and work hand in hand with them on those kinds of projects that set the context, I suppose.   

Yes, so we would want to provide technical advice, I guess, for the authorities, and then it's for the authorities to—. They have to decide about the services they want to provide with the areas that they're serving and, obviously, the budgets in which they're working.     

So, finally from me—thank you—do you wait for them to come to you or do you come to them? How does that work? 

It's a little bit of a mixture of the two. The programme has been around for a while, so they all know that we are here, but we are at those heads of waste meetings. We do talk with authorities, particularly if we know that there are potentially authorities that are, for example, looking like they're going to need to work hard to meet the targets. We would talk to them and see if there's anything that we can do to support them with the plans that they may already have. 

Thank you, Chair. Why has the take-up of the collaborative change programme been so varied across Wales? 

I think some of it perhaps historically relates to the tension that colleagues from WLGA were talking about in earlier discussions around different collection approaches for the kerbside collection of dry recyclables. But I think, actually, as time has gone on, those relationships have changed, and there are some authorities that we are working with now that perhaps we didn't work with at all previously, and so, actually, over time, different authorities are looking for support at different times as well. So, when an authority knows it's coming up to a point where it's going to have to make some big decisions about what they do with their service, maybe to improve it, or maybe because their fleet is coming towards the end of the life of the fleet and they're going to have to think about buying new vehicles, that's the point at which they need to be making those decisions and so, then, they might approach us and say, ' Well, we're now at this point and we've got this change coming up. Can you help us in the run up to it?'  

Could I just ask you to expand on the collaborative working that you talked about there, because, in the auditor general's report, he described a legacy of tensions and mistrust? So, I'm interested to know a bit more about the collaborative relationships that you've seen develop through the programme against that context.

15:00

Whenever we work with an authority, what we aim to do is to provide unbiased evidence for them to then make their own decisions on. So, if, for example, we are doing a piece of work to model the collections and the different approaches that they could take to collecting residual waste and also dry recycling, we would always start—. The study would then be based on the current service that the authority is providing, so it will provide a comparative analysis for the authority, so they can understand what the different options for them are, and we, in that process, would always—where we have to make some assumptions about how the services would be, we’d always agree those assumptions with the authorities at the outset before we do the technical modelling aspects of it, so that they, hopefully, will understand exactly what it is that’s being modelled and what’s being assumed and why. And there can be some robust discussions sometimes around the ins and outs of some of those assumptions and how a service might be delivered, but those would always then be discussed and agreed—the exact format of what was being fed into those models—which should then provide something that will help inform the authority about, if they choose a service with this configuration, this is the type of resourcing it would require, or, if they chose a different configuration, this is the type of resourcing that it would require.

Thank you. Certainly, from the evidence that you provided, and the WLGA, there’s a lot of evidence there that seems to take into account the different complexities of local authorities and areas within them. But, despite that, there is some criticism from councils that the programme is still too focused on just rolling out the collections blueprint. So, what would you say to that?

I think, going back to my earlier answer a little bit, we would start—working with an authority, we would agree the options if we were modelling what those options would be. Obviously, we are funded by Welsh Government in support of their strategy, so we would always include a blueprint option in the modelling that we were doing, but then we would use an impartial modelling process to give results for the authorities to then to make their own minds up about which option they want to go for or whether they want to use a hybrid of those options that have been modelled, potentially.

So, in your opinion, how important is consistency across Wales?

I think, to some extent, it is important that there are clearly consistent messages and that people can—. I guess what’s really important is that people can find out easily what the service is where they live, and it’s really key that there is easy access for people to be able to find out what it is that they should be doing in their area—so, whether that’s using communications from the council's website, councils making sure that they're regularly communicating with residents as best they can. But, actually, to some extent, there is a relatively, I guess, if you compare to England, more consistent service already across Wales. If we look back to the original blueprint document, the recommendation was for weekly food waste—pretty much every household in Wales has that—and collection of a set of six key materials. Those are almost taken for granted now as what’s collected, and we’re starting to look at the materials around the edges, the more complex to recycle materials, whether that’s absorbent hygiene products or—potentially extending collections a little bit further to take in some more materials.

Thank you. I’ve just got a couple of questions around value for money to finish. So, firstly, building on the earlier research that you’ve highlighted to us, how have you been working with the Welsh Government to assess the impact of the blueprint in terms of service costs, income generation and recycling rates more generally?

So, in terms of the recycling rates, I think if we look at the latest results that have been published, the 2017-18, the highest recycling rates—so, those top three authorities there are all following the Welsh Government blueprint. So, we can see that those—where changes have happened, by and large, those recycling rates have increased accordingly, even in a context where all authorities are moving up as the targets rise. 

In terms of service costs, we have noted the recommendation in the audit office report that Welsh Government look a bit more at trying to understand some of those factors that are defining the differences in costs between authorities. We're working with Welsh Government to produce that report—early in 2021, I think the aim is to have that published—to really get the detail and understand exactly what are the different drivers for different authorities in the different costings.

15:05

Thank you. Finally from me, looking across Wales to all the local authorities, regardless of to what extent they use the blueprint or not, what do you think are the key opportunities for councils to be more efficient? Also, how confident can we be in the accuracy and the comparability of their financial data?

In terms of the accuracy and the comparability of the financial figures, I think, probably, I would refer you to colleagues at the WLGA—they really get in and understand the detail of that much more than we do. So, I think we wouldn't really expect to do anything other than use their expertise in that area.

In terms—. Sorry, the earlier part of the question was—?

How could councils be more efficient with their recycling?

So, we have a programme, as part of our support, supporting authorities to try to understand places that they could be more efficient in providing their services, whether that's working with them to ensure that they are using their fleet as effectively as possible, from basic things like ensuring that the vehicles are following, really, as efficient a route as possible, or making sure that, when authorities have got materials to sell, we have a programme of supporting them in marketing their materials so that they can have confidence in where the materials are going, but also that they're able to sell the materials for as good a price and with as reasonable a contract as possible.

Good afternoon.

My questions are around just how WRAP Cymru is encouraging public participation in recycling. So, what are the key issues that the behaviour change work is focusing on, and are councils doing enough to support that activity and provide access to recycling facilities? Especially what you have done on your website, there's only—at the time of audit, the last audit, only 1,700 people had viewed your website. So, what do you actually need to promote your activities?

So, the MyRecyclingWales website—?

So, that's a relatively new site. It's a very specifically focused site, which shows exactly where councils are reporting the end destinations of the materials that they've collected. So, we launched it almost exactly a year ago, in line with the release of the data for the 2017-18 recycling figures. We thought it would always be a relatively niche interest of a website. It's not a mass interest, necessarily, understanding the waste flows of a council's recycling materials. But, actually, as we've seen through the year, the number of users has increased. We know that there are about 900 people a month now using it, and it peaks and troughs according to media interest, quite often, or if there are stories around the importance of where recycled materials go. So, we do know that it's gone up to 1,500 users in one month. But that is that particular site. We do have a more generic Recycle for Wales site, which is much more general, citizen facing. So, that would be the site that's providing information about what you should do with your recycling; it links into our activities around Recycle Week as well.

Okay. What support is needed to support councils to use existing powers to sanction those who do not participate in recycling as expected? What do you see as the right balance between carrot and stick?

15:10

Okay. So, I think we know that most people in Wales really want to do the right thing when it comes to recycling, and, as we've heard, the participation rates are generally quite high, even for food waste recycling, but also for the dry recycling. And I think councils really just want everyone to use the service that's available to them. So, we've worked with a number of councils on some enforcement programmes, and they all start very much from a point of wanting to ensure that citizens are informed and they know what it is they ought to be doing, that, if they need support, if they need more containers, those are provided for them so that they can do the right thing. And then, only in a very staged process, if people are not doing the right thing and consistently not doing the right thing, a more formal and eventually a fining process would be what the councils would take. That's certainly the approach that we would advise. And it's very much for people who are blatantly and persistently not doing what they ought to be doing in terms of the recycling, not to fine somebody who, one week, puts one wrong thing into their black bin by accident. It's not meant to be punitive like that at all; it's very much meant to be supporting and enabling people to do what the councils are requesting in terms of the recycling and then, only once people have really received the information and been advised, taking more formal action.

Thank you. Before you, earlier, we had witnesses from the WLGA and I just gathered, myself, that there's no unanimity among the councils as far as collection is concerned or recycling is concerned.

So, do you share the Welsh Government's view that the existing legislation is sufficient to support enforcement?

I think it is, yes. So, the work that we are doing around enforcement of people who are putting recycling in their residual waste, that has, I think, as we heard, not yet been tested in court. There's a legal view that that is right and appropriate use of that legislation. And so, if that view that we've had is correct, then we think that that is sufficient, but we are very much in a pilot phase of seeing how that works.

Okay. What is your view on the circumstances in which charging for waste collection services is appropriate?

I think, again, it needs to be for those services that are non-statutory, so, around green waste collections and obviously for commercial collections as well. So, where a council is providing businesses services, it would be, obviously, appropriate to charge those, but in a way that is not intended as a money-making mechanism for an authority, but to cover the costs of those additional services.

And, finally, NRW have highlighted a WRAP report that suggests that the current street recycling on-the-go infrastructure is not being utilised correctly outside the home. What solution might there be to maximise these recycling opportunities in Wales?

So, I think it is something—. Recycling on the go, depending on the context, is something that we, I guess, as the waste community haven't completely cracked yet. There are instances that we—. We know, for example, if you're putting on a big event, recycling on the go there can work very effectively, providing you've got enough people who are there monitoring the system, making sure that your signage is very clear and that you've got the opportunity—. Next to your recycling system, you have to have a residual waste bin as well, otherwise people will see one bin and put the wrong things in it. Around town, in general public areas, I think it is something that is recognised as still being relatively difficult for us to achieve. We've heard how, when councils have run trials, they end up with two bins with relatively indistinguishable contents in them, even though one is intended as a recycling bin and one is intended as a residual waste bin. So, I think it is an area that we still need to do some more work on.

As part of Recycle Week, we had a number of pledges for citizens to take up, and one of those was that when people were out and about, if they didn't have the opportunity to recycle, they should think about whether they might be able to take the material home with them. Obviously, it's not always possible when you're out and about, but sometimes, if you've got a bottle, you can pop that in your bag, take it home, put it in your recycling at home, and then you'll know that it's gone to the right place.

15:15

Thank you. The 2018-19 figures are about to be published. How hopeful are you that there will be a significant improvement on the recycling rates for the previous year?

I think, from what we've heard from councils, we're certainly hopeful that all of them will be above the 58 per cent target for the last financial year, which, obviously, wasn't the case in the year before that. So, some improvement there—

How helpful do you think it was that Blaenau Gwent was fined for not having achieved the rates they should have done? Did that focus people's minds a bit more?

I think it's fair to say that councils' minds are focused around the targets and the fines that come with them—£200 a tonne is more or less twice what it costs to dispose of the materials. So, that actually—effectively, you're tripling the cost of that part, so that really does, I think, play a big part in getting councils to take the steps that they need to and take people along the route with them. I do think councils are wanting to do the right thing, and it is part of a change context in which councils are working.

Okay. I think only 14 of the 22 are now using the Government's blueprint for how we handle waste. Are there still individual councils who've got an awful lot of work to do to achieve the 64 per cent target for this current year?

Well, I think we know from the figures that were published for last year—sorry, 2017-18: there were four authorities below 60 per cent, and another four between 60 and 61 per cent. For those councils to get their rates up to 64 per cent is a big task by any stretch, really. But we know that the targets have focused people's minds and that changes have been put in place in quite a number of those councils already, and it takes quite a long time to see the impacts of those changes coming through sometimes.

So, how much of it is due to inadequate collection systems—kerbside, mixed recycling or whatever—and how much is it down to the failure to pursue people who aren't doing the right thing?

I wouldn't be able to, I guess, put a percentage on that—

No, I'm not expecting you to find figures, but which of—? We've heard in previous evidence that Swansea's now using section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act to pursue people who persistently don't hear what people are saying to give fixed penalties. I'm sure that is an effective way of getting people to ensure they're doing the right thing.

Yes, I think so. It's only fair to do that once you've got a clear and adequate recycling system in place, and I think we're at a position where authorities across Wales—there are variations between them, but there are clear recycling systems for all of them, and it's a case of making sure that those are used as effectively as possible. So, I think it's a combination of making sure that the services are up to scratch, but also ensuring that people know how to use them, and, ultimately, if they're not prepared to do that, to encourage them to do so.

One of the most stunning figures is that half of all residual waste could be recycled, and of that half, 25 per cent, i.e. half of that total, is food waste. So, why is it people are not putting out the food waste?

Well, I think if you even step back from it there, our view would be that really the best thing would be to have as little food waste as possible. Obviously, there's always going to be some unavoidable food waste: tea bags et cetera—

15:20

Bones, peelings et cetera. But we would want to try to encourage households to understand—and that's some of the work we do through our citizen engagement—that I think the average household throws away £600-worth of food every year, which is really quite a staggering amount of money.

No, £600. So, we have a campaign, Love Food Hate Waste, which is trying to target that food waste to make sure people are doing the right things around thinking—before, for example, you go for the weekly shop, just checking what you've got in the fridge, and all those kinds of stages, so that you don't end up with much food waste at all, but then also encouraging them to use the food waste recycling that they can.

Okay. So, we've heard that some local authorities charge for food waste bags, which, if you're short on money, you're just not going to do. Then we also heard that the corn starch waste bags are actually clogging up the systems and have to be extracted. So, why are we using them at all?

We did a number of years ago a piece of research that looked at what supported the uptake of food waste recycling, and one of the findings was that by providing liners for the small kitchen caddies, that really increased he acceptability of food waste as a service. Because I think there was initially a sense that it was a bit yucky, and a bit—not something you might want to have in your kitchen. Whereas, actually, if you've got a bin in your kitchen, you've got food waste in your kitchen already anyway, if you're—

I guess it depends on exactly the set-up of the AD plants that individual councils are using. The bags are compostable, but anaerobic digestion isn't a composting process.

Okay. So, we're not composting. Anyway, we'll pursue that another day.

Could we just now move to how local authorities are actually measuring their achievements? Because at the moment they're still allowed to base the amount of recycling on the weight of the recycling, which obviously produces perverse incentives to include wood, to include ash from incinerators, and also garden waste. So, what changes do you think are going to be necessary to ensure that we continue to be third-best in the world?

Or even better.

I think in terms of the carbon impacts of recycling systems, we did a piece of work that is our carbon impacts report, and one of the key things we found was that, actually, one of the biggest factors in influencing how much carbon impact a recycling system has is what the materials are used for. So, if the materials can be used for high-quality recycling, that has a much lower carbon impact than if the materials are effectively downcycled and not used for such a high-value product, really. So, we would always want to make sure that the full system is considered rather than just a rather simplistic system, and we also note that, yes, there may be perverse incentives on a weight-based system, but, actually, if your target is zero waste—

—zero is zero, whether it's in carbon terms or in weight terms. So, actually, we think that as you go to those higher levels of recycling, and higher recycling rates, there's a convergence between the weight-based recycling rate and the carbon-based recycling rate.

Okay, but, clearly, the EU targets don't allow construction waste to be included as municipal waste. It's extraordinary that it's been included up until now. But if we're going to want to continue to be one of the world's best, we're going to have to comply with what the EU is doing, regardless of whether we're in it or out of it.

15:25

I think it's obviously going to be part of the consultation on the future waste strategy for Wales as to exactly what is in and what isn't in those definitions of recycling. And I suspect we will end up in line with the circular economy pact, the European—

So would I expect that, but does that mean that local authorities are going to be struggling to achieve the targets they've been set, if that were to happen?