Wales – currently ranked third in the world in domestic recycling – was the only nation to uphold its rates during the pandemic, with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland all seeing a drop in performance, the Welsh Government has announced.
The new stats reveal Wales to be the only UK nation to reach the minimum 50% recycling target set by the European Union, meaning if the UK were still an EU member, it would potentially be facing infraction fines for failing to meet the standard.
Minister for Climate Change Julie James commented on this announcement: “Most people in Wales now deem it unthinkable to scrape their food waste directly into the rubbish bin instead of their food caddy.
“This amazing change in behaviour by the Welsh public stops emissions from being released into the atmosphere that accelerate climate change.
“Our recycling stats are world class thanks to a Team Wales effort. Despite the pandemic and all the challenges it bought with it, local authorities managed to prioritise recycling, the collectors worked heroically all the way through, and the fantastic people of Wales continued to recycle.
“We must now continue to raise our ambitions to reach zero waste by 2050 and net zero carbon emissions so we can tackle the climate and nature emergencies in earnest, and pass on a resilient, green and prosperous planet to our future generations.”
Wales has set its government focus in recent years to concentrate on the nature and climate emergencies.
Food waste has been collected separately from households from across the whole country for the last decade.
When sent to landfill, the hot and compressed conditions convert food waste into methane gas, which is thirty to eighty times more damaging to climate change than carbon dioxide emissions.
If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third biggest carbon emitter behind China and India.
That’s why food waste is ranked by the United Nations as one of the main target areas to limit runaway climate change.
In Wales, food waste from 22 local authorities is sent to one of five anaerobic digestion plants around the country and converted into 7 MW of energy, enough to power around 12,000 homes.
According to the Welsh Government, the high rate of household recycling in Wales saves over 400,000 tonnes of CO2 per year from being released into the atmosphere and further accelerating climate change.
The story hasn’t always been the same. Prior to devolution, Wales was one of the world’s worst recyclers, recycling just 4.8% of household waste in 1998-1999.
Since then, the Welsh Government has invested £1billion to support local authorities in achieving Wales’ ambitious targets.
Its circular economy plans released last year aims to achieve zero waste in Wales by 2050 and become the world’s best recycler.
UK statistics on waste are available on the UK Government website.