Wales aims to become world number one recycler as it announces Circular Economy strategy

Welsh Government has today published an ambitious strategy to support a green recovery in Wales by transitioning into a ‘Circular Economy’, as we deal with the triple challenge of the pandemic, climate change and Brexit.

In going ‘Beyond Recycling’, the Welsh Government sets out how it will lead Wales towards a Circular Economy, in which resources and items are kept in use for as long as possible and waste is avoided.

Wales is already ranked the third best country for recycling in the world – the new strategy aims to make Wales the world number one.

But the aim is to go further than this – to also be world-leading in reusing, repairing and manufacturing from what would otherwise be thrown away, by cutting the amount of food wasted in Wales, and by reducing the amount of unnecessary single use items that we use and are often littered.

The strategy comes at an important time in a changing world. Moving to a Circular Economy, which eliminates waste by cutting down throw-away consumption and turning materials that would have been previously sent to landfill into a valuable resource, has never been more important.

The strategy therefore also sets out how we can build on Wales’ success as a recycling nation in our response to the ongoing challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate emergency.

This includes a commitment to jumpstart a step change in public sector procurement, worth £6.7bn per year in Wales, with low-carbon, resource-efficient businesses to be given priority in tenders that use money from the public purse.

Over the last year, Welsh Government has already rapidly increased funding for circular economy projects from £6.5m to £43 million.

This has supported 180 initiatives in every part of Wales, bringing together communities to fix their broken goods, redistribute wholesome food that would have otherwise ended up in the bin, or repurposed pots and plastics into furniture for homes.

One such project includes Smile Plastics in the Gower, Swansea, which turns old plastic packaging into modern interior design furniture. In 2020, Welsh Government and WRAP invested £300,000 in the company to expand and increase its production, whilst funding the creation of 18 new jobs.

Rosalie McMillan, Founding Director of Smile, said: “We’ve worked with a range of materials, but our real love is plastics. Ours are sourced from post-industrial, commercial and single-use consumer plastics – often from food and medical packaging.

“Plastics such as these are typically low value for the waste management industry and may end up in landfill or incineration plants.

“However, through design, we flip the value category on its head, creating high-value materials that people want to be around.”

Another venture to have been supported by the Circular Economy Fund is toogoodtowaste, a Rhondda-based charity which has supported its surrounding communities for more than 25 years, collecting unwanted goods and re-selling them at affordable prices.

The charity recently received £36,000 from the Fund, allowing it to increase capacity at its showroom in Treorchy, allowing more residents to deposit unwanted household goods.

Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said:

“By helping us to manage our resources, the steps set out in ‘Beyond Recycling’ will help us to drive our green recovery to the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and the impact of the climate emergency – as well as playing a vital and necessary part in our route to becoming a net-zero carbon nation by 2050.

“But as well as helping us to face those challenges, the strategy also sets out how this a fantastic opportunity for Wales.

“Our Circular Economy can be world-leading, and help businesses not just to improve resource use at home, but also to compete internationally.

“There is already fantastic work taking place all over Wales in which it is playing a key role in our green recovery from the pandemic. We have a burgeoning green business sector helping to boost our economic resilience, and social enterprises and charities supporting communities to keep items in use as long as possible, and support households facing tight budgets.

“The global economy is looking at the potential of the Circular Economy, but here in Wales we are in a prime position to lead.”