5. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs: Wales's World-class Recycling

– in the Senedd at 3:59 pm on 18 June 2024.

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Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:59, 18 June 2024

(Translated)

Item 5 is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs: Wales's world-class recycling. I call on the Cabinet Secretary, Huw Irranca-Davies.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. On World Environment Day on 5 June, it was announced that Wales has now climbed to second in the world for recycling. This is rightly a cause for celebration, but it's even more remarkable when you consider that we've gone from a nation that recycled less than 5 per cent of waste at the start of devolution, sending 95 per cent of our rubbish to landfill 25 years ago, to a point where we now only landfill 1.6 per cent. Recycling has become a key part of who we are as a nation.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 4:00, 18 June 2024

I'm especially proud that it is also an achievement that is built on a very Welsh way of doing things. This achievement belongs to everyone. It is testament to the partnership working and the team effort right across Wales, from people embracing recycling in their homes to the local authorities who have continually improved their collections and the waste sector who reprocess the recycled material.

There are core factors that have underpinned our success. From the outset, there has been a clear long-term vision backed up by the Welsh Government's commitment and supported by consistent policy and progressive regulatory regimes. This has provided the long-term certainty and a clear pathway, supported also in turn by an investment of a £1 billion since devolution in the infrastructure and the expert support and the guidance to improve services to deliver these world-class recycling rates.

Our approach has also been based on evidence, which shows that keeping materials separate minimises the contamination and delivers high-quality recycling. This in turn helps us to capture more important and valuable materials that generate income for our local authorities and for our waste sector, and they can be used by our manufacturing industries to make products from recycled materials, which maximises both the environmental outcomes and the economic benefits.

Tackling the climate and nature emergency is a crucial task for this Government, for people across Wales today and for future generations. Reducing our emissions is essential, and our high rate of recycling saves around 400,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. By effectively capturing recycled material that is fed back into the economy and used instead of virgin raw materials, it crucially also reduces the extraction of materials that is also a root cause of the global biodiversity crisis. Almost half—45 per cent—of our global carbon emissions are due to the goods and products we consume, and 90 per cent of biodiversity loss is caused by resource extraction and processing. That's why the move to a circular economy, where we keep materials in circulation, is an imperative, not a choice. In line with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, it is also an essential part of a globally responsible Wales.

Collecting high-quality recycled material that can be used by our industry and manufacturers is also good for the economy. It helps to make our supply chains more resilient, as well as more local, and it brings the opportunity to derive greater economic benefit and to support Wales's competitiveness as the global economy decarbonises. This is why recycling's contribution to the move to a circular economy is not just a key part of action to decarbonise, but it's also essential to action on climate resilience and our overarching Welsh Government objective to create a stronger, greener economy. That's why the responsibility for the circular economy is now embedded within the economy department, reflecting the commitment in 'Net Zero Wales' to a circular economy approach across all sectors, and further cementing our approach of working across Government to drive results.

Whist it's important to celebrate our success and recognise the team effort that's gone into reaching second in the world—let me just repeat that: second in the world—going forward, there is no room for complacency. We want to be challenging for the top spot next. To build on our recycling success, we are already taking the next steps, with the new workplace recycling laws that came into force on 6 April this year. These changes apply the same approach that has been so successful in household recycling to workplaces, bringing greater consistency and ensuring that we capture even more high-quality recycling that can be used by Welsh manufacturers.

Whilst recycling is a crucial step, as set out in our circular economy strategy, we're also committed to building on the strong foundations to also move 'Beyond Recycling', as we transition to a circular economy in Wales. This is why we've been supporting the rapid growth of repair and reuse facilities in Wales, with repair cafés, benthyg libraries of things and repair and reuse hubs being rolled out across Wales. These facilities, which I've used myself, are not only helping communities and individuals to tackle the climate and nature crisis, but they also provide vital support for the cost-of-living crisis, by providing, for example, furniture, domestic appliances, sports equipment, school uniforms, or enabling people to borrow expensive household tools and equipment such as pressure washers or carpet cleaners. Ultimately we want to see reuse and repair as mainstream and as normalised as recycling is today.

Wales's achievements in recycling have been internationally recognised for some time, but we're now also gaining recognition for our broader approach to the circular economy, with Wales having been chosen as the 2024 European circular economy hotspot. This will see Wales host an international conference in Cardiff this October to share Wales's achievements and good practice examples from public bodies, from the private sector, from communities, and learn about circular economy solutions from Wales and internationally. It will be a huge opportunity to collaborate, to innovate and to further inspire more action, and we look forward to welcoming leaders and innovators from right across the world.

Owing to the agony of a penalty shootout, Dirprwy Lywydd, we have just missed out on the Euros currently being competed for this summer, and we're all very gloomy about that. But in the global league table for recycling, we are a hair's breadth from the top spot. So, going forward I'm confident that we have the ability to challenge for that No. 1 position, with a partnership approach that has underpinned our success to date, meaning we are well placed to deliver that stronger, greener, more sustainable future for Wales. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative 4:07, 18 June 2024

I'd like to congratulate the people of Wales for the special efforts they have made and are making to continue recycling, and thank you, Minister, for your upbeat statement. To be ranked second in the world is a brilliant achievement. We've gone from 95 per cent of rubbish going to landfill to now only 1.6 per cent, and this is saving 400,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

But as with anything, we could always do more. The average recycling rate in Wales is 66 per cent, and it varies from 59 per cent in Torfaen to 72 per cent in Pembrokeshire and Swansea. Over the years Conwy County Borough Council, no matter who has led that council politically, have had really good returns on recycling. So, huge thanks to all the environmental team there, and of course the head of service.

Personally I think it's essential that the Welsh Government and our local authorities work closely with communities and businesses. You've mentioned the new scheme coming in in April for businesses. Having an office myself, I participate in this, and we now have to have a container for food wastage, but there's never any food wastage in my office. We have tea bags, and so they have to go into the food waste. So I have to have this container, but then that transcends to having lots of bins in our yard, and we just haven't got the space, but we do it. But then there are other businesses where we share this car park, and it's proving difficult at the moment. That's been the biggest negative feedback that I've received—the numbers of containers we've now got to have that need to be emptied. So, whether that could be thought out a little better going on.

Denbighshire council has come under criticism, I do know, from my colleague Darren Millar MS and also Gareth Davies because they've just spent millions on scrapping its popular, easy-to-use and high-performing blue wheelie bin collection, which I'm so envious of in Aberconwy, because we have trolley boxes, and in the bad weather they are just hopeless. You find them in the hedgerows, you find them on roads; they're quite dangerous, actually, because they're just not heavy enough.

They've now got rid of their high-performing blue wheelie bin co-mingled recycling collection service. In moving to the controversial Trolibocs system I wish they'd spoken to the neighbouring authority, Conwy. Thousands of household bin collections have been missed. According to the chief executive, Graham Boase, it is taking longer for refuse workers to collect waste, and refuse wagons had filled up perhaps more than they were going to, which means they have to return to the depot more frequently to unload to go back out again. This saga highlights the need for the Welsh Government to commission a study into whether asking residents to separate their recycling is more efficient than mixing recyclables and leaving it to waste professionals to separate. 

I've spoken before about putting enterprises under a legal requirement to have as many as six different bins, and it is proving difficult. So, as the new Minister, I would ask you to try and do a review or ask businesses for some feedback as to how we can do it better. Offices like mine are having to order a collection of massive 240 litre bins for very little stuff going back. I'm fortunate that we have a shared car park area, but what about those smaller businesses that don't have any space outside and have to collect it all in these separate bins? It's just untenable. 

Some owners are fearful of fines. I know, for example, of tourist caravan park owners who now have to go through all their recycling bins on a weekly basis to ensure that customers—. I've got a site in Conwy, with 65 mobile homes in that instance. People are frightened of enforcement and any additional fees. So, again, I think you've got to work hand in hand with those businesses, listen to them as to whether you've got it right. 

Trolley box and business recycling requirements are unnecessarily burdensome when they should be straightforward. I've mentioned previously to the previous Minister that in the flats where I live when I come to Cardiff, everything just goes all in one container. There is no recycling. There are thousands of flats and apartments with not much space in Cardiff, and I just wonder how you're working with the management companies to ensure that their residents actually are able to.

I know that we're both very supportive of delivering a deposit-return scheme for Wales. An update on your co-operation with the UK Government on this would be most helpful. 

Finally, you will be aware that I undertake a number of litter picks, especially on our beaches, and I do worry, as mentioned before, that fly-tipping is not getting any better. Under Welsh Labour leadership, the number of incidents has increased from 32,000 in 2014-15 to almost 40,000. We have got to crack these fly-tipping polluters, and I would say that the larger the fine, the greater the deterrent. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.   

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 4:12, 18 June 2024

Janet, first of all, thank you very much for the welcome and your recognition that this is actually driven by people power—it really is. It's been a challenge for individual households when we went through this, and there was a lot of controversy originally, but also for local authorities. Denbighshire, you mentioned, curiously, is going through that at the moment, but what they're helping us do is drive up to that 70 per cent target that we currently have. So, we will be first, hopefully, in the world. But we're working with them, and you rightly point to what neighbouring authorities have done, like Conwy. 

Every local authority starts from a different position, has slightly different approaches based on where they come from with their residents and their kerbside collection, and so on. But we have an expert group that works with all the local authorities. I've just come from a meeting with the Welsh Local Government Association literally discussing this as I came down here into the Chamber and almost missed the start of the debate, Dirprwy Lywydd. But we were actually saying that the benefit of the approach in Wales and partnership working is that we share best practice, we look at those who've come through this journey as well, including my own local authority in Bridgend, where we certainly had a fair bit of controversy as we pushed our stats up there. But we're there, and Denbighshire will get there as well, and we'll work with them and help them. 

You mentioned a couple of things in there about whether there are other ways we could do it. You flag up some where they don't do the sorting. We know that the sorting and the segregation at the point where you put it into the containers, keeping it clean, keeping it separated, is exactly what improves the quality and the usability of that recyclate that comes through. What we don't want is things that are mixed together. That's why it's a bit of a journey to do this and to explain to people why we need to do this. But I'll tell you in most of those areas of Wales where local authorities have now done it, people are saying, 'Well, this is what we do', and this is why I suspect in the workplace ones there have been some concerns expressed in this Chamber, but fewer by far than what we had with the residential approach to this. Actually, people are now saying, 'We understand why we need to do this, and it's the right thing to do'.

Just a couple of other points. Not every local authority is there yet, but look at the strides that we have taken. We're working in that partnership approach to lift every boat, as I just said to the WLGA, which I've just met. You mentioned the DRS as well very briefly. We were pleased to sign off quite recently on a four-nation statement on DRS, which the UK Government was very keen to clear with Scotland, Northern Ireland and ourselves. We're happy to do that. It mainly focuses on the issue of plastic, steel and aluminium, which is great, that's good, but, actually, Wales is further ahead in the trajectory. So, we have made clear to this UK Government, and to any future UK Government, that we stand very firm on the ground of saying, 'An all-in scheme is what we need.' Because we need glass not only to deal with the issues of litter and recycling, but because it is glass that will help us move down the decarbonisation agenda. The idea that we heat it up to 1,500 degrees, with all the carbon intensity behind that, and then recycle it into another product, when what we could be doing is—and I am old enough to remember this—actually returning the bottles, in good shape, on a modern system, at the point within that retailer, we can do it. We can do it. And we'll work with the local authorities and the supply chain to do it. And they know this, and I've met with them, but that's the next move.

So, an all-in scheme is what we would like to do in Wales, because we are ahead of the game and, do you know, there will be times, Dirprwy Lywydd, where it may be that England is ahead of the game, or Scotland is ahead of the game, and we'd like them to be able to try it and we can follow rapidly behind. This is a case in point where actually Wales is ahead of the game here, so let us get on with that—that's what we'd say to any future UK Government: 'Work with us on this; you can do it within the UK internal market structure.' It's there to manage divergence, not to stop divergence, and then they can follow us on this occasion, like we did with the plastic bag levy a couple of years afterwards. We've got track record of success on this, so that's what we'd like to do on DRS, and we'd love to have your support on that as well, Janet.

Photo of Sioned Williams Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru 4:16, 18 June 2024

I'd like to begin by congratulating the people of Wales for the remarkable achievement in being ranked as the second-best recycling nation in the world. It's no small feat, is it, and it's testament to the hard work of our communities and our local authorities and businesses who've embraced the importance of recycling.

However, while we celebrate this achievement, it is imperative that we maintain a critical and constructive stance, to ensure we continue to improve and address the ongoing challenges in the recycling sector. And one of the primary concerns, perhaps, is the quality and sustainability of jobs in the recycling industry. While recycling rates have surged, we must ask whether the jobs created in this sector are reflective of the high standards and sustainability goals we aspire to. So, how is the Welsh Government ensuring that these positions are not only numerous, but also provide high-quality, long-term employment opportunities for our citizens? It's crucial we invest in the workforce, providing the necessary training and career development, to foster a robust and resilient recycling industry. So, could you detail the specific measures being taken to support and expand high-quality jobs within this vital sector?

In light of our impressive ranking, it's crucial also we continue to evolve and innovate our recycling practices. So, with this in mind, could the Cabinet Secretary share lessons or best practices from other leading recycling nations, particularly, of course, Austria? We are considering, or have already started to implement, to further modernise and enhance our recycling in Wales. How are we ensuring that we stay at the forefront of recycling technology and methodology, to maintain and improve our global standing? Let's go for the top spot.

Another pressing issue, of course, is the ongoing challenge of behavioural change, and you've touched somewhat on this. Although, of course, our recycling rates are commendable, ensuring consistent participation across all demographics and sectors does remain a hurdle. So, what initiatives are currently in place to embed recycling and circular economy practices into the everyday lives of our citizens? How can we enhance these initiatives to make recycling not just a habit, but a deeply ingrained aspect of our culture? So, it'd be good to hear more about any sort of innovative approaches or educational campaigns planned to further encourage and sustain behavioural change.

The new requirements for businesses regarding recycling present both opportunities and challenges, as we've heard. While these regulations are a step, of course, in the right direction for environmental sustainability, SMEs do face hurdles in adapting to these changes. So, what support mechanisms are being implemented to assist them to transition smoothly, to encourage them to become part of this and not see it as something problematic, as Janet Finch-Saunders outlined? We must have comprehensive guidance and resources to ensure our SMEs can meet these new standards, and really buy into it.

Perhaps we can't ignore either the growing problem of disposable vape waste. It really does pose a significant environmental threat, and these items are often improperly disposed of, leading to an increase in litter, of course, and potential harm to wildlife and ecosystems. So, what steps is the Welsh Government taking to tackle the scourge of disposable vape waste? Are there any plans to introduce legislation or incentives to curb the use of disposable vapes and promote more sustainable alternatives? Addressing the issue is critical in maintaining the integrity of our recycling efforts, and ensuring that cleaner, greener Wales we all want to see.

Finally, it is essential to consider the broader context of our recycling achievements within the framework of the circular economy, as you outlined, Cabinet Secretary. So, how are we monitoring our recycling practices, that they truly do contribute to that circular economy we want to see where materials are reused and repurposed, and kept in use for as long as possible? Because the transition to this circular economy isn't, of course, just about recycling more and more, but about fundamentally changing our approach to resource management. So, I'd appreciate an update on how the strategies in place, which you referenced, to embed circular economy principles across sectors in Wales, are delivering.

In conclusion, while we rightly celebrate our status as one of the world leaders in recycling, we must remain vigilant and proactive in addressing the challenges that lie ahead, so that we can ensure that Wales continues to set the standard for environmental sustainability. Diolch.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 4:22, 18 June 2024

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you so much for those comments and thank you for opening your remarks by congratulating the people of Wales because truly that is what has happened. It's not a transition, our seismic step from what I have publicly described before, when I was sitting on the green benches in Westminster, as something of an embarrassment of where Wales was in terms of recycling to become second in the world, and within a whisker of being first in the world. Dirprwy Lywydd, as you know, we met a delegation the other day that included the Austrian ambassador, and it was a lovely meeting and we got along very well. We discussed many, many things, but I did say to him, 'We're coming for your title', and he took it in good humour; I didn't cause a diplomatic incident there. [Laughter.]

With regard to the people of Wales, it's not just those individuals who are doing the work, but it's those people who work within local authorities, the people who work within WRAP, the people who work in community organisations, who are driving and evangelising about reuse, recycling and the circular economy—they are helping us, everybody is helping us here. And the children—. When I met with the Eco-Schools yesterday, at an initiative organised by Eluned Morgan with schools throughout mid and west Wales—crikey, they will force us to do this because they see it, and they see it in the jobs as well, which I'll turn to in a moment.

I'm working very closely with the Cabinet Secretary for economy, Jeremy Miles, in this as well, because the ring for circular economy is held within that, understandably, but aspects like this, what we do with recycling and reuse—this is the proper cross-Government working on it. And you raise that issue quite pertinently, which falls to us across Government to make sure that we're keeping the value within Wales, so we're not just collecting the recyclate, we're actually doing the whole line of production.

Now, at this moment—interestingly, we were in Port Talbot, I think it was a week last Monday, myself, the Dirprwy Lywydd, and the First Minister, standing in front of heaps of plastic junk, the most difficult-to-recycle plastics that we have within the UK, the sort of stuff that traditionally would either have ended up in landfill or being shipped to some far-forgotten place around the world. It's not anymore. That is the biggest company, AWJ—him and his father working together, transforming a company from a traditional waste/landfill company into waste recycling. They've got the ways of actually breaking that hard plastic down into recyclate product, but they're actually at the moment having to take it over the border into Birmingham and Derbyshire and places like that for them to turn it into products, and what they said is, 'What we want to do is, now that we've got the breakthrough'—and they're doing it; they're the biggest company doing this in the whole of southern Britain—but they want to keep the value here in Wales, and they're committed to doing it, themselves and working with others, and that's where we need to get that sustainable—. When we talk about green jobs, those are the green jobs. In what was a traditional waste-to-landfill company, which is now with a very well-informed father, I have to say, who understands biochemistry like there's no tomorrow, and his son, who's enthusiastic—actually turning that into the businesses of today and tomorrow and future generations.

Just a couple of other things to mention. Behavioural change is key. I've made clear in all the aspects of the job that I've come into that we need bring people with us on this. And sometimes that does mean saying, 'We're got to work at pace and we've got to climb that mountain really fast, but we will do it together', and to keep that optimism going, that this isn't all about hard graft—this is the thing that delivers jobs as well as the environment benefit. Those green jobs are very real. So, we will keep on doing that.

But we are also, by the way, doing a lot of work on behaviour research as well, right across the teams in my portfolio, including this, and with the other Cabinet Secretary, to make sure that we can explain why we're doing this and what this will lead to in terms of less litter, Janet, more jobs, as well as doing the good for the planet as well, and occasionally giving us a pat on the back to say, 'We've done it.' And you're right in saying, 'Let's go even further. Let's go for the top spot.'

Very, very quickly, we have expert guidance and bespoke guidance for all of those, whether it's charities or small businesses of different types. I've met with Carolyn and James Evans recently because of issues around caravan parks and camping. We went through, with our officials, the guidance out there. So, we've got it, not only on a—. Fair play to officials, they've been out to meet with them, subsequently, and it went really well, I understand. But there's also online material, videos, easy-to-understand stuff of how this can be done to help people do it, because that is important.

Disposable vapes—just very, very briefly, because I'm testing your patience, Dirprwy Lywydd—we've already made clear—. I was fortunate to come into the job at a point where we could make the announcement that we want to move ahead now on banning single-use vapes. The UK election has got in the way, a little bit, but I'm really hoping it doesn't detract any future Government, knock them off course, because we've made clear that, from 1 April, we plan to ban single-use vapes, not only because of their environmental impact, but also the rapid rise that we've seen in the use of those amongst children, who are not using them as some supplement or alternative to being addicted to nicotine—it's becoming a point of entry into this. So, this aligns, by the way, with action that's being taken in England and Scotland, so we're trying to take a UK-wide approach on this, and we're very keen to see that bolted down, because it's a litter and environmental problem, and it's a health issue as well. So, we're looking forward to taking that forward.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:27, 18 June 2024

And just to correct you, it's AWD Group— 

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

They would tell me off if I didn't correct you. [Laughter.] Jenny Rathbone.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour

Thank you. I'm very disappointed that Gareth Davies is not here, because he could really learn something from this, as he keeps going on about the problems suffered by the people of Denbighshire in having to do what the people of Conwy have been doing for years and years. Anyway—just to explain to him, because Cardiff has been one of the laggards in this, sadly, but it is now proceeding at pace, with two of my wards starting to do doorstep separation from July, and the whole of the rest of Cardiff will have doorstep separation by the end of this calendar year. So, why Cardiff is absolutely needing to do this, and is now in a hurry to it, is because of the loss of earnings that Cardiff is suffering from not doing it. And that is what Gareth Davies needs to take back to the good people of Denbighshire. Which local authority can afford not to do this, given the difference in the waste? I have the photographic evidence of the before and after that you get, the impact you get from—. Where there is not separation, it's all adulterated waste, which is far less valuable, whereas those that have been separated—you can see that this is clearly waste that people can do something with and make money out of.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:29, 18 June 2024

You need to ask a question now, please.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour

So, I want to know, on two other challenges, what can we do to ensure that we can make money from the muck produced by cows and poultry sheds, given that the—? The wealth of Peru was founded of guano in the nineteenth century, and it was one of the more most important fertilizers at that point. How can we accelerate the separation of grey water from sewage, so that we're not having to pay for expensive extra sewage plants, when we could be reusing the grey water to clean our streets and water our flowers?

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 4:30, 18 June 2024

That is a great final question. Just to say that I agree with you entirely. Mention was made earlier on in one of the initial contributions that, 'Isn't it nice when you get to a place where in a local authority you can just put everything in one thing and then they separate it?'—no, no, no. No, no, no, no. The reason we've got to the point that we have, Dirprwy Lywydd, is because we're doing exactly what you said, Jenny, which is that doorstep separation, with clean, unadulterated items. It increases the value of those recyclate products, and the value chain, then, of how those are subsequently used or reused. So, actually, don't look at the ones that are still working their way up—and we'll support them to do it—look at the ones who have got to that point and what they are doing. They are separating their waste, and that adds to the value chain enormously.

And the other thing I would say on that is a point that was made earlier on, actually: one thing we need to do is we need to lead on this, as Members of the Senedd as well. We need not to say, 'Look at the scale of that mountain, we can't do it, let's go back to what we used to do.' We need to say, 'Look at the scale of that mountain and the opportunities as we climb it, in jobs as well as the environment and everything else. Let's make the most of this. Let's get up there together.' That's what we need to be doing. So, actually, the more we rubbish local authorities—. Sorry, that was not a pun intended. But the more we stand in this Chamber and criticise local authorities for not being there or because they're trying to do innovative things to hit that 70 per cent target, that actually knocks us back. What they want to see is us standing up and saying, 'Let's get there, we can do it, look at the neighbouring authorities, look at others who've been through this.' We've been through it in mine. It was painful, but we got there and now people don't question it. So, that's what you need to do.

And your interesting question at the end there. So, leadership from us, I think, is key. Money for muck from cows and hens—I think we absolutely need to deal with that as well. It's a similar situation. Rather than looking at this as a problem, to say, 'Well, actually, where have we got the universities, the research faculties'—and it is happening—'that are starting to turn their attention to say, "How do we see this as a useful and valuable by-product that could be used, as opposed to actually going into overuse within our soil or going into our rivers?"' And that's where we need to be. That has to be our approach in a circular economy, saying, 'How do we use this stuff?', not seeing it as a burden, but an opportunity.

Photo of Vikki Howells Vikki Howells Labour 4:32, 18 June 2024

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your statement here today, which really does give us plenty to celebrate. I share your ambition for Wales to become the No. 1 country in the world for recycling, and there's clearly excellent practice across our local authorities in Wales, but there's still room for local authorities to learn from each other in order to standardise and to maximise that best practice. For example, I believe that RCT council is one of the only local authorities in Wales with the capacity to recycle mattresses. That's not just the springs; that's the fabric as well. And in addition, many of our local authorities provide disposable nappy recycling, with RCT again being recognised as a world leader in this field. But not all local authorities offer disposable nappy recycling. So, Cabinet Secretary, what more can be done to share that best practice across Wales so that more items can be recycled, helping us to aim for that coveted No. 1 spot?

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 4:33, 18 June 2024

Vikki, a really great question, and, as I mentioned, I've just come from a meeting with the WLGA. They are actually—. We're learning from them, as opposed to us telling them what to do, and they are, like RCT, driving innovation. And it's different in different parts of Wales. But what's great about the expert group from the WLGA is that sharing of good practice. What I picked up from the meeting with them just now is not a reluctance to move forward, a real enthusiasm to do it, even with those that are struggling to get up that last bit of the hill with the current targets. But it's because they can look at the innovations going on elsewhere.

There's also a question about how we work with the WLGA and the expert group to actually say, 'Well, you don't all have to do the collection and recycling of particular items; you can work together on this,' and that's a WLGA approach as well. I think this partnership approach in Wales stands us in very good stead. But what does stand us in even better stead is what I picked up from that meeting just now, that there are no naysayers there. There is nobody, as we did hear earlier on in this Chamber today saying, 'Oh, this is too hard, let's row back on this, let's take it easy, let's go down from No. 2 to No. 10 to No. 20 to whatever, because we don't have to do all this hard graft.' Well, if we don't do that hard graft, then we don't achieve the environmental outcomes we want, we don't decarbonise at the pace that we want to, but also we don't create those supply chain jobs as well, including those where they're innovating in RCT, and we want to see this right across Wales—north Wales, south Wales, west Wales, mid Wales—everywhere delivering those supply chain benefits.

Photo of Carolyn Thomas Carolyn Thomas Labour 4:35, 18 June 2024

This is partnership working at its best: Welsh Government, residents and local authorities working together. I just wanted to say that it is difficult collecting waste for local authorities. You get vehicle breakdowns, staff absences, and I actually worked a round one day; I walked 13 miles. So, I just want to say, when you have more houses, change is difficult—you know, for Denbighshire, having this change—and there are bound to be issues at first, but we've just got to give them support going through. Evidence has told us there is little to be gained by going forward with a deposit-return scheme, and I'm so glad that we're having this four-nation approach and working, with extended producer responsibility coming in first as well; I think that's really good. I know that, in England, they're so far behind that 41 per cent recycling is the average in England; Liverpool's only at 17 per cent. So, they've got a lot of catching up to do.

I just wanted to ask you a question about on-the-go waste. So, we see this in the public bins, don't we? It's really hard for local authorities to recycle because it's contaminated, so I was just wondering what you could do, really, to address this. Perhaps a take-home policy or something, or—I don't know; just what could we do about that.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 4:36, 18 June 2024

Anything in particular? In what example? In what instance?

Photo of Carolyn Thomas Carolyn Thomas Labour

On-the-go waste. So, many people take food and drinks with them, so could we encourage them to take it back with them if they take them for a picnic, whatever, you know? What can we do about that?

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour

That is such a good point, because that is part of the journey we're on. How do we get to the point where—? Like we've started to do with coffee cups. I carry one in the side pocket of my bag, so that I can go into a shop and say, 'Use my cup to fill up with a coffee.' We know that there are many shops, including in Aberkenfig, in bakers, where you can take containers and you can fill up with products. There are other ones in Pencoed where you can fill up with breakfast cereals, this, that and the other. But how do we apply that thinking to things like takeaway food, so it's not always prepackaged?

One thing I'm really glad to see recently is how takeaways have responded to the regulatory push that says, 'These materials are not going to be used anymore.' And we're increasingly seeing now the chip shop, the Chinese takeaway, in recyclable packaging—they've transitioned to that increasingly. If they aren't doing it, if anybody knows of anybody who isn't doing it, direct them to the Welsh Government site where they can get the advice on how to do it. They should be doing it now. There's the next challenge, things like home takeaways. There's a lot of these little parts that we need to think through cleverly how we can make it easy for people to do that, and make it easy for the takeaways to do it themselves as well. Is there some innovation there that we can learn from other countries?

Oh, and I'm sorry, I didn't—. Linked to that, I didn't respond to the earlier point: how do we actually learn and share international best practice? Next October, when the world will come to Cardiff in the conference here, we won't only be sharing our own experience, we'll actually be inviting people who are leading in this from around the world to share with us how they've done it, and, who knows, there might be somebody who's broken the back of the takeaway issue.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:38, 18 June 2024

And a last-minute takeaway from Rhianon Passmore. [Laughter.]

Photo of Rhianon Passmore Rhianon Passmore Labour

Very briefly, and, firstly, what a fantastic achievement, and we are ambitious to do even more, and I would also like to thank the people of Wales in that regard as well as the strategic policy underwriting that. My question, really, is a simple one. In terms of the amount of rubbish on the go that Carolyn Thomas has already mentioned, that fast food outlets in particular—I'm thinking those that are on the sides of motorways—permit daily, and the amount of rubbish that comes out of these establishments, what levers have we got in Wales to tackle that?

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 4:39, 18 June 2024

I think we've got a couple. It's a really good question, and can I just say 'thank you' to not just the people of Wales but everybody's constituents individually, and for the leadership that everybody's shown here in driving this forward? There are ways in which we can tackle that. One is through what we do on litter and fly-tipping, not just working with voluntary groups, but actually showing, demonstrating and profiling when we land mega fines on people for fly-tipping and so on. I think that's important. We don't need to do it for everybody, we're not going to have a fly-tipping policeperson on every corner of every street, but, actually, when we do do it, going big on it, and saying, 'This is what will happen.' And also the misuse of commercial tipping as well, where people decide not to be licensed and registered, but do that as well.

But there's one other fundamental part that we can do, and we think we've progressed well on this, and it's what we do with extended producer responsibility, the idea that, in a proper polluter-pays principle, we shift this right upstream, and we say to the people who are producing all the packaging around all the items that we get, 'Well, you're actually going to have to pay.' That revenue stream will then come into local authorities so that they, instead of taxpayers—. So, the ones who are producing the waste will pay for the cleaning up of it. Now, that's a very important principle. That's something we adopted when we were in the European Union; we're standing strong on that principle as well, Dirprwy Lywydd. So, Dirprwy Lywydd, in your constituency and in everybody else's, we get to the point, and it's coming in the next year, 18 months, as we put this into place—working with, I have to say, those producers of the packaging and everything else, to say to them, 'You will now have to have a revenue stream that comes into local authorities to help them clean it up'—. And maybe some of that can go towards the community groups and the litter pickers and so on as well. Do you know what that will also lead to? It will probably lead to less waste as well, because, if they have to pay for the privilege of cleaning it up, they might say, 'Well, we'll redesign some of our packaging,' so there's less packaging and waste before it even gets out there, and that would be a good thing. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you for the question.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:41, 18 June 2024

(Translated)

I thank the Cabinet Secretary.