Not so long ago, nobody paid much attention to the accumulation of waste – much of which could easily have been re-cycled and reused – on fast growing landfill sites all across the country.
But the huge, seagull-circled piles of wood, metal, plastic, cardboard, glass and other materials too numerous to mention towering over snake-like streams of poisonous black leachate heading towards the nearest water course became so vast, people rightly became concerned a disaster was unfolding.
A solution was sought that led to recycling, the process of converting waste like plastic bottles, paper, cardboard, food and drink cans, trays and cartons into new, useful products.
Countries like Germany and Wales (Wales is now the fourth best recycling nation on earth) led the way. But if we are to stop that feared disaster unfolding - even more has to be done..
Here in Neath Port Talbot, recycling rates are at a creditable 60% plus – something which has helped Wales become one of the World’s recycling leaders.
But too much recyclable material – especially food waste and plastic – is still reaching landfill sites and as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II and the recent heart rending documentary Drowning in Plastic told us, plastic waste is still contaminating our oceans and rivers with tragic results for wildlife all over the world.
As a part of the increasingly active global recycling movement, the Welsh Government is insisting we in Wales recycle 64% of waste by 2019/20 and 70% by 2025 - with heavy fines for those not complying.
The reason for the ramping up in effort is that recycling saves energy and water, lowers pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, improves air and water quality, preserves landfill space and conserves natural resources. It also helps prevent pollution harming or killing wildlife in our precious oceans and rivers.
The whole world is recycling more – and we must play our part.
Over the next few months, Neath Port Talbot Council is introducing a series of changes to ensure the area plays its part in the world movement to increase recycling.
These changes include the phasing out of single use plastic bags for garden waste in favour or re-usable sacks. This will make it easier to dispose of green waste, save time by not having to empty the plastic bags prior to composting and will also prevent possible contamination by shredded plastic pieces (generated when flimsy single-use plastic sacks become torn).
The Council is also implementing and enforcing a new ‘no side waste’ rule from April 2019. Currently, householders can put out one black bag in addition to their wheeled bin but from April 2019 NO black bags will be allowed at the side of wheeled bins. (3 black bags will be allowed in areas where residents don’t have wheeled bins).
The main reason for this change is an analysis of black bag contents which shows more than half could be recycled but is currently being thrown out as waste. The restriction on side waste is being used to help get this recyclable material out of wheeled bins and black bags and into our weekly recycling collections instead.
Thirdly, the Council is introducing “presentation areas” at its Household Waste and Recycling Centres where bags brought in are checked for recyclable material. Waste taken to these centres should have been separated already but analysis shows more than 60% of the contents contain materials that could actually be recycled.
Experience of presentation areas in neighbouring counties shows these dramatically increase recycling rates.
Times are changing and by 2050 the Welsh Government wants Wales to be a “Zero Waste Nation”. Everyone in Neath Port Talbot, including the Council itself, should support that aim, but it means we will all have to make important changes in the way we look at recycling.
Doing it will help save the planet, save animals in our countryside and oceans from being poisoned or strangled by plastic and ultimately it will give us cleaner air and a cleaner environment.
Help us recycle today for a better tomorrow!
Councillor Edward V.Latham
Cabinet Member for Streetscene and Engineering