Welsh Government has focused successfully on increasing recycling, but prevention should come first, says Auditor General
The Welsh Government has focussed more attention and resources on recycling than preventing waste in the first place and there has been mixed progress towards waste prevention targets. That’s the conclusion of a report, published today (21 March 2019), by the Auditor General for Wales, which calls on the Welsh Government to review its approach and learn from practice outside of Wales.
Waste prevention is the most effective means of reducing the ecological footprint of waste. Today’s report found that while the Welsh Government has a plan for waste prevention in place, it has generally had a lower profile than recycling despite evidence of positive impacts from some important initiatives.
The Welsh Government has provided councils with significant funding for their municipal waste management services, but this has mostly supported recycling with very little of it spent on waste prevention. In 2016-17 for example, councils spent at least £60 million of the £64.3 million allocated in the Single Revenue Grant on activities that were primarily concerned with increasing recycling. Councils have faced the threat of financial penalties for failing to meet recycling targets.
Wales is one of only a few countries worldwide to have set waste prevention targets, and the Welsh Government’s Towards Zero Waste strategy includes the ambition of phasing out all residual waste entirely by the year 2050. However, the report notes that the data available to measure performance is of variable quality and indicates mixed progress. Overall, the amount of household waste being generated has reduced in line with the Welsh Government’s target since 2007, but with some fluctuation in recent years. The last surveys in 2012 showed that there had been no progress to reduce commercial and industrial waste and the economic downturn played a significant part in the large reduction in construction and demolition waste.
Many of the factors that influence the amount of waste generated are not things the Welsh Government can directly control. Nevertheless, the Welsh Government can also input to developments at a UK-level, as in recent consultations on packaging waste regulations and options for a deposit return scheme for drinks containers.
The Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton said:
“The Welsh Government needs to practice what it preaches and live up to the spirit of its own Well-being of Future Generations Act when it reviews its waste strategy later this year, ensuring that its focus on recycling doesn’t come at the expense of waste prevention. The Welsh Government has supported some important initiatives but can also learn from approaches elsewhere, including opportunities to make further use of legislation and financial incentives to help realise its waste prevention ambitions. Wales can demonstrate some good progress on household waste, but doesn’t have the up to date figures needed to judge progress for other types of waste.”
Notes to Editors:
- This report considers the level of priority that the Welsh Government has given to waste prevention and progress towards waste prevention targets. It focusses on developments, since the publication of the Waste Prevention Programme in December 2013, although it takes account of previous data where this demonstrates broader trends. The report does not seek to evaluate value for money of the specific waste prevention activities that make up the Waste Prevention Programme or as set out in the Welsh Government’s sector plans.
- The Welsh Government has set ambitious targets for an annual percentage reduction in waste arising through to 2050 – regardless of population or economic trends – and set against 2006-07 baselines: Household waste – 1.2% reduction a year; Commercial waste – 1.2% reduction a year; Industrial waste – 1.4% reduction a year; and Construction and demolition waste – 1.4% reduction a year.
- The Welsh Government supports a ‘circular economy’ based on a principle that better resource efficiency could contribute to significant financial and other benefits. The Welsh Government considers that the circular economy aligns with the well-being goals set out under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and with its Towards Zero Waste strategy. Waste prevention is an important part of the Welsh Government’s approach to resource efficiency. An emphasis on prevention is also one of the five ways of working that underpin the sustainable development principle as set out in the Act.
- This report forms one of a set of three related pieces of work on waste management in Wales. The other two pieces of work have considered issues relating to municipal recycling and the procurement of residual and food waste treatment capacity.
- The Auditor General is the independent statutory external auditor of the devolved Welsh public sector. He is responsible for the annual audit of the majority of the public money spent in Wales, including the £15 billion of funds that are voted on annually by the National Assembly. Elements of this funding are passed by the Welsh Government to the NHS in Wales (over £7 billion) and to local government (over £4 billion).
- The audit independence of the Auditor General is of paramount importance. He is appointed by the Queen, and his audit work is not subject to direction or control by the National Assembly or government.
- The Wales Audit Office (WAO) is a corporate body consisting of a nine-member statutory Board which employs staff and provides other resources to the Auditor General, who is also the Board’s Chief Executive and Accounting Officer. The Board monitors and advises the Auditor General, regarding the exercise of his functions.