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Thousands in Cardiff asked to separate glass, plastic and paper in recycling trial

02 Dec 2021 6 minute read
Viridor energy from waste incinerator Trident Park, Cardiff. Picture by Charos Pix (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter

Thousands of people in Cardiff will be asked to separate glass, plastic, and paper in a new recycling trial.

The pilot will see 4,000 homes in Llandaff, Radyr, Pentwyn, and Trowbridge separate their recyclable rubbish instead of putting it all together in green plastic bags.

It will run for six months beginning in January and if successful could be rolled out across the whole city.

Separating recycling is seen as key to improving the city’s recycling rate which is currently the worst in Wales although better than other major British cities.

Councillor Michael Michael, cabinet member for clean streets, environment, and recycling, said: “When comparing the recycling and composting rate in Cardiff to other major regional UK cities our figures are excellent and something we should all be proud of, especially our residents, who play a major role in helping us achieve these numbers.

“However in recent years our recycling rate has flatlined and we now have to look at ways of getting that number moving up again.”


Last year 55.8% of household waste in Cardiff was recycled compared to a Welsh average of 65.4%. The city has a target of hitting 64% as soon as possible and 70% by 2024-25.

Residents in the trial will receive a blue reusable sack for paper and card, a red reusable sack for metals and plastic, and a blue caddy for bottles and jars. The council will write to every home in the trial in early December and deliver a leaflet explaining the trial in January.

The trial is one part of Cardiff council’s major new recycling strategy which also includes getting rid of red-striped bags for general waste and the use of mobile pop-up recycling centres. The strategy is set to be approved by the council’s cabinet on December 16.

Cllr Michael said: “Since 2020 the overall recycling rate for the city has dipped due to the pandemic. This is mainly because at the beginning of the crisis, in order to keep our waste service running, we had to send all waste to an energy-recovery facility rather than hand-sorting it for recycling. It meant little or no waste was recycled during the early months of lockdown.

“We had to do this to safeguard staff working in close proximity at our recycling processing plant. Alongside this the council’s recycling centres at Lamby Way and Bessemer Close were forced to close under direction from the Welsh Government. These operational decisions reflected the urgency of the position and were widely reported at the time.

“Now that we have restored all our recycling services we have to take steps to achieve the Welsh Government’s recycling targets and we are committed to doing everything we can to reach the 70% target for 2024-25.

“This will be a huge challenge, especially with the wide variety of homes and residences in the city, but with the help of our residents I’m sure we can push on. We all know we are facing a climate emergency and this is one of the best and easiest ways we can all make a difference.”


About 85,000 red-striped plastic bags are currently given out to residents in Cardiff who can’t have a black wheelie bin for general waste, costing the council £50,000 a year. This will likely come to an end early next year and residents will instead have to buy normal bin bags. Residents will also be limited to putting out up to three bin bags of general waste.

The pre-booking system for tips at Lamby Way and Bessemer Close will also remain in place.

Cllr Michael added: “The new pilot scheme, using the three-stream collection method, will allow us to look at whether a different type of collection system can increase our recycling rate and reduce the amount of contaminated waste which is currently put out for recycling.

“Although co-mingled recycling—placing all recyclable items into the green bags as we do now—is easy to do the levels of contamination have proven to be too high despite various education programmes.

“Right now, when we look at the total amount of non-recyclable waste processed, 8% is made up of rejects from our recycling collection and process. The industry average is 2%. Analysis carried out in 2019-20 identified 10,000 tonnes of recycling were lost due to contamination. This alone could have increased our recycling rate by 3%.

“In Cardiff we also have a large number of houses of multiple occupancy, which make up 30% of the city’s housing stock. Historically these properties produce very little recycling and this needs to change if we are going to hit our targets. So we will be using our outreach teams to engage with these residents on the need to recycle as much as possible.”


Last week it emerged Cardiff council will not have to pay a fine for missing its legal target. According to Welsh Government figures the recycling rate in Cardiff has fallen over the past few years from 59.2% in 2018 to 58.1% in 2019 and 55.8% last year.

However Cardiff does already recycle much more than major cities in England. For example Birmingham and Liverpool recycle just 23.6% of household waste, London 34.4%, Brighton 29.4%, and Bristol 47.1%, according to recent figures.

Asked why Cardiff was not facing any fines for missing its target, a Welsh Government spokesman said: “The minister has decided against issuing a fine to Cardiff council because of the impact this could have on key services as they deal with the extra financial constraints caused by the pandemic.

“In the meantime Cardiff council has taken immediate action to improve performance including making changes to household waste recycling centres and stopping all black bag-only trade waste collections. Cardiff council has also committed to bringing forward a new recycling strategy and action plan that will outline how they plan to improve and extend recycling services in the city.”

But almost a third of what Cardiff households put in their green recycling bags is sent to the Viridor incinerator in Splott and burned for energy. This is due to high contamination rates, meaning people putting rubbish into the green bags that can’t be recycled. By separating recyclable rubbish into separate containers contamination rates should fall and lead to much better quality materials that can be recycled more easily and effectively.

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Geoff Horton-Jones
Geoff Horton-Jones
2 years ago

An all Wales approach to recycling is long overdue. but it has to be driven by the downstream use of the material and the costs incurred and revenues that may be realised

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
2 years ago

Most of Wales has been doing this separation for years and Ceredigion, Conwy, Pembrokeshire and Vale of Glamorgan have already met and passed their 70% 2025 target. We have done well with recycling rates growing from a pathetic 4.8% before devolution (the “All-Wales” programme you ask for is now 33 years old with £1Bn invested) to over 65% today but there are weaknesses. The last lap to “Zero Waste” by 2050 will probably be the hardest. Four of Wales’ 22 local authorities have missed the 64% targets, Cardiff is very much the worst and needs to do better. The numbers… Read more »

Joe Jones
Joe Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

You need to take into consideration the demographic make up of each region. It is too simplistic to compare recycling rates, Cardiff for example has a considerable amount of high rise flats and a big student population which have a detrimental affect on the recycling rate.

2 years ago

In Powys we split our waste 5 ways: Plastic + Metal / Paper / Glass / Food waste / ‘Landfill’. It’s not difficult and can promote the feeling that you are ‘doing-your-bit’ no matter what the CC does with it after it has been collected!
Despite this we are still just below the 64% target. So let’s try a bit harder.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
2 years ago
Reply to  Erisian

November saw the 2020-2021 figures released with Powys at 66.1%. You may have last year’s 63% in mind.

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
2 years ago

Cardiff lagging behind the rest of Wales again! 😉
POerhaps they need a bigger share of the investment?

2 years ago

I like the use of “asked” in the title , what they mean is you will be ordered to do it and if you don’t comply you will be fined and they will send out 3 council managers to browbeat you. I put out some plastic of a type that they claimed to recycle HDPE, workers did not take it so I complained and the three managers turned up to educate me.

Philip Carter
Philip Carter
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul

scruffy scum

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