Eunomia, along with sub-contractors Resource Futures and HCW Consultants, was commissioned by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) to examine the relative merits of different dry recycling collection systems in relation to WAG’s sustainability objectives.

The study considered co-mingled, two-stream and kerbside sort collection systems, taking account of the overall financial, environmental and social impacts associated with each collection system. The findings of this research were intended to inform the policy framework within which local authorities will deliver the major changes to their services required in order for 70% recycling to be achieved.

The research was carried out in three phases: an initial literature review of previous relevant research; an in-depth study of six Welsh ‘case study’ recycling schemes (two co-mingled, two two-stream and two kerbside sort) which sought to understand in detail the fate of all material collected from ‘doorstep to end destination’; and an all-Wales modelling exercise, in which the impacts of all authorities switching to one or other of the collection systems were compared.

Key conclusions that can be drawn from the study are:

  • Co-mingled and two-stream collection systems could be expected to achieve higher yields of collected dry recyclables than kerbside sorting. However, when material rejected at the MRF, by secondary processors and by reprocessors is taken into account, differences in tonnage actually recycled appear to be marginal.
  • Improved environmental outcomes are associated with the typical fates of kerbside sorted material as opposed to co-mingled and two-stream material, both in terms of benefits of recycling and impacts of onward transportation.
  • In terms of financial cost, when optimised systems are compared for all options, kerbside sorting does appear to have the potential to offer a lower overall cost.
  • The advantages of kerbside sorting appear to increase as recycling performance increases. In turn, the advantage of two-stream over co-mingled collection appears to narrow as performance increases.

These results suggest that Welsh local authorities will face a challenge in adapting collection systems that may work well now, but may become increasingly sub-optimal as recycling levels increase towards the 70% target.

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    A technical annex to the report can be downloaded here.