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Wales’ former future generations commissioner joins board to help increase recycling in Torfaen

WALES’ former future generations commissioner is part of a special board to boost recycling in a Gwent borough and avoid having to resort to bringing in three-weekly rubbish collections.

Sophie Howe, who was the first person to hold the role intended to look at improving the country and ensuring long-term interests are at the heart of decisions by public bodies, has been appointed to a strategic partnership board established by Torfaen County Borough Council following a U-turn on reducing rubbish collections to just once every three weeks.

The council had intended to reducing the frequency of collections from March next year as it is failing to hit its 64 per cent recycling target and fears the prospect of hefty fines from the Welsh Government if it cannot meet a 70 per cent target by 2025. It had proposed only emptying wheelie bins either once a month or once every three weeks, as food waste – which is collected weekly in separate brown caddies – still makes up 40 per cent of black bag rubbish.

But in April council leader Anthony Hunt said he was scrapping the consultation to instead focus on a ‘Raise the Rate’ campaign to boost recycling – but warned without an improvement there would be “little option” but to reduce collections.

Ms Howe, whose term as future generation commissioner ended in January this year and is now a “sustainability adviser”, will sit with a cross-party group of councillors alongside experts and the council’s climate change ambassadors to consider how it is improving its waste collection service and boosting recycling rates.

The strategic board, which also includes Cllr Hunt and cabinet member for the environment Mandy Owen, along with three opposition councillors, is meeting monthly, while Cllrs Hunt and Owen are also members of an improvement group with council officers, that also meets monthly, charged with leading the overhaul of the waste services.

The steps were outlined to borough councillors at the authority’s July meeting, where Abersychan member Giles Davies, who quit the ruling Labour group over the proposed reduction in bin collections, welcomed the plans.

But he asked if the consultation, which the council abandoned in April, had been “put forward way too soon”.

The now-unaffiliated independent councillor said: “It caused a lot of upset and bad PR for the council. All that work could have been done and its seems it’s being done bow because we had a slap on the wrist from the public. It caused a hell of a lot of upset for the council and members who had to bear the brunt of that anger.”

He added: “We have to learn from this and listen to the people who put us in this position.”

But Cwmbran Two Locks councillor Ron Burnett, who leads the Torfaen Independent Group, agreed the council hadn’t listened to residents, but stressed that the authority is still required to meet the targets, and said “now people have to listen to us”.

He said too few residents are using the kerbside food waste collection service, adding: “Where I live it’s not a lot”. He added: “Next time you have your recycling picked up, count how many brown bins there are, it’s not a lot.

“It’s about time people started listening to us as well, it works both ways. It’s not just us listening to them they’ve got to listen to us as well, we need to achieve that target. At the end of the day someone’s got to pay for it either way.”

Cllr Hunt thanked Cllr Burnett and said: “Leadership should be about listening but also about leading and we can’t ignore the inescapable reality on food waste there is much more we can do together. We need to make it easier for people but people need to recycle that food waste otherwise it costs money and is bad for the environment.”

Pontnewynydd and Snatchwood Labour councillor Alfie Best asked if there is any indication Torfaen’s current 62 per cent recycling rate has improved since the campaign started when the consultation on reducing collections was scrapped.

Environment director Rachel Jowitt said it was a “bit too early at the moment” to judge that and said rates are usually higher during the summer months due to garden waste but the council does collect monthly data.

She said it will be focusing on reducing food waste in the autumn, and while it has already produced posters and social media videos, the council aims to visit every household which will take time.

Councillors were told the improvement group and strategic board, which will also include Roger Phillips the chief executive of Pontypool-based recycling firm Capital Valley Plastics and Dr Peter Jones from waste management consultants Eunomia, is intended to mirror the way the council has worked to improve its education service following a critical Estyn inspection.

WRAP, the Welsh Government funded waste reduction partnership, will also support the work of the two groups.

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Wales’ former future generations commissioner joins board to help increase recycling in Torfaen

Sophie Howe
Sophie Howe, who was future generations commissioner for Wales from 2016 to 2023, is part of a group intended to avoid the introduction of three weekly bin