Anyone who drives along the A48 between Carmarthen and Cross Hands will be aware of a certain fragrance in the air as you pass Nantycaws. As locals know, it isn't cheese but the pong coming from the landfill and waste management site operated by CWM Environmental, a wholly owned subsidiary of Carmarthenshire County Council.
The waste produced by households, businesses, hospitals and other public bodies has to go somewhere, and in Carmarthenshire most of it ends up at Nantycaws.
Don't tell Ukip, but the drive to recycle more and send less to
landfill is a direct consequence of EU policy, with those meddling
Brussels bureaucrats forcing member states to tackle the problem by
setting binding targets under a directive.
The Landfill Directive set targets to reduce biodegradable waste going to landfill to 50% of 1995 levels by 2009 and 35% by 2016.
The UK was a relative late developer when it came to recycling, and some readers may remember jokes about Germans washing their yoghurt pots. At any rate, the UK negotiated softer targets, reducing landfill to 50% of 1995 levels by 2013 and 35% by 2020.
Devolution has also had an impact, with the Welsh Government setting rather more ambitious targets for Wales than England. The target Welsh councils are now working towards is to hit 70% in the next couple of years.
The main weapon in the armoury is
landfill tax, a levy on every tonne of waste going to landfill, with the
money going to national treasuries rather than Brussels. To encourage
more recycling, landfill tax rates have been rising steadily year on
year. In 1996 the standard rate was £7 per tonne; today it is £80.
Moreover, councils which fail to meet their targets for landfill face
fines of £200 per tonne of waste dumped to landfill in excess of their
So far, it seems, Welsh councils have managed to come in below their allocations, with Carmarthenshire among those which have used only around 70% of their allowance. Wrexham and Pembrokeshire are among those which have been hovering perilously close to the limit.
In a recent post (Rubbish Statistics), this blog looked at a report in Resource magazine dealing with recycling rates. Carmarthenshire was one of the best performers in the UK, although statistics being statistics, other Welsh local authorities could reasonably have made the same claim.
Carmarthenshire nevertheless performed very well for the period 2012/13, and the survey also showed that while recycling rates have been improving in Wales, many English authorities have been going backwards.
As it happens, the Welsh Local Government Association produces very detailed reports looking at waste management in Wales, with a particular emphasis on cost and efficiency. The most recent one available on the WLGA's website (here) covers the period 2011/12 and runs to 55 pages. It uses many different measures to compare performance, and so inevitably there is something there which would enable just about any of the 22 Welsh local authorities to claim that they are best in one category or another, unless you are Wrexham Borough Council.
Carmarthenshire performs well on most of the measures, and very well on some, but perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge from the report is the huge variance in cost and performance across Wales. For example, the cost of recycling a tonne of dry materials was eight times higher in rural Powys than it was in the cheapest authority, and Denbighshire (a mix of rural and urban areas) showed a very impressive performance in terms of cost versus volumes and percentage of dry materials recycled.
If the tax has been the stick driving landfill down, the carrot has been an arrangement which enables landfill operators to use up to 6% of the tax to award grants to community projects.
Under the scheme grants can be awarded to a wide range of different activities, including renovating churches and other places of worship, projects aimed at restoring and reclaiming land, conservation schemes and "the provision, maintenance and improvement of a public park or other public amenity".
In recent years grants administered under the Landfill Communities scheme by CWM in Carmarthenshire have been running at around £250,000 per year. Grants range from a few thousand pounds (e.g. £3,500 for improvements to Llanddarog Village Hall) to £150,000 (the National Botanic Gardens at Llanarthne). Perhaps the most controversial grant (£50,000) went to Towy Community Church's bowling alley in Johnstown just outside Carmarthen.
CWM is adamant that there is no political interference in its grant awards.
£1.8 million has been paid out since 2006, and during that time recycling rates have improved year on year, more than doubling over the period. Conversely, volumes going to landfill have declined by more than 50%.
From next month CWM will begin processing residual waste and sending the remainder for treatment and conversion into fuel. One consequence of this will be the demise of the community landfill scheme in Carmarthenshire and an end to the grants. If little or nothing is going to landfill, there will be no landfill tax to fund the grants.
From around the middle of June, then, CWM will start deploying new plant to separate organic waste (mainly food residues) from plastic, metal, card and uncontaminated paper. What is left will be baled, wrapped and sent on as waste derived fuel, commonly known in the industry as WRF.
market for this material is mainland Europe where it is used for heat
and power systems. The UK market is still in its infancy, but capacity is
rising. The Viridor plant in Cardiff will be operational by late
summer, although it is subject to planning conditions which look unreasonable if you live outside south-east Wales. Input material is restricted to the ‘Prosiect Gwyrdd’ local authorities in the Cardiff area, but capacity is more than the combined amount of waste in
The upshot of this is that waste in the form of WRF from the rest of south and south west Wales will be sent hundreds of miles east, bypassing Cardiff, adding to our carbon footprint and with local council taxpayers paying to get rid of what is basically a resource.
Controversially there are plans for a new privately operated (energy from waste) EFW plant at the New Lodge Farm landfill site in Cwmgwili.
The plant is the brainchild of a company called Clean Power Properties, would separate organic waste from recyclable plastics, metals etc., and treat it using anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis to create gases which would be combusted to produce heat and power. There would also be a solar farm on the site to feed into the National Grid.
The company has embarked on a major PR drive, and has set up a website specifically to sell the virtues of the project. Hooking up a plant of this size to the National Grid would not come cheap, but perhaps the biggest question hanging over the project is what would happen to the heat, not least because the site is miles from the nearest centres of population, Ammanford being the nearest.
Whatever happens, it seems that the pong at Nantycaws will soon be a thing of the past.
Or as the young poet Eurig Salisbury had it:
A dyna pam ei bod hi'n haws
i fi ddod o hyd i Nant y Caws.