The Assembly is reviewing the waste strategy for England and Wales, issued in May 2000 (ENDS Report 304, pp 29-32 ), with the intention of preparing a separate strategy for Wales. It intends to issue a consultation draft in the spring, and a final version next autumn.
A new Wales Waste Forum, comprising representatives from business, local authorities, the waste industry and the community and public sectors, is to assist the Assembly in preparing the strategy. The Forum was announced by Environment Minister Sue Essex at a consensus-building conference on 27 October, which also fed into a new policy paper put before the Assembly's Environment Committee on 15 November.
The Welsh Local Government Association has called for Wales to be given higher limits than England, on the grounds that a higher proportion of waste is currently sent to landfill and that there are no major conurbations.
However, the paper put to the Environment Committee rejects this argument as "inconsistent with the overall aim of sustainable development" - and creating "presentational difficulties". While acknowledging that Wales presently recycles only 5% of household waste compared with more than 10% in England, the paper argues that there is time for Wales to make sufficient progress.
And, while Wales is more rural than England, the industrial areas of south and north-east Wales could sustain "effective alternatives to landfill". Rural mid-Wales may be well-suited to farm-scale composting, it adds.
The paper recommends apportioning the targets on the basis of 1995 waste production, as under the Directive. On the assumption that 60% of municipal waste is biodegradable - though some argue that it is more - the paper puts Wales' BMW production at 0.9 million tonnes in 1995, out of 17.4 million tonnes for the UK as a whole.
On this basis, Wales would have to reduce BMW landfilling to 0.315 million tonnes by 2020 - a particular challenge given the likely growth in waste production of the period.
The targets would most easily be expressed as permits for each council to send a reducing amount of waste to landfill annually up to 2010 and beyond. Landfill operators would not be allowed to accept waste without a corresponding permit.
England and Scotland also propose to adopt a permit-based system - but they are intending to make the permits tradable (ENDS Report 297, pp 23-27 ). The likelihood is that the permits will be tradable across both countries.
The paper submitted to the Committee signals a desire for Wales to follow suit - but holds back from making any firm proposal. It says that Wales should "seek to retain the option of adopting permits?and of making them tradable."
The priority, it adds, is for local authorities to understand the direction of travel and scale of action required, and for them "to be assured that any action initiated now is unlikely to be wasted."
The paper says that a key to successful recycling is segregation of waste at source. Projects will have to be integrated with measures to establish markets for recyclate and compost.
It notes that energy recovery - including incineration, gasification, pyrolysis and anaerobic digestion - is also an option. "However, the Assembly recognises that there are concerns about the potential impacts of some of these processes on health and wishes [them] to be more thoroughly examined before endorsing their use."