1. Household waste to landfill is minimised with very little effort
In Cardiff and many other areas, food waste is collected from households. In Cardiff, it feeds an anaerobic digestion plant which supplies energy to a wastewater treatment plant. Residual waste (what might be called ‘landfill waste’ if it went to landfill) is collected fortnightly instead of weekly, and households are only provided with a limited number of bags to use. (When I first heard about this I imagined a scenario where there would be a black market for bin bags, and we could sell our bags at an outrageous profit because we use one every few months or so. In reality the Council provides households with enough bags to use 3 per collection, which is really quite generous given that food waste is collected separately. I guess that the number of bags provided could be ramped down over time as people got used to it.) Rather than go to landfill, the residual waste feeds an Energy Recovery Facility which generates enough electricity to power 50,000 households while diverting 350,000 tonnes of waste from landfill each year, as I mentioned in a previous post. (Of course, even with all these systems in place, it is best to avoid waste altogether.)
All this makes it much easier as a resident to reduce the impact of my waste – compared to Melbourne where the landfill waste (that did just go to landfill) was collected weekly, recyclable waste was collected fortnightly and I had to take the initiative to collect my own food waste and traipse it down to the local community garden. On the upside, many Councils in Victoria have recently implemented (or are planning to implement) a food waste collection service. Some have also started collecting soft plastics as part of the kerbside collection of recyclable waste.
2. Energy performance of housing is transparent and considered in loans
Understanding home energy ratings in Australia is confusing, even as a sustainability professional! The Victorian Government is starting to roll out a scheme where residents can have an energy assessment completed on their home to understand its performance and how to improve it. This is a great step in the right direction, but I imagine it will be a while before enough homes have completed assessments that they can be fairly used for comparison when people are thinking about renting or buying.
The second (and possibly even cooler part of this point), is that the Welsh Government recently announced that energy efficiency is going to be a consideration in loan affordability calculations for the Help to Buy-Wales shared equity loan scheme. This recognises that people living in a more energy efficient home will be spending less on utility bills, so will be able to afford to spend more on mortgage repayments. This article from the Fifth Estate explains it all very clearly (and yes – I have been reading about how excellent Wales is in an Australian news outlet).
(Side note – when looking into this I became super jealous of all the different options there are to support home buyers in Wales. Sometimes I really think it would be much easier to stay here than eventually go back and face the insane Melbourne housing market.)
3. Public bodies have to consider sustainability in everything they do
2 In this Act, “sustainable development” means the process of improving the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales by taking action, in accordance with the sustainable development principle, aimed at achieving the well-being goals.
5 (1) In this Act, any reference to a public body doing something “in accordance with the sustainable development principle” means that the body must act in a manner which seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Naturally, I think it is amazing to have a piece of legislation like this, and there are several really clear benefits that I see from it:
- It puts sustainability high on the agenda. Nobody here is pretending that climate change isn’t an issue, or that opening a new coal mine is a good idea. I was amazed when I went to a presentation by the Committee on Climate Change about Welsh carbon targets, at just how keen everyone seemed to be to just get on with decarbonisation – including representatives from Welsh Government. The entire national planning policy is currently being revised to align with the Act, which will then trickle down into local planning policies and decisions.
- It establishes a common understanding of what sustainable development means. As I wrote in my very first post, there are many misconceptions about what sustainability is, and it is often applied in contexts that don’t quite make sense to me. However, the definition of the sustainable development principle for Wales is very clearly defined in legislation. Not only that, but it is framed in a positive way – as contributing to a Wales that future generations will want to live in. (I also find it very helpful to take a step back and consider this from time to time, it is easy to get caught up in the detail of doing things on projects every day, but considering the bigger picture makes it feel all the more worthwhile!).
- The influence of the Act reaches beyond the organisations that have a legislative duty under it. In some instances, organisations that are not covered by the Act are explicitly stating their intention to align with its principles, for example Welsh Water has established their vision to 2050 in line with the well-being goals. Less directly, the Act influences the organisations within the supply chains of public bodies, as those public bodies will consider their well-being duties when making procurement decisions.