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Welsh Government and its Team Wales partners are now working to take the next step and become a world leader in the circular economy.

First published:
6 June 2023
Last updated:
Two men repairing an item.

Wales is currently ranked the third best country in the world for recycling. Building on that success, Welsh Government and its Team Wales partners are now working to take the next step and become a world leader in the circular economy.

The ambition is to move away from a throwaway society to keeping items and resources in use for as long as possible. Rather than just buying and recycling items, Welsh Government wants to help people save money and protect the planet by repairing and re-using, renting and sharing more of the things they need.

Angela Langley, Associate Sector Specialist for Repair and Reuse at WRAP, explains:

“To achieve this repair and re-use culture change, we need to build the infrastructure so that we can all readily access facilities and services. It is also crucial that we develop the right skills within our communities.”

One challenge that Wales faces, however, is the generational skills gap:

“Repair cafes and reuse centres are generally run by volunteers that are of an older generation,” adds Angela. “To make sure that we can achieve this huge cultural shift, we need to ensure these much-needed skills are passed on to younger generations and we have partners working with us to achieve this. We need to work with schools, colleges and universities to engage younger people and provide them with practical opportunities to build skills, confidence and ultimately careers in the circular economy.

“There are repair cafes now being run by Repair Café Wales and its partners at various schools which is helping families through the cost-of-living crisis. At schools across Newport, for example, RE:MAKE Newport has been running workshops teaching sewing skills to parents and pupils so they can mend uniforms and winter coats. Maindee Primary School has opened a ‘library of things’ so that items such as sewing machines and bread-makers can be borrowed for use in the classroom or at school events.”

Household Waste Recycling Centres are also part of the solution and on-site re-use shops are now becoming much more commonplace. At the forefront in Wales is the work being undertaken by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, together with its service provider Wastesavers Charitable Trust Ltd.

There are now 3 re-use shops based across the borough. The council first opened a site at the Llantrisant Household Waste Recycling Centre in 2017. Named 'The Shed', it soon became popular with local residents, re-using more than 70 tonnes of waste and becoming financially self-sufficient in the first 12 months. Since then, further re-use shops have opened on a nearby business park and on Aberdare’s bustling high street. The scheme continues to be financially self-sufficient and the council is currently considering a fourth facility in the southeast of the borough.

Lee Foulkes, Waste Manager at Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, says their efforts are having a significant impact on skills development:

“Not only are we living more sustainably, but the efforts to repair and re-use are also creating jobs and training for local people. People are learning how to repair items and to restore large domestic appliances and furniture. People are also being trained in sustainable house clearance and how to define value at the point of disposal. There is training carried out in retail sales, finance, transport and social media. And as volunteers develop skills, many are becoming paid members of staff.”

Meanwhile in North Wales, registered charity Crest Cooperative diverts furniture, white goods, textiles and small electricals from landfill. It is a large operation with paid members of staff (skilled craftspeople, qualified engineers, retail assistants and administrators) supplying and managing four retail stores and a dedicated re-use hub.

Crest Cooperative’s biggest focus, however, is ensuring that its activity provides training and opportunities for people in need as well as those in our society who are traditionally overlooked or left behind, as Managing Director Rod Williams explains:

“Through our re-use work, we actively promote the wellbeing of and provide support to vulnerable individuals and people in crisis. We help to develop skills and increase confidence, providing recognised and accredited training. We seek to support these individuals, through the opportunities we provide, into employment or full-time education.

“We have worked with the probation service for 21 years and we have a high success rate of supporting people to develop skills to go on to secure full-time employment. They come to us to fulfil their Community Payback hours working on our vans, in our stores or workshops.”

A recent success story is a young man called Diogo. After completing his Community Payback hours, he spent a further two months with the team as a volunteer. He is now a full-time Retail Assistant:

“I found myself at Crest through Community Service. I was unemployed, always getting into trouble and decided I was going to better my life. It has completely changed my mindset towards work and being here has rebuilt me,”

Crest continues to expand its services in pursuit of promoting social inclusion and providing opportunities to local people. Working with North Wales Women’s Centre and female offenders through the probation service, it has built a new workshop in Llandudno where women can learn skills such as upcycling furniture.

“Many of the women who come to us have suffered domestic abuse,” adds Rod. “And by developing these skills, they are not only improving their confidence and self-esteem, but they are learning how to live more independently.” 

It is projects like these in North Wales and Rhondda Cynon Taf which are helping to create the necessary change in culture that encourages us to be more mindful and skilful when it comes to repairing and re-using.

The repair and re-use movement is certainly growing. A coordinated programme, led by the Welsh Government in partnership with public, private and third sectors has been launched to increase the range and scale of repair and re-use initiatives across Wales. 

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