How green are our valleys – welcome to no-waste Wales

An ambitious scheme aims to make one village in the principality the first place in Britain where absolutely everything is recycled
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Lou Summers never throws anything away. Nor do her neighbours. But they are not hoarders, wallowing waist deep in rubbish. They are simply the least wasteful people in the UK.

Ms Summers and the residents of St Arvans, Gwent, are at the forefront of a radical green project that began in this sleepy Welsh village, and which now looks set to be rolled out across the country.

On Wednesday the Welsh Assembly will announce ambitious new plans for Wales to become a "zero waste" nation by 2050, in a radical strategy that aims to see 70 per cent of waste recycled by 2025.

Wales is already ahead of the rest of the UK in the green league. Last year, St Arvans became the first sero-wastraff (zero waste) village, with the aim that everything thrown out by the 250 houses – from food waste to phone batteries and printer cartridges – will be recycled by 2020. Residents are careful to buy only things that can be repaired, reused or recycled.

"Subconsciously, we all feel a bit guilty about the waste we create, so it makes us feel better to do something about it," said Mrs Summers. "The next stage is to extend the scheme to include other areas around St Arvans. I have friends who want to be part of it and bring their rubbish over to me here to be recycled," she added.

If Wales is to achieve its new targets, a zero-waste scheme will have to be rolled out on a huge scale. To achieve this, the Welsh Assembly aims to set up new recycling infrastructure across the country, offer advice to businesses on how they can "go green" without incurring exorbitant costs, and capitalise on new green jobs and business opportunities.

"I believe this is the most ambitious recycling plan among all the administrations of the UK. More recycling and less waste will make Wales greener and sustainable," said Jane Davidson, minister for the environment, sustainability and housing. "What we do with our waste reflects how we treat our country and planet. We can no longer simply bury waste in the land to rot. We need to act now for the sake of our country. Will we be able to look our grandchildren in the eye and say we did all we could to protect where they live?"

The zero-waste strategy in Wales is much more radical than England's recycling targets, which are to recycle 40 per cent of all household waste by 2010, rising to 50 per cent by 2020. However, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has not ruled out following Wales's lead in future.

"The waste strategy for England already sets ambitious targets. The targets for Wales are for a longer period ahead, and in England we shall be considering in due course what targets to set for later periods," said a spokesperson for Defra.

"It is not only our environment that will benefit," said Ms Davidson, "but also our economy. There are tremendous opportunities to save money and create high-quality industry by using the valuable material resources contained in waste."