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New rules on air quality, workplace recycling and single-use plastics passed by Welsh Parliament

New rules and regulations on clean air, workplace recycling, and single-use plastics have been passed by the Welsh Parliament.

MSs backed the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) bill which aims to improve air quality and reduce noise pollution.

The bill expands the Welsh Government’s powers to bring in pollution charges on the M4 and major A roads.

But Julie James stressed that Welsh ministers have no immediate plans to introduce road charging, saying the powers would only be used as a last resort.

Wales’ climate minister said the bill reflects the highest international standards on air quality in line with World Health Organisation guidance.

She told the Senedd: “The original driving force behind our policy to bring forward a new clean air bill was our desire to enable children to go to school and play outside safely, without suffering the impact of polluted air on their health.

“Improving air quality should bring many benefits to human health and to the health of the natural world, on which we all rely.”

Ms James described the bill as a model for cross-party cooperation, with MSs working together on areas of common ground.

Clean air

But Janet Finch-Saunders said the Conservatives’ would vote against the clean air bill due to the expanded road charging powers.

Ms Finch-Saunders also criticised anti-idling measures, characterising it as part of a wider campaign targeted against motorists.

Raising concerns about potential impact on farmers, the shadow minister criticised the bill’s provisions around ammonia.

Delyth Jewell, Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister, reiterated her party’s disappointment that an amendment to include a target for nitrogen dioxide was defeated.

But she said: “This is not just a bill for improving air quality, it is a bill with the potential to improve our health and to promote healthier ways of living and of travelling.”

Her colleague Llyr Gruffydd pointed out that there is road charging in Conservative-run parts of England.

During the “stage-four” debate, MSs voted 38-15 to approve the bill as earlier amended.

The bill now moves to ‘post-stage four’, a four-week period during which it can be referred to the Supreme Court or blocked by a Wales Office order.

No such challenge is expected before the bill is sent for Royal Assent.

Workplace recycling

MSs also backed workplace recycling regulations which will require businesses, charities and public sector bodies to sort their waste for recycling.

Workplaces will have to separate food, paper, card, glass, metal and plastics in much the same way as households from April 6.

Ms James said the change will reduce the amount of recyclable waste going to landfill and incineration, helping to mitigate the climate and nature emergency.

She told MSs the reforms will result in £106m of savings over the next 10 years, playing a key role in Wales’ commitment to reaching zero waste and net-zero emissions by 2050.

Ms Finch-Saunders opposed the reforms, saying businesses need less red tape.

“Business owners just feel, ‘What next?’, from this Welsh Government,” she said. “This is another regulatory, overly burdensome approach.”

James Evans, the Tory MS for Brecon and Radnorshire, asked why hospitals are exempt from the regulations until 2026.

Ms James explained that hospitals present additional complexities, such as clinical waste.

The three sets of regulations were agreed: two without objection and one with a 38-15 vote.

Single-use plastics

Finally, the Senedd passed regulations to introduce a £200 fixed penalty for non-compliance with a newly introduced ban on single-use plastics.

Under the Environmental Protection Act 2023, a ban on single-use plastic such as plates, cutlery and drink stirrers came into force on October 30.

Further single-use plastic items – including polystyrene lids for cups, carrier bags and takeaway food containers – will be banned from spring 2026.

Ms James said fixed penalties would be set at £200 while criminal prosecution would remain an option and variable fines would be unlimited.

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New rules on air quality, workplace recycling and single-use plastics passed by Welsh Parliament

the debating chamber at the senedd
The debating chamber at The Senedd Credit: Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament)