a slice of life: “the big bin swap” – recycling in the swansea valley, wales

This is written as part of the Slice of Life shared blogging scheme, which is used American school children; I am submitting this is a possible teaching resource.  Terms that I expect you may not totally understand, are highlighted in red, and explained at the end of the blog.


I came back home last Thursday to find this leaflet rolled up in my letterbox, as I pulled it out, I thought, what on earth is this?  Normally leaflets like this advertise things you really don’t need, and I throw them away before I even look at them!

the english version of The Big Bin Swap leaflet

the english version of The Big Bin Swap leaflet

As I was putting the shopping away, I glanced at it before putting it in the recycling bin.  As you will guess, it never got there, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to scan both sides, English & Welsh, in case you were wondering, and put the two scans up on this blog.

My first thought was, my neighbours weren’t going to like this!  They have 6 children, and on bin days, there is so much rubbish outside their house that you trip over it!  So even with a large bin, they can’t cope, and yes, before you ask, they do recycle too – the recycling sacks are stacked up above the bin, and tend to fall onto the pavement.

Now, before you start thinking – oh what a good idea – taking the large bins away and replacing them with smaller bins will ensure that everyone recycles their rubbish – what environmentally responsible Councils they have in Wales, let me tell you why they are doing this.

A few years ago, the EU made a new law, that fined any country that used too much landfill to bury their rubbish.  This was supposed to force everyone in Europe to recycle waste.  A good idea, in principle.  It has now become UK law and, as the Councils are responsible for collections and disposals, they are the ones that get fined, if they go over the limit they have been given.

the welsh language version of The Big Bin Swap

the welsh language version of The Big Bin Swap

“The Welsh Government has set out a requirement for all Councils in Wales to increase their recycling rate year on year, with a 58% recycling rate having to be achieved by 2016 and 64% by 2019/20. Strict fines will be imposed on local authorities if the targets are missed.”

As they are local councils, and we pay council tax, that means we, the residents, will end up paying the fine.  So, it may be a good idea, but, did we agree to them spending money on the new bins – no, we never knew about it!

Do we know what they are doing with the old bins – no idea?  Are they being sold, recycled, or just dumped in a big bin mountain! Most people generally agree that recycling is a good thing, but it has got a bit ‘over the top’. (SEE HERE)

In our Council area, we have small bins for food waste, large plastic boxes for tins and bottles, and free thin plastic sacks for paper and cardboard, which must go in separate bags, and another one for garden waste.

In the neighbouring council area, they have three differently coloured boxes, as well as plastic sacks and bins.  There are different schemes in different parts of the country.  Recycling policy is up to each Council, and so is the way they dispose of their collections.

Our Council does compost the garden waste, and they sell it on to market gardeners – altho sometimes the compost contains things that wouldn’t normally be there, because not all the waste has been sorted properly. I’m not sure what they do with the tins and bottle and paper and cardboard.  Maybe I will ask, and let you know.

But I do know that lots of our waste gets exported to ‘Third World Countries’ where young children sift through it and try to make a living out of selling what they find. Slumdog_millionaireIf you have watched the film, Slumdog Millionaire, you will know that sometimes they get sick, because they don’t even bury the waste in India or China, they just dump it somewhere, and the gases affect the people who live near it.

Is that being environmentally responsible?  Are we colluding in this abuse?

People here are liable to get fined if they do not recycle their rubbish, and there have been known to be “bin wars” where people steal others bins, because they haven’t got enough space in the large bins, let alone the new small ones.

Most people now paint their house numbers on the bins! There has also been a rise in illegal dumping, as companies now have to pay to have large amounts of waste collected.  Rogue operators, collect the rubbish for a fee, and then dump it on remote mountain tops and fields, sometimes even paying small amounts to the farmers for ‘looking the other way’.

“The Council investigates environmental crime along with partners such as the Environment Agency. If anyone is found responsible for causing crimes such as littering, dog fouling and flytipping action will be taken against them. There could be an on the spot fine of £75 or even prosecution in some cases.

Fly tipping of waste is a serious criminal offence which carries a fine of up to £50,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 12 months (or an unlimited fine and up to 5 years imprisonment if indicted to the Crown Court). Any vehicles involved in incidents of fly tipping may also be seized. We have a successful prosecution history and will prosecute all caught offenders.”  (quoted from the Council’s website)

How is this change going to affect me? A small bin is fine for my household. I recycle most of the waste in the ‘old fashioned way’. I have a compost heap in the garden, where all the food & garden waste that can’t be eaten by my chickens goes, and after a year, when the bugs have done their work, its great for the garden.

my kitchen fire

my kitchen fire

In the 1920‘s the owners of my stone built terraced house, dating from the 1860’s,  must have been very proud when they made a major improvement to the kitchen.  They replaced the open fire with a Chattan.

It’s a cast iron fireplace, with an oven on the side, and must have been very expensive at the time. So I recycle the paper and cardboard into heating, for the room, and, the fire also heats a tank of water connected to the back of the Chattan.  Old newspapers and unwanted leaftlets are great for starting the fire, especially if they have been soaked in the old oil from my chip pan!

For once, the Council was very efficient about The Big Bin Swap (get it?), the very next day, as we get a collection every other Friday here, they came along with three huge trucks, one to empty the rubbish, one to collect the old bins, and another one to dole out the new, smaller bins.


Councils – the local tier of government – in Wales we have the Welsh Assembly and the UK Parliament. EU – then we have the European Union, who seem to make most of our laws these days! landfill – literally what is says – digging huge trenches in waste land – filling them with rubbish, and then covering them over with soil. rubbish – you use the word ‘trash’ in the States. council tax –  this is based on the value of your property, the more expensive it is, the more you pay as a contribution to the services the council supply.  These include waste collection, street lighting and road mending, schools, and all kinds of other services. chip pan – for frying chips or ‘french fries’

Suggested tasks: 

  1. click on both the versions of the leaflet, and see if you can work out which welsh word means thank you.
  2. write a short piece describing what you do in your house to recycle waste.
  3. how important do you think recycling is?  write a short piece about the place it has in the environmental issues facing us today.
  4. do some research and find out what measures your local state takes about recycling.
  5. start doing some recycling in your school.

40 responses »

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  3. As I was growing up, my family recycled long before it was fashionable.

    Now, I think the UK have gone overboard on it. I saw a documentary once that said that people are fined for recycling; yet all the stuff is not actually recycled, and gets dumped in a landfill in some paradise area.

    The latest change in recycling for me when when I was at university in Bristol. We suddenly had to recycle food, which actually helped me, as it stopped the main bin from getting too smell and big. Same goes for the country of Surrey. But the catch is that we have to pay for the recycling bags, the council don’t provide them for us. I wonder where all that food goes in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yes – that’s really the point – we all have to separate everything out and can get fined if we don’t, but, what happens to it once its been collected? I looked thro’ the whole website of this council and there is nothing at all about that. I think we all want to know what happens to it, and I think we should be told!


    • thanks for your interest – well, I think its polite to ask the people involved if they would like to contribute to the debate first, rather than run to the media immediately. But if, after a reasonable period, they don’t bother to answer, then there are obviously other avenues.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. UPDATE: Just thought I’d let you all know that as of this date, I have had no replies from either my local councilor or the council’s media department.

    As a point of interest, I also asked another local council to let me know what they did with their waste, and received a long and detailed reply, which I will publish in due course.

    However, I have this morning sent an email to the Chief Executive of the council involved and asked for specific answers to my questions, and asked for a reply, suitable for publication, within 10 days.

    watch this space!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Speaking or recycling. Do you have anything like ‘Freecycling’ there? It’s very cool. It’s an online thing where people in your general area all have the opportunity of putting up items they no longer need, so others who do need them, can arrange to come and pick up what you’d otherwise have to pay a junk remover to come and take it away. It’s a win-win situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hi – thanks for having a look at the post – yes we do, but the websites are more like ‘craig’s list’ – one i’ve heard about from Judge Judy’s programme – they are national with regional searches – for all sorts of stuff, including finding somewhere to live. They don’t work very well, because even in a city, local adverts for things like furniture, aren’t likely to be noticed by the people that want what you want to get rid of at that same moment – tho just putting something outside the house with a ‘free sign’ seems to work sometimes – if it doesn’t you’re stuck with having to arrange to dispose of something thats got wet and nasty – smile!

      There used to be rag & bone men – a name that goes back over a hundred years – who used to go around on horse & cart – then lorries/trucks and call out for people who wanted to give them stuff, which they would then sell – but the internet seems to have put an end to that useful tradition!

      Liked by 1 person

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  7. Down here in Tasmania, Australia (well Hobart Council, but I think the others are the same) – we’ve have big bins for all our recycling (not compost) which gets collected fortnightly. Ours often gets full because we can’t burn the cardboard. The small bin is collected weekly and honestly it is rarely even half full. I don’t know where your first commenter is in Australia but it reminds me of systems from about twenty years ago in Sydney.

    When we lived in Queensland our local recycling centre held an annual open day and showed people around – how the stuff comes in, how it gets sorted, stored etc. The big “takeaway” for me was “Please wash the food containers before throwing them out.” The smell was reminiscent of a 1960s dump – absolutely appalling! The changeover from the big garbage bins was so long ago I can’t remember what happened to them but I think they were reused in some way. I’ll try and find out for you.


    • I don’t know if anyone in the UK has open days for official recycling centres – its a great idea.

      I went to a small open day yesterday, for a local project that recycles wood and unwanted furniture. They have taken over an old ‘Remploy’ factory – which used to employ disabled people – but the government stopped supporting them.

      However, this group, which is a charitable group part supported by the neighbouring council to mine, is doing really good work, and has the old factory floor fitted out as a woodwork shop! Bought some of their off cuts to start the fire with!

      Anything you can find out would be interesting – its fascinating to hear about how they do things in other countries.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Coming from Switzerland where recycling is like a holy Grail for a long time now and people get fined if they do it incorrectly, I am always surprised to see how early stage it still is here in Australia. Surprised… no, rather shocked. It is way behind. And rather than forcing people to do it with smaller bins, they should educate better and agree on a system that has to be followed by everywhere. As an example: We lived in an apartment building for 3 years, where they had a separate bin for glass, a separate bin for cans, a separate bin for paper and cardboard and one for rubbish (that would be similar to Switzerland, but there you would have two more: One for aluminum and one for plastic bottles or containers). Then we moved to another building and there they had one bin for paper and cardboard and everything else had to go into the normal rubbish bin… Now, living in a house we have the two bins, one for recyclables and one for general rubbish…

    I feel like wherever I move it is different and this to me is a bit of a joke.

    It took Switzerland a long time to educate people about recycling and about reducing waste and after years of letting them get used to it they started controlling and fining people for not doing it right.

    We had one class per fortnight one year where we had to go through the recycling bags our teacher brought in and had to clean the cans and squash them so we reduced the amount of bags spend on it. We also had to separate the items which were wrongfully put in a certain bag. It was disgusting but it was a great lesson.


    • That’s fascinating! Fancy having to go thro’ the rubbish in a class at school – yuck!
      Its all so hit and miss this recycling – so different everywhere you go – and I still wonder what use they put to all the things we carefully separate!

      So far, I have had no reply to my emails to my local council, not even an acknowledgement and “we’ll get back to you later”-
      things in Wales can go slowly, but I’m wondering whether I should take the advice another reader gave me, and put in a ‘freedom of information’ request!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that is the problem… They don’t really care… And as long as the government is not slightly more environment friendly that will not change. It needs to come from all the way on the top…
        Yes, I would do that!
        As far as I know most of the recyclables are actually being recycled. Glass is turned into new glass, plastic is turned into floor boards, with the cans and the aluminum I am not sure, paper and cardboard is turned into paper and cardboard again. At least back in Switzerland. I think the biggest issue is the plastic. But in Europe they are working on so many different solutions for it. My husband is working on a project currently, where they actually reduce the big garbage patch in the pacific to build toilets out of it…. I was very frustrated for a long time as I believed nothing will change but he got into a couple of projects which make me feel great about it. And they are trying to get them over here now…


  9. Great post. Coming from Europe I have to say, that we got properly educated about recycling in school 30 something years ago. About how to make sure that you do it properly and so on. I am always surprised to see in how many different ways it is still handled down here in Australia, at least where I live.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for posting that. Have you made a Freedom of Information request to your council to find out what happened to the old bins and how much the exercise cost? http://local.direct.gov.uk/LDGRedirect/index.jsp?LGSL=722&LGIL=0 Might be interesting.

    You might find the Green Centre in Brighton worth contacting to see if they can advise you on getting your message out to schools (saw your question on the Community Pool) The woman who started it was a teacher, so she might have good tips. http://www.thegreencentre.co.uk/

    All best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elaine, I am overwhelmed by your kindness. just to make sure people realise who you are, this is the lady who wrote the piece about the book I reblogged from the Cambridge Library Collection – https://julzcrafts.com/2015/02/04/mr-bewicks-birdwatch/.

      It’s a bit too early to go into full gear, I have emailed the council’s media centre and my local councillor, to ask if they could find me the answers, and it was purely for factual accuracy. If no answers are forthcoming, I’ll push a further – smile!

      Wow, you even saw my query in the Community Pool – wasn’t sure if anyone was actually reading them – thanks for the contact, will get in touch, but again, not immediately. I’m really not sure whether this is a valid ‘teaching resource’, I just wrote it like that because I thought that it might be a more suitable way to approach a group of teachers – smile – and it was fun to slant it like that!


      • Hi again – not sure I’m who you think I am – I didn’t write the piece about the birds. So please don’t take away credit from the writer who did. 🙂

        Yes, I saw you on Community Pool. I think people read posts all week. Yours didn’t have a ‘reply’ option when I saw it. So maybe that slowed down your replies.

        Good luck with your project. By the way – putting in a Freedom of Information request is just a request for information, not an attack. You pay council tax, the council has a responsibility to spend your money wisely. It’s easily done, via the .Gov.uk site and it’s not a declaration of war!

        All best wishes


        • oh, I’m sorry, I just assumed when you said “thanks for posting that”, that you were the author – the author will be on the original post, and I didn’t check – my mistake.

          Will go back and check my post on ‘the pool’ – I assumed that I’d just left a standard comment and the reply button was there – again, thanks for mentioning it!

          Liked by 1 person

          • the reply button is there now, you must have seen it as soon as I put the comment up, and it hadn’t got thro the process yet – I expect….?


  11. They went a little overboard with the swap of the bins I think. And what ARE they going to do with the old ones? Yes, I recycle but sometimes I get lazy! I’ll now try to be more aware. We must have a lot of ‘rubish’ in the states. They collect in my neighborhood twice a week! BTW – What is flytipping Jules? 😉 ~Elle


    • i’m not crusading, I’m pointing out the pro’s & con’s, and the fact that its not being done without the carrot and the stick! And we get two weekly collections of the actual bins, and weekly collections of half of the recylcled waste.
      Fly Tipping – dumping rubbish in unauthorised places and creating an eyesore, and a mess for others to clean up!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have lived places where there is only one collection a week and it wasn’t good. We have to actually take our recyclables to another place. They don’t pick up. Lucky for me it is at the rec center behind my house. We moved from a city where it was picked up weekly. I’ll have to use that word fly tipping! 😉 ~Elle


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