Category Archives: recycling

Handmade Felt Transforms Lives in Nepal


logo  This article was published on 14 May on the Cloth Roads blog 

I thought you might like to read it as its very topical

This is a story of transformation that began before the earth shook Nepal twice in a few weeks, when women artisans were transforming scraps of saris, silk, and wool through a hand, wet-felting process into fashionable, felted art-to-wear scarves for the U.S.-based company, The Red Sari. It’s a story of what women can co-create when a vision is shared, changing lives of isolation and financial insecurity to ones of enhanced self-worth, status, and independence.

Taking a Leap 
Sometimes it’s best not knowing something. This is how Julie West felt when leaving a career in healthcare to pursue graduate school at the University of Arkansas, Clinton School of Public Service. It was while working on an international public service project in Nepal, when she became inspired by the country and its artisans.

Julie remembers, “I returned to Nepal after graduation for a four-month stay, working side-by-side with the women artisans in the Kathmandu Valley. It was through a collaborative process of testing, failing, and testing again that we designed our signature product, the felted vintage sari scarf. After that, we continued to collaborate on many other products.  In the fall of 2009, I launched The Red Sari.” Prior to working with Julie, this artisan group of fifty women did outsource work for many people so they’re thrilled to be working with only her, being paid a fair trade, living wage.






Returning to Nepal at least annually, Julie works directly with the women on product development. When she’s not there, she’ll send photos or sketches and the women will riff off of them or come up with designs on their own. Making felted scarves is a time-consuming process of bonding fabric with fiber, one which requires hand scrubbing, rubbing, and rinsing layers of materials with hot, soapy water until disparate elements transform into one colorfully rich scarf.  The use of repurposed old saris is really important for the environment as well as using natural material. And while some products veer away from the old saris, the artisanry and uniqueness of the products make a fashionable statement.

Why Red

In the Nepalese culture, the color red is both auspicious as well as a symbol of transformation. It’s a color in constant view of daily life. From the painting of household portals to applying a tika (a red dot) to a married woman’s forehead, red conveys protection, purity, dignity, and honor. For women, the wearing of red begins at marriage, an outward symbol conveying their cherished status, and ceases upon the death of a husband, no longer cherished but abandoned to the restrictive life of widowhood.

A married Nepali woman wearing red sari, vermillion hair stripe, and tika dot (red nails too.)

A married Nepali woman wearing red sari, vermillion hair stripe, and tika dot.

Widows are many, having lost husbands during the ten-year civil war which ended in 2006. And now, with lucrative industries beckoning able-bodied men elsewhere, both widowed and married women are carrying on the work of family and community. Constitutional changes are beginning to address long-needed provisions for widows.

Shortly before the first earthquake, Julie was working on a humanitarian project of establishing a short-term living and training center for women in transition. The center would offer basic education in reading and math, to teaching skills such as machine sewing and hand embroidery. The training would prepare them for living on their own. This project is now on hold due to the earthquakes.

Triaging From a Distance

The felting group couldn’t be reached for three days after the first earthquake. Julie’s on-the-ground coordinator, Bishnu, skypes with her regularly and she finally heard from him, learning that her group was fine, although some of their village housing wasn’t.

Julie said, “We had just gotten the factory back into full production and felt like we were doing really well until the second earthquake hit. The factory was hit this time–the pillars cracked and the aftershocks will continue. The factory is shuttered until engineers can assess the safety.  This work is the only livelihood for over 50 women and families.  The rebuilding and recovery phase is long. Everyone is looking for space, and the monsoon season is coming soon.” But Bishnu assures her that temporary space is being set up and things will move forward. Julie says a common saying is, “Don’t quit us. We’ll figure this out.” Her response is, “Why would I quit? This is a partnership and we’ll work together to figure it out.”

What You Can Do 

Can you help rebuild The Red Sari factory and help fund the costs of lost wages for the women and their families and the price tag associated with relocation? The link to The Red Sari’s crowdfunding campaign is No donation is too small. It all adds up.

Thanks to Julie West for providing information and images for this blog. But most of all, for her efforts to not quit. Pass it on. 

X is for Xtra, Xtra – read all about it!


XThis is the newz according to Julz!

Readers of this blog may have noticed I have a campaigning streak – I’m not sure what you think about it, but its in my genes!  When I was doing blogging101 in January, we were asked to pick a prompt, and write a post around it.

I chose “Never Surrender, and I wrote about my Dad.  You are welcome to click on the link and read it.  At the time I was feeling a little awkward about publishing a series of posts about the “cock ups” the Royal Mail were, and still are, making – and wasn’t sure whether I should keep them up.  Writing that post convinced me I should, however silly it made me look – smile.

I thought I would use this last week of the A-Z Challenge to write an update of the results – or not – of my little personal campaigns.

me messing around with a picture of postboxes

messing around with a picture of modern postboxes

I am vehemently against the privatisation of Royal Mail – as are may other people who rely on it.  Shares were offered at the end of 2013 and the price was far too low, which resulted in the ‘company’ ending up in the hand of the money men, who are simply interested in reselling them for a quick profit,  and not interested in providing a good service for their customers!

The public service had served us well since 1840, when the first postage stamps were issued – costing just one penny.  They are worth a lot more now!

Privatisation and the need to make a profit, has resulted in the loss of previously stable jobs, and a very unhappy staff.  Worse, the people now running it, have never worked within the system, but have been drafted in from other industries, so they know nothing about its traditions and how to make workable changes.  They have messed around with the pricing structure for the last couple of years, and made major mistakes.

close up of notice - last collection on saturday - 7 am, weekdays - 9 am!

close up of notice – last collection on saturday – 7 am, weekdays – 9 am!

It was a silly thing that got me started on this complaint!

I went to my nearest post box, to post some small orders, one Saturday morning at around 8 am, only to find that, without prior warning, there was a notice saying that the only collection on Saturdays would be at 7 am – ie I’d missed it!  Saturday collections have been at noon for EVER!

Worse, as I was on my way to Asda, and passed another post box, I stopped to look at the notice there, and it still said 12 noon, and the post box at Asda said 9.15am!  Even the guy who runs the local Post Office knew nothing about the change when I asked him!

There followed a series of encounters with Head Office, who were as obfuscating as they could be, and with the local Sorting Office, where I got laughed at.

Even sillier, I finally found out that the notices had been put up but the changes hadn’t happened yet!  

You can follow the series of posts I wrote HERE if you can be bothered to – its a long read – smile. (You will have to scroll down to the bottom to see the first one, and then scroll upwards for the next instalment!

Although nothing specific came out of the fuss I made, a new sticker is to be seen on all the local post boxes, giving the phone number for any queries the public would like to make about collections etc.  I was very heartened to hear a whole section on complaints from all around the country about the change in collection times from rural postboxes,   on Radio 4’s programme, You & Yours, this week.  Whether much will happen after that exposure remains to be seen.

I still don’t know for sure when the collections are, and whether the changes have yet been put into effect- I wonder if they’d tell me if I phoned up the number on the sticker!

cropped-3vert-dry-stone-wall-version-2.jpg In January, I also wrote a post about the new VAT MOSS scheme, which seems to have been introduced to force large companies, like Amazon, to pay their fair share of tax, but is instead making it more difficult for small businesses, and especially craftspeople, to trade.  There have been various petitions, to the European Union, whose legislation this is, and to member country parliaments, but as far as I can tell, no one has done anything to change the scheme.  My plan to open a separate shop on etsy selling digital downloads of my old photographs is still on hold.

the large bin was replaced by the small bin

the large bin was replaced by the small bin

In February, the local council came and changed our large wheelie bins for small ones, apparently in an effort to get us to recycle more.

I was curious as to how much the new bins had cost and whether the old bins had been usefully recycled, so I asked them.

I did eventually get some answers, but did not pursue the issue to the bitter end – it was enough to be able to show that people all over the world had read my blogs about this.

The Council Officials were prepared for some criticism on this policy, but they do not yet have a culture of recognising that freedom of information means transparency and accountability.  It would be nice if they got into the habit or publishing information like this without having to be cajoled into doing so!

Still they have come a long way from the petty officialdom that WAS once the prevailing culture – and unfortunately still is in many parts  of the world.  If I lived in India, China or Russia, to name but a few of the countries that abound with petty corruption – I might have found myself in prison just for asking those questions, or at the very least, would think nothing of having to pay a bribe to a local official to get my rubbish collected at all!

You can read the sequence of posts here.

photo of Matt Mullenweg, taken in 2014 (found on his website)

photo of Matt Mullenweg, taken in 2014 (found on his website)

My most recent campaign has stalled.

Ironically, its about WordPress and the changes they have made, and they seem to be the least open to discussion – or, if you like, on a par with the Royal Mail!

It would seem that Matt, who is a co-founder of WordPress thought it would be nice to be able to post short blogs from his mobile, so he wrote a program for it.

He thinks we all should use it – whether we are posting from our computers, i-pads or phones – but it doesn’t work!  I call it Edit Lite. See my postTest on Chrome“.

I spend a great deal of time formatting my posts, so that they are readable, and was finding that when I went back to edit them, the formatting got screwed up.

I was most upset to find this had happened to the last post of the Big Bin Swap series – see above – just at the time I had sent out invitations to the ‘Big Wigs’ from all the Local Councils to read it!

I have fixed it now, so the only thing wrong with it is that a paragraph in the middle has been squashed up.  I purposely haven’t been back to do that on the ‘Test on Chrome’.

I have tried contacting Matt – but he’s unreachable.  I put up a couple of posts, trying to get his attention – see “Message to Matt – 1 & 2“, but answer was there none, not even thro’ the very helpful Happiness Engineer – still makes me laugh, that title!

What she has told me is that they haven’t been able to fix it yet!  Edit Lite is the culprit, and we are being steered towards using it, whether we have up-to-date mobile phones or not!  I’m one of those who doesn’t!

The Classic Editor is now almost impossible to find.  However, I have followed the advice the ‘HE’ gave me, and returned to the Blog Post Page every time, religiously, where Classic Editor can be found by clicking “Add New” at the top of the page, and if I want to edit a post, I do it in that page – and have not had any real problems since!

I am steering well clear of any contact with Edit Lite – it has caused me too much grief!

I am not the only one who has had problems with this, and there are various forums and groups out there that I found when I was trying to get answers, who are extremely angry about the changes that are being made.

AND – it occurs to me that WordPress, of all organisations, should be listening to their customers, and be concerned about how the platform they provide performs.

The internets’ greatest strength is that it allows FREE SPEECH, and has been an important tool for the implementation of those ideals – its a shame to find WordPress, inadvertently perhaps,  acting in a similar fashion to those old fashioned, all powerful dictators!



W is for Wonderwool


W I went to Wonderwool yesterday and thought I’d share my day out with you.

Wonderwool?  Its a ‘trade show’ (or as they call it ‘A Festival of Welsh Wool & Natural Fibres) for spinners & weavers and other crafters, and was held at the Royal Welsh Show grounds in Builth Wells.

The forecast was for rain, and it looked like it was right on the drive there, but by the afternoon it was a brilliantly sunny day!

I found some new suppliers, and bought some lovely silk fibres, which I will be putting up on etsy & ebay in the coming weeks, but this post is just about some of the people, and animals (!), who I came across during my day out.

Apologies to the others who haven’t got featured, it was a big show and I didn’t get around it all, and I kept getting distracted by all the nice stuff there, and forgot to get my camera out!

So here is a gallery of the photos I DID take – hover over the pictures to see the caption, or click on them to get a slide show – you may need to do this to read the full descriptions – I have given the contact details for all those featured.

And look out for the May/June issue of Yarn Maker whose editor I met several times in my meanders, and who was also taking pictures for a feature. (

Q is for Quilts for Peace


QThere is a long tradition of group quilting.  Tales abound of neighbourly Quilt Circles who, from necessity, helped each other to make the everyday quilts for bedding, from scraps of material, often cut from old clothes.

A more modern tradition has grown up within protest groups and others working for causes, to make group peace quilts, or protest quilts.  I have picked a few out from my internet search, for you to have a look at.  Perhaps they will inspire you to make something similar within your own group?

This one comes from

National Peace Quilt

Title: National Peace Quilt – Maker: Boise Peace Quilt – Project Dated1984

This is the text that goes with it :  The BQP’s concern about the effects of Cold War rhetoric on their children influenced their quilts. In 1984, the BQP stitched National Peace Quilt. Schoolchildren drew blocks and BQP members transferred them to quilt blocks. The BQP solicited senators to sleep under it for a night. Each senator was then asked to reflect on the damage that the Cold War was doing to the nation’s children and to write their thoughts in a journal that traveled with the quilt. Image courtesy of the Boise Peace Quilt Project

This one comes from

Quilt artist Denise Estavat tells the story of life in the village where she grew up.  The men cut sugar cane and the oxen pull the cart to deliver it to market.  Notice the intense echo quilting and refined details in embroidery.

Quilt artist Denise Estavat tells the story of life in the village where she grew up. The men cut sugar cane and the oxen pull the cart to deliver it to market. Notice the intense echo quilting and refined details in embroidery.

PEACE QUILTS is a non-profit, ecomonic development organisation relieving poverty in Haiti by establishing and supporting independent, member-owned, women’s sewing co-operatives ….We also market their one-of-a-kind art quilts and a product line of affordable quilted items……. is the website of the Worldwide Schools’ International Peace Quilt competition – this is a picture from their gallery showing children from the International School of Curitiba Brazil who worked on their 2013 quilt.


Lastly, this quilt which is based on the CND symbol, is on, and the pattern, along with many others, is available free, for you to make for yourself.

Give Peace A Chance, free quilt pattern by Rosemarie Lavin and Jean Ann Wright for the Feelin' Groovy Fabric Collection at Windham Fabrics

Give Peace A Chance, free quilt pattern by Rosemarie Lavin and Jean Ann Wright for the Feelin’ Groovy Fabric Collection at Windham Fabrics

How Ancient Weaving Techniques Save the Earth

scarfcopysCopied from the Huffington Post: Article Published on 13 March 2015

This is a long but fascinating article about the regeneration of a community in Peru, by going back to the traditional methods of vat dyeing with natural plants, and spinning and weaving their own alpaca wool. 

Chinchero, Peru (photo credit: Natalie Deuschle)

The rainbow was born in the town of Chinchero, Peru, according to Incan mythology. Today, when the weavers of the area gather to dye wool in vats of boiling water, myth seems to become reality. The women wear bright red jackets as they tend to the vats, samples of already dyed wool are laid out — from blue to saffron to purple — and a weaver stirs a pot of deep moss-green wool with a long wooden pole.

Chinchero is situated in the central Andes, a short distance from Cusco, on the way to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. It has developed into a tourist hub, although the community remains seemingly untouched by time. Quechua, the language of the Inca people, is spoken by many of the inhabitants, and the town still commands the vistas that long ago earned the region the moniker “the cloud kingdom of the Incas.”

Peru hosted the 20th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change late last year, and was the backdrop for far-reaching negotiations among more than 190 countries about the impact of climate change. And Peru is also home to the small-scale but powerful work being done by artisans like weavers in Chinchero, especially in terms of how their work supports and preserves the biodiversity of the region.

Today a dyeing workshop run by the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC), a group that supports and promotes traditional weaving and spinning, has drawn more than 100 people to the area to master the centuries-old traditional technique of making naturally dyed wool. Participants tend the vats of boiling water and work with the dyestuff, which includes chillca flowers from the nearby mountains, used to produce the color green; shapy, a vine that makes the color pink, collected from the jungle beyond the neighboring community of Accha Alta; and the insect cochineal, which feeds on cactus and is ground to make the color red.

“They have been there since 4:30 in the morning,” explains Peggy Clark, director of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, a group that supports the global handicraft market, including the weavers of this region. “It is physically difficult, labor-intensive work, a community effort — but really peaceful. Time slows down over this whole day. It’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of thing.”

Sallac Village, Peru (photo credit: Natalie Deuschle)

Until recently, many of the ancient weaving customs of Chinchero, which are rooted in the stunning biodiversity of the area — from natural dyeing to harvesting alpaca wool — had all but disappeared for decades, during which chemical dyes and machine weaving pushed out the old techniques.

Now, however, natural dyeing and traditional weaving methods can take some of the credit for having brought an economic, environmental, and social renewal to the region. The textiles produced in Chinchero are sold globally and are on display in museums around the world, and that’s partly thanks to one woman, Nilda Callañaupa.

Traditions Lost

Forty years ago, Chinchero was home to a young girl, whose job it was to tend sheep as they grazed. As the many hours of the day passed on the hillside, she spun wool as she watched her animal charges, as girls her age were expected to do, producing usable skeins of wool. The wool was used to make the textiles that were an important part of the community — as blankets, clothing, in farming, and in sacred rituals. And as the girl spun, she became entranced with the act — so much so that she found herself dreaming of spinning as she slept each night.

“I am proud that I learned skills and knowledge from my Chincero grandmothers and their ability to lay out and weave complex designs, carrying on ideas passed from their mothers and grandmothers,” says Callañaupa, now 54 and founder director of the CTTC. ” … I saw how my grandmothers took strength from their Inca rituals and ceremonies, especially those connected with weaving and spinning.”

As that girl spinning on the mountainside grew older and her interest in weaving became a passion, she noticed that the traditional methods of dyeing wool and weaving were disappearing from Chinchero. The techniques, handed down orally over the years, were not recorded in writing, and the younger generations showed greater interest in leaving Chinchero for the cities of Peru than in learning from their elders. Textiles were still important to the community, but cheap chemical dyes, acrylic yarn, and machines were being used more widely by the weavers.

“The textile process was poorly managed,” says Callañaupa. “The younger generation was not working with the same attention to quality as the elders.” The growing tourist market had created a demand for simple, quickly produced designs and products of lesser quality: belts, bags, friendship bracelets from exotic, “foreign” lands. Commercially produced synthetic dyes were bright, cheap, and easy to use (natural dyeing is a much longer, more expensive process), and the weavers in Chincero were rapidly abandoning the traditional methods.

Beyond the degradation of quality that such developments implied, Callañaupa saw the loss of the connection between nature and culture looming. The ecosystem management systems that went along with the old methods (sustainable use of plants, animals, water, and land), developed over thousands of years, were becoming lost — and the ecosystem was suffering.

It’s a phenomenon that occurs far beyond Chinchero, in fact. As Greenpeace reported, the textile industry’s impact on the environment in terms of water and land use, energy efficiency, waste production, chemical use, and greenhouse-gas emissions is alarming. Groups like SlowColor are trying to tackle this problem, as their website explains. “SlowColor rejuvenates centuries-old fabric dyeing techniques and handlooming traditions, protects the environment and creates fabrics that are healthy for life. SlowColor connects artisan to audience, tradition to global market.” And in the highlands of Peru, these are precisely the methods advocated by Callañaupa and the CTTC.

Returning Home

As a teenager, Callañaupa became close friends with an older woman of the community, who taught her how to weave in the traditional ways. Callañaupa’s love of learning led her to become the first in her community to go to university, then on to study in the United States at Berkeley — and she took her spindle with her.

Callañaupa easily could have made a life for herself away from Chinchero. But after earning graduate degrees, she returned to the lush valley of her youth, with a commitment to researching and revitalizing the ancient weaving and dyeing techniques of her elders.

It was a calling that led Callañaupa to establish the CTTC in 1996. In addition to holding periodic dyeing workshops for weavers in the region, the Center runs programs for youth and elders. “Not only do I hope that young people will continue their traditions but I would like to see Inca children today experiencing the joy, sense of identity and accomplishment that spinning and weaving can bring to their lives,” says Callañaupa.

In a relatively short span of time, this community, in which it seemed that the ancient ways would be lost forever, has reclaimed its roots — and the change has gone beyond the weaving.

When you walk through Chinchero, perhaps through the Sunday market where many textiles are sold, many of the townspeople are dressed in traditional garb; as recently as 10 years ago, this wasn’t the case. It was Callañaupa and others in her community who encouraged the community to begin dressing as their ancestors had, as a way of strengthening their connection to the old ways — to strong criticism at first.

It seemed, Callañaupa explains her book Textile Traditions of Chincero, “that what I was doing seemed to be going backwards in our history because traditional clothes were used by women without education, and educated people should change. Many women and girls received strong criticism, but we have already overcome that complex phase of unwarranted embarrassment.”

It has been, in fact, by “going backwards” that Chinchero has not only survived but thrived. The old weaving techniques, once scorned, now have great value. More young people are staying in Chincero and making a living from weaving, as opposed to going to the cities and facing an uncertain and potentially dangerous future. Women are now economically empowered, which has a net positive effect on their families and the community as a whole.

“We Are Helping the Land”

Although preservation of their ecosystem is not the main objective of the Center, their work has had a positive impact on the land in any case. “By giving opportunity to the weavers,” Callañaupa says, “that creates income for families, so they don’t need to overwork the land for income [from agriculture] … we like alpaca wool, so we are raising more. When they graze in the open air, they fertilize the land. In some small scale, we are helping the land.”

Water use is an important part of the picture, too. Any dyeing process — whether it’s with synthetic or natural dyes — uses large amounts of water, so to be environmentally responsible, there has to be some awareness of where the water comes from. The region of the CTTC is part of an innovative watershed services project that is protecting Lake Piuray, a major source of water for Cusco and Chinchero. This project is backed by the national water regulator, SUNASS, and executed with the funds of water users, via the Cusco water company (SEDACUSCO). Such a collaboration is unique, and has generated enthusiasm among the various actors and the desire to replicate these kinds of win-win projects throughout Peru.

And after the dyeing process, there is the matter of the waste water. As SlowColor’s Tricia O’Keefe says about chemical dye use, “What happens to the after you’re done dyeing? Where are those chemicals going? That is a huge issue … the thing about the natural dyes is that you could completely recycle that water.” In using natural dyes over synthetic, Callañaupa and her weavers are ensuring that toxic chemicals are not released into the environment via the run-off water.

The use of natural dyes over chemical dyes, the preservation and promotion of biodiversity in the indigenous plant and animal species that are vital to the weaving, in the bigger picture of recovering centuries-old environmentally friendly methods of weaving, has made the Center a model for climate change mitigation.

Callañaupa’s work — which preserves and respects the ecosystem in which it exists — means that the ancient ways can work; in fact, they may do the best job at strengthening communities and improving livelihoods. This is vital, says O’Keefe. There is a trend of “migration from rural to urban, and then into urban poverty, because what skills do they really have once they get [to the cities]? … What’s happening to the land they’re abandoning?”

Opportunities offered by the CTTC offer a positive scenario both the region’s people and the land. “It’s great in Peru that this is happening,” says O’Keefe. “It gives people at least a choice … If you want to stay in your rural village where you grew up, you actually have something sustainable to do that. If you want to go study computers in the city, you can do that. There are choices.”

As the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise‘s Peggy Clark describes the reasoning behind her group’s support of Callañaupa, “One of the things that people think is that environment is separate from economy, so there’s not enough support and investment to move the needle and make a difference. The only way to do that is to broaden the tent.

“Not only does [the work of the CTTC] make sense at a policy level or an investment level, it makes sense at an individual level. Like with Nilda and her family: they are preserving the natural environment as well as finding ways to create products from their environment for their livelihoods. They can send their kids to school, they can support their families.”

Later this year, world leaders will gather in Paris for the next COP to find solutions for dealing with climate change. They will come by airplane and limousine, and they will fill the finest hotels. While they negotiate and debate, in a “cloud kingdom” across the world, a group of weavers, led by one woman, will be doing what their ancestors did for centuries, weaving stories of sustainability and solution, using the astonishing biodiversity of the region responsibly and with great success. As Callañaupa says, “It is becoming clear that the survival of diversity contributes to the valuable storehouse of world resources.”

“Artisans are often the stewards of the natural world,” says Clark. “Often in traditional ways … they are working in their communities with products that are from their environment, be it fibers from leaves, bark from trees, or natural dyes from difference sources. So they are invested in ensuring that those resources will always be there.”

In the introduction to one of Callañaupa’s books, Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands, anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author, and photographer Wade Davis writes: “These textiles are sacred cloth, woven from the threads of memory by Andean hands that are at last firmly in control of their destiny. Each tells a story, and each story is a prayer for the well-being of the people, the land, and the community.”

Callañaupa’s work means that we can produce goods that have global value in a way that doesn’t ruin the soil or deplete the water table or poison the air. We can engage the youth in our communities in healthy, life-affirming activity, and we can reward their efforts with a sustainable livelihood.

And while the leaders convene at COP, Callañaupa and her weavers will be creating art — each piece a “story” — that preserves and promotes the biodiversity that sustains us all, one thread at a time.

This report was filed by Ann Clark Espuelas.

The new bins cost; £475,916.20


the large bin versus the small bin

For a week or more, the text spacing on this post has been mangled, making the reading of it pretty difficult!

I have asked for help with this, because when it was published, it was fine!  The problem occurred when I went back to update it, and add the last email from Mr Roberts, of Neath Port Talbot CBC.

If you would like to see what the problem was/is you can read all about it HERE.

I am now attempting to ‘repair the site’, and hope it will read properly when I update it! (26 March)


This is a follow up to my post of 3 February,

about the recycling policy of my local council, which was prompted by “THE BIG BIN SWAP” when they came and swopped our large bins for small ones – with the stated aim of encouraging recycling.

It was also a measure put in place to try to avoid the fines Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council (NPTCBC) is paying for using LANDFILL.

I posed a number of questions and thought you might like to know the answers.   Its taken a while, but I have now heard back from NPTCBC – to make sense of this email exchange – have a look at the original post by clicking HERE.



Sent: 24 February 2015 08:10

To: Chief Execs


Dear Sir

On 3 February I emailed both the media department and my local Councillor, to ask them to read the blog below, and reply with some answers to the questions I posed.

To date I have had no answer from either of them.

If you’d like to look at the comments section below the body of the text, you will see that there is great interest around the world about recycling, and many people are interested to know what Neath Port Talbot CBC are doing about it – specifically

  1. How much did the new bins cost?
  2. What did you do with the bins you removed?
  3. How have you funded this scheme?
  4. Is there another reason you have limited the size of the bins – ie:  can the new trucks take larger bins?
  5. How is the waste collected recycled?  Which companies do you use to do this and do you sell it or have to pay for its disposal?

I would be grateful if you could supply this information, which will be published in a follow up blog.

I truly do not want to have to put in a Freedom of Information request, as suggested by one reader. However, if I have not heard back from you within 10 days, I think this will be my next action. many thanks for your attention.



Dear Miss Barnett,

Firstly, apologies that no one has contacted you with an explanation with regard to the questions you posed. With reference to your e-mail of the 24/02/2015, I would inform you that;

  1. The new bins cost; £475,916.20
  2. Both the plastic body and steel axles of all the bins removed have been recycled via the Civic Amenity site in Briton Ferry.
  3. The bins were partly Welsh Government grant funded and partly Council funding from reserves.
  4. The reason for reducing the bins size is the statutory waste targets and associated fines and Welsh Government’s ‘Collections Blueprint’.  The aim is to encourage people who were not already recycling to do so and encourage those already recycling to participate further.
  5. All waste collected for recycling is taken to a purpose built transfer building at the rear of the Materials Recovery and Energy Centre at Crymlyn Burrows.  The operator of the facility, NPT Recycling Ltd., has contracts in place with reprocessors and the income is essentially netted off the cost of managing and treating the Council’s ‘black bag’ waste which is also taken to the plant.

I hope the above information is helpful.small bin Yours sincerely, Mike Roberts Head of Streetcare Environment Directorate


Before going ahead and publishing Mr Roberts reply, as a courtesy, I replied on 11 March –


 Dear Mr Roberts
 I am very relieved to receive this detailed reply from you regarding the list of questions in my email of 24 February.
You will of course have noted that I intended to publish your answer as a follow up to the original ‘blog post’ “The Big Bin Swap” dated 3 February.
Before I do, could you please confirm that you are happy for me to do so – and whether you wish your name to be published or just your title?
I was careful not to name which council I was talking about in the original blog, but in view of the details given, I think I should be able to verify that this is a genuine reply.
Re: Your Point No 4:  Is there any evidence that this strategy is working, or is it too soon to evaluate it?
Re: Your Point No 5:  Whilst the general information you gave is revealing, the real concern of everyone who recycles their waste is whether it is being    processed properly and put to good use.  Could you please provide a couple of specific examples of what is done with the various separated materials?
I am copying this email to my local councillor, with whom I spoke on Sunday, and I thank him for his help – and of course, yours.         Julie Barnett

I also re-sent the email on 18 March, asking for a reply and telling Mr Roberts that I would be publishing this today.  As I got no reply, I think that its time to publish!  I also think that you can all draw your own conclusions, and would welcome your comments below.  
Of course, it you would also like to contact Neath Port Talbot CBC, that is up to you – smile!


20 March 2015

I got a reply to the email above, late yesterday, most probably after someone had read this post.  As promised, I am publishing it here, and I have, of course, thanked Mr Roberts for his contribution and sent him a link to this post.

Dear Miss Barnett.

Thank you for your further correspondence.  With respect to your additional requests for information, I can advise as follows:

I enclose details of the immediate impact of reducing bin size in the pilot area undertaken in 2013.

Overall in the County Borough, as the smaller bins have been rolled out participation across the County Borough has similarly increased from 62% in 2013 to 71% in 2014 overall, and now stands at over 80%.

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Average
24% 38% 20% 37% 29.75% Baseline
40% 56% 32% 56% 46% Participation after excess bin removal and reduction to 140 litres(commencing 28th Oct 2013)

It is noted that tonnage data also suggested that many residents were using the capacity released in the larger wheeled bins through recycling to dispose of green garden waste.  With switching to smaller bins the Council’s recycling and composting figures continue to increase and we are hopeful of hitting the next statutory target in Wales of 58% a year early at the end of this current year.

With respect to examples of material destinations I can inform you of the following, as reported to the Council by Neath Port Talbot Recycling at the end of last year. 


Example 1:  After delivery to Crymlyn Burrows, plastics collected at the kerbside in Neath Port Talbot are bailed and transferred off-site to Carmarthenshire Environmental Resources.  From there they are sent to EcoPlastics in Lincolnshire.  EcoPlastics produce raw materials which may be used in the manufacture of plastic containers. 


Example 2:  After delivery to Crymlyn Burrows, food waste collected at the kerbside in Neath Port Talbot is bulked up and transferred off site to an Anaerobic Digestion Facility in Avonmouth, near Bristol.  The facility produces renewable energy and a nutrient rich fertiliser.



Mike Roberts

Head of Streetcare