Thursday, 5 June 2008

St Arvans: Wales' First Zero Waste Village

...Or as they say in Welsh...Sain Arfan - Pentref, "Sero-wastraff" Cyntaf Cymru.

While I was in Monmouthshire last week, I went to visit an unlikely hotspot, in the form of the village of St Arvans.

Yes, St Arvans, which is best pronounced with the Welsh accent it deserves.

What grasped my interest is that it is the first Zero Waste Village in Wales and unless otherwise contested, the UK. It is a community of around 280 homes, with a staggering take-up from 95% of its residents.

The Zero Waste Village is one of three local recycling projects being managed by Monmouthshire Community Recycling (MCR), a not-for-profit company that looks after kerbside recycling in this part of Wales. The aim of the project is to go beyond recycling and focus on changing the way that residents think about waste, encouraging people to treat it as a resource rather than rubbish.

The organisation also acknowledges that Zero should not necessarily be seen as an absolute figure but as a target for which to strive, with the expectation that new levels of innovation and efficiency will arise as a result.

When I arrived at St Arvans I was met by Simon Anthony, MCR's Zero Waste Co-ordinator, who gave me the lowdown on the organisation's collection services. Together with the unitary authority Monmouthshire County Council, MCR offers kerbside collections of paper, glass, cans, clothing, plastics, cardboard as well as food waste in some areas.

The St Arvans collection includes food waste, as well as drink cartons, household batteries, printer cartridges and mobile phones. There is also a community recycling point in the car park of the village pub, for residents and visitors to use while they are out and about.

Simon made it sound like recycling heaven and after a quick tour around the village I realised it was.

It was Polly Summers who really brought the whole idea to life. Polly is the eight year old daughter of the Summers family, which is the representative"recycling family" of St Arvans. She was with Simon when I arrived and as we walked along to her house, she told me why it was so important that everyone should recycle.

She knew that waste was a valuable resource and that where possible, villagers should make the effort to reduce waste that can't be recycled. It made sense to her that buying single packets of crisps was more sensible than buying multi-packs that are sold in a larger bag.

Polly also told me that free plastic toys that come with magazines aren't really free and because they break so easily it's better to spend money on toys that last longer and which are played with more regularly.

She's definitely cut through the essence of basic marketing techniques and such wisdom will serve her well in later years.

It was very obvious that Polly was pleased to be part of the Zero Waste Village. She was proud of what they were doing and is so captivated by it that she is also on the eco-council at her local school.

We soon arrived at the family home, where I was introduced to Lou and Rob Summers and their other children, Joe (8), Jake (6) and Ceri (4). We spent the next hour talking about...well...rubbish.

The Summers are an average family, who just happen to be keen on recycling, so much so that before the project started they managed their kitchen and garden waste through home-composting. It has always been very important to them and Lou has always been conscious of minimising food waste in the home. It was easy to see why the villagers thought they should be St Arvans' representatives.

However, since the project started a year ago, they have never had it so good and are happy to have given up they home-composting system in favour of using the service provided by the kerbside collection. The philosophy of "reduce" carries through the family and they were full of examples of how waste can be presented at source, from managing the family's needs right through to organising birthday parties.

I've been struggling with my new-found feelings about waste reduction for a little while and wondering about the significance of how it's slotted into our lifestyle. Lou was able to sum it up in one sentence.

"It's like cleaning your teeth. It's something that we do automatically, without thinking about it."

So simply put, but it makes so much sense.

So why was St Arvans chosen for the project? Simon explained that it was the St Arvans Community Council that actually approached MCR for more support. How great to see such motivation from a community. No individual is forced to recycle. There are no fees or fines, yet 95% of the households are participating, leading to a local recycling rate of 77%. With results like this it is hard not to be motivated.

As well as a need coming from the village itself, the excellent communication processes, such as door knocking, and weekly collection system all play a part in the success of the project. Residents are provided with a black box in which to place all their recyclable items and the recyclates are sorted at source by the operators of the collection truck. Simon confirms this is key to minimising recycling contamination. Anything that can't be accepted is just left in the black box for the residents to deal with separately. And for people who find it all too much, for example those who have difficulty carrying boxes, help is at hand to assist them.

I must say that I am very impressed by the service and it would be great to see such efforts being rolled out across the county and indeed the rest of the UK. Despite having fantastic recycling facilities in St Edmundsbury, I couldn't help feel a little envious of having so many things collected from the kerbside. It would mean no more tetra paks, printer cartridges or textiles having to be carted off to the nearest collection banks.

If you can excuse the pun, it seems that MCR has got most things pretty much sorted. In a recent study by the Welsh Assembly, it came out as the best value kerbside recycling of any rural district in Wales, with the service costing 24p per household per week. As it adds more items to its collection, MCR recognises that charges will be increased but asserts that this will continue to be cheaper than the alternative of being fined.

So what's next for MCR? As well as trying to influence the elimination of over-packaging, the organisation is also aiming for 100% real nappy usage in the village. However, it doesn't stop there. Shops and businesses have been brought on board too.

The local shop reuses plastic bags as well as paper bags and the local pub, The Piercefield, which is part of the Brains brewery chain, is proactive with bottle recycling and has managed to implement a system that is really effective.

While discussing business recycling over coffee, Denise Eve, one of the joint managers told us that the key to engaging staff effectively is to ensure that internal recycling bins are placed in the most convenient areas for staff use.

One of her concerns was about food waste and how important it is for her business to tackle. Business food waste is currently not collected by MCR or Monmouthshire County Council. Denise is confident that current internal practices are so well managed that it would be easy to apply if a such a service became available. It is too soon to know the outcome of the request, but it would be great if her interest led to a positive result.

What an unexpected delight to add to my short holiday in Wales. I am grateful to Simon Anthony for inviting me along. It was such an interesting visit, on what was a rare sunny day and I would like to thank Simon, The Summers Family and Denise Eve for such a warm welcome and sharing details of their project, which has become an engrained part of the village's lifestyle.

Should you happen to be passing through St Arvans one day, be sure to stop at the Piercefield pub. As well as a great welcome, you'll be guaranteed a delicious freshly made meal. And you never know, even if you can't manage to finish your dish, hopefully your plate scrapings will not go to waste.

More information about Monmouthshire Community Recycling can be found at:


Additional notes: The Zero Waste Village is supported by Monmouthshire County Council, Monmouthshire Waste Forum Environmental Partnership, Communities First Abergavenny, Gwent Association of Volunteer Organisations, Rural Communities Action and Monmouthshire Green Web. Other partners include Environment Wales with funding from the Welsh Assembly Government.


Anonymous said...

A fine example for other villages to follow, Mrs A, and not a fine in sight. One heartening thing about recycling for me is that I do not know of 1 person who has returned to the old practices since taking up the sustainable challenge. Even though the numbers are relatively small they are only heading one way!



Anonymous said...

oh this is just superb - what an inspiration for us all.

It sounds like you had a wonderful day and met lots of great people. It's really got me thinking now and I'm feeling very positive about things :)

Mrs g x

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi John - isn't it great. I am a firm believer that encouragement and engagement are much better than the whip. So true about people not going back to old practices. I know I certainly can't.

Hi Mrs Green - it was a great day, very inspiring. Next time you pop over the border into Wales, be sure to pop may even be able to sneak some of your plastics into the recycling units in the pub car park...I'm not sure if that is cheating mind, especially as not only are you from another county, but you're in England! Just leave a big tip at the pub and you might just get away with it ;-D

Layla said...

WOW, this is great indeed!!

Am especially impressed with whole-village cooperation and everybody recycling despite no fines etc!!

hoping to hear more about the nappy use too!! (maybe you could do an update at 1-year anniversary or something?)

about printer cartridges being collected together with bottles or tetrapaks - not really happy about that, as some printer colors have been found to be 'iffy' and sorta poisonous, so I hope they are taken separately!

also, I think own compost is probably better than a huge heap - you can use it for your garden while being more certain what goes into it! (eg some people can put in toxic-sprayed banana or orange peels and we'd prefer to have those away from the garden..)

But overall, a wonderful example, and a really awesome family!! :))

Now this would be a great article for the 'big' magazines too, don't you think?
Raising a question 'If Wales can do it...?'
(emphasizing minimization as a way to go too, since recycling is in a bit of a difficult situation right now...)
What do you think? :)

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Layla - you've got some great suggestions there, thank you. It's good to open up this post again after such a long time. It would be great to get an update on how it's all going and to see if I can help promote their story too. I've been a really lucky girl having had the chance to meet some amazing people along the way. :-D x

polly said...

im polly the little girl from the article
thankyou for all your comments and ideas
im still doing alot of recycling and i hope to proceed further as i have alot of ideas to help the environment
once again thankyou for looking at this article and i hope you are all oing your bit to reduce reuse and recycle to help save the planet!

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Polly - lovely to hear from you and thanks for dropping by with an update. Keep recycling :0)

Unknown said...

Hi MrsA
I am now in secondary school-im 11
we are doing alot of work to help the environment and i WILL always be recycling i will let you know if i have any further updates - have you been to any other zero waste villages recently?let me knw soon thx, polly:)

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