THIS month marks the end of an era when Swansea’s only landfill site stops accepting black bag rubbish.
The refuse lorries which have for decades disgorged our waste at Tir John, near Port Tennant, will head to the council’s baling plant in Llansamlet, where the rubbish will be transferred to larger lorries and taken to an incinerator outside of the county.
Although Tir John has been part of the landscape for a long time, few tears will be shed over its closure.
Swansea Council said it held around two million tonnes of waste – and work to restore it will go on for years.
The site stirs memories among campaigners who fought tooth and nail against any extension of the tip into the adjacent Crymlyn Bog and who brought concerns about smells and litter to the attention of the authorities.
One of them, Dai Plant, recalled campaigners blocking off the entrances to Tir John in the early days.
He claimed dead animals were at one stage being brought there for disposal.
“We used to get up into the lorries and check out was in there,” he said.
Another campaigner, Pam Mock, said her husband and a friend of his attended a couple of refuse drivers’ union meetings, and agreement was reached that the drivers would not cross the campaigners’ picket line.
Mrs Mock said she reckoned the campaign was a factor in plans drawn up many years ago for the phased closure of Tir John.
The plans by the council and former Nature Conservancy Council, published in 1981, had diagrams illustrating how the site would look in future years. There were immediate proposals for a “chain of wooded hills” enclosing the landfill area, conservation measures for Crymlyn Bog, and a new road to the tip avoiding residential streets, among other things.
After 23 years woods, parkland and playing fields were set to replace the landfill site entirely.
Rubbish has continued being buried there, and Tir John made unwelcome headlines in 2012 when Environment Agency Wales – now Natural Resources Wales – raised serious concerns about its management.
The agency said rubbish had been spread over one of the pipes which took away gas produced by rotting waste, risking a fire or explosion.
Rubbish, it said, had also been tipped onto a small area which had previously been filled and capped. And some liquid “leachate” had escaped.
The arm’s length company which managed the site at the time said it would act on the concerns raised, and that some improvements had already been made.
The Tir John issue was a priority for newly-elected councillors Clive Lloyd and Joe Hale, who represent Port Tennant, in 2012.
Cllr Lloyd said the new administration brought the management and workforce of the arm’s length company back in house.
He said by the time he visited the site after this had taken place, Tir John was “immaculate”. Tours were offered to local residents, who were taken round in Land Rovers.
“Ultimately we wanted to close the site down,” said Cllr Lloyd. “We are pleased that this objective is now going to be fulfilled.”
Many years ago Port Tennant had a power station and the United Carbon Black factory, which produced car tyre components, as well as the landfill site.
“It’s put up with its fair share of industry,” said Cllr Lloyd.
Campaigner Mr Plant recalled playing up at Tir John as a child, on the hunt for discarded wheels which he and his mates could attach to their home-made trolleys.
Things had changed by the time he started going on the post-2012 Land Rover visits.
The 66-year-old, of Wern Terrace, described how designated areas – or “cells” – were created and lined for each phase of tipping.
“They’d tip so far, then new membranes were put in,” he said. “We used to go over there regular.”
Mr Plant said the management of Tir John had improved since 2012, but he welcomed this month’s closure. In his view, it was long overdue.
Mrs Mock agreed.
“It has definitely been managed better (in recent years) – I can’t disagree with that,” she said.
But she pointed out that the 1981 restoration proposal hadn’t come to fruition, and she said the height of Tir John was never meant to exceed the level of Dinam Road, which runs along one side of it.
Mrs Mock, 74, of Danygraig Road, said: “Something like that should never be put near housing.”
She hoped Tir John’s legacy – apart from a solar farm planned on part of it – would be a restored area where people could go and relax.
“We want something for people to enjoy – something pleasant for a change,” she said.
Mr Plant said he would like the site to be restored and then become part of the Crymlyn Bog national nature reserve, which is managed by NRW.
Other suggestions from the community include new playing fields.
Cllr Lloyd said he would like to see some sort of environmental park in the future, which would allow a circular walk from the Crymlyn Bog car park.
Tir John’s landfill area is around half a mile from the nearest houses on Marcroft Road.
Carl Nicholas, who has lived on the road since the estate was built there just over 10 years ago, described Tir John’s closure as “excellent news”.
“The lorries come past every day, except Sunday,” he said.
He and Louise Morris, also of Marcroft Road, said the smell could be really bad, although it wasn’t clear whether this was related to a sewage treatment works across Fabian Way or Tir John.
“It’s awful in the summer,” said Ms Morris.
The landfill area at Tir John is around 29 hectares – the equivalent roughly to 29 rugby pitches.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked to visit the site, but the council declined.
Asked about day-to-day operations at Tir John, a council spokesman said each cell was filled with compacted waste, with gas and leachate controls installed progressively as filling continued.
He added: “When the cells are filled to final levels, an engineered capping layer is installed which seals the waste to prevent gas escape and rainfall infiltration. The capping layer is then covered by restoration soils which are seeded to prevent soil erosion.”
The council didn’t say how long it would take to restore the site, but added that it had no current long-term plans bar the creation of a solar farm on part of it.
NRW team leader for industry and waste regulation, Erin Smyth-Evans, said the regulator would be interested in liaising with the authority about “realising the multiple benefits the area could provide”.
She added: “We will continue to regulate the site through its life cycle, including when in aftercare, until such time as the permit is surrendered.”
The more we recycle, the less waste ends up in landfill sites and incinerators. In 2020-21, just over 35,500 tonnes of black bag rubbish from homes and businesses in Swansea were buried at Tir John, compared to 55,000-plus tonnes a decade ago.
Cllr Mark Thomas, cabinet member for environment enhancement and infrastructure management, told a meeting of full council two weeks ago that Tir John was closing in February.
He said he was unable to say exactly where the black bag waste would go instead because contract negotiations with the operators of incinerators, which generate electricity, were still being concluded.
The message of recycling and composting is undimmed – indeed, the Welsh Government has set ever increasing targets for councils to hit.
Cardiff Bay also wants less non-recyclable waste to end up in big holes in the ground, like Tir John.
But the truth is that humans, uniquely among living things on earth, produce rubbish – and the rubbish which can’t be recycled has to end up somewhere.
At least that somewhere won’t be Tir John.
“I won’t be sorry to see it close,” said Mrs Mock.