Fix Our Recycling!

On this page you will find out:

  1. Why I do, or do not, support each of councils proposals for recycling and waste management
  2. My ideas for vastly reducing our waste to landfill and improving our recycling programmes
  3. Answers to your frequently asked recycling questions

Elect me on to Tauranga City Council and within 18 months my aims are:

  1. To increase the volume of glass recycled by 100% from 2017 levels (this should be easy, and needs little help from me)
  2. To start the construction of an Anaerobic Digestion facility to process the cities food waste for the next 50 years
  3. To mobilise citizens to create a declaration to parliament that we want refundable deposits on beverage containers
  4. To create more transparency on where the items that we think we are recycling ultimately end up
  5. To improve the way we communicate how the financial savings from reducing our waste benefit us all on at a personal (or household) level
  6. To mobilise citizens to petition the manufacturers of their favourite products to make more environmentally friendly packaging choices

Let’s start by taking a look at what we throw into our rubbish bins as a city.

1. What is going to landfill from Tauranga that could be directed to composting or recycling instead?

Here are the results of the Tauranga City Council 2016/2017 waste audit:

This is good news because it means there are lots of improvements we can make that will make a big impact.

My ideas for dealing with this waste make up the bulk of the following content.

Did you know that Tauranga’s waste is scooped up from our 2 transfer stations (Maleme St + Te Maunga) loaded onto trucks and driven 156km to Hampton Downs Landfill (Google Maps) which is mid way between Hamilton and Auckland, for burying in landfill?

Surely we can do better?

2. Who are the 5 stakeholders in the system and what is their impact on consumer behaviour and on the generation of waste?

  1. Manufacturers
    • At the top of the waste stream, manufacturers make decisions about the packaging of their products
  2. Residents, consumers, organisations
    • Make choices about the products they consume, the waste they create, and the services they engage to deal with their waste
  3. Central government
    • Set’s policy/law and hands down policy to local government / councils
  4. Local government / council services
    • Delivers services as per government policy/law, and offers waste contracts for tender
  5. Private businesses
    • Make decisions about what waste removal services to offer the public and what council contracts to bid for

Decisions made at a council level have huge impacts on the behaviour of residents, consumers and organisations, on the private businesses that operate in the waste industry. So let’s make these changes carefully and set ourselves up for long-term success.

3. Why is the order of the words in the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” so important?

You might have heard that phrase before, but have you taken a moment to consider the order of the words?

“Recycle” is last on the list for a reason. Recycling is great, but it’s actually a last resort before throwing something into the trash.

Even better is to re-use items as often as you can to extend their usefulness.

Have you noticed that sometimes the price to fix an item can be close to the price for buying a brand new one? That’s a benefit of mass production and economies of scale, but it does tend to create a throw-away society.

Even better than re-using is to reduce your demand for disposable, one-use products in the first place. For example:

  • Instead of buying a drink of water from a dairy or supermarket when you are thirsty, plan ahead and bring your own refillable aluminium, glass or plastic drink container with you
  • Instead of receiving new one-use plastic containers from your favourite chinese, or turkish take-away, bring the washed containers that you got last time
  • Instead of going supermarket shopping and getting 10 to 15 plastic shopping bags, plan ahead and bring a banana box or reusable shopping bags with you
  • Instead of buying plastic drinking straws, buy stainless steel ones that can be washed

Recently, a 4th “r” has been added. It’s “Refuse” and it comes before all the others. An example of is when you are offered a plastic bag from a shop, politely refuse their offer.

I provide more examples of “refuse” later in this article.

So now the phrase is “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

4. What 7 practical changes we can make to improve our current situation?

4.1. Glass: Provide a kerbside collection & sorting service

I support the councils proposal to provide rate-payer funded kerbside glass collection in 45 litre crates (but I have a few concerns to share with you, see below).

  • Why is it a good idea?
    • Improved convenience
      • For those of us who do recycle glass, we don’t have to transport it to a glass recycling station ourselves
      • All we need to do is take it to the end of our driveway for collection
    • More effective than the previous method
      • The specialised truck comes to collect the glass, it has 3 separate bins on board for each colour of glass
      • It is sorted right there on the kerbside. This vastly increases the value of the glass to O-I because it’s ready to melt into new products
      • Any unacceptable items are returned to your crate to provide you with instant feedback on what can’t be recycled (eg dirty bottles, broken bottles, mirror glass, pyrex glass etc)
    • Low cost to the rate-payers
      • The glass companies are happy to donate the crates for free
      • The collection companies are happy to collect the glass for near to free because they sell it back to O-I who melts it down to make new bottles
      • For $20-$30/year we get the collection service
  • When?
    • As soon as possible because it is suspected that higher levels of glass are currently going to landfill whilst there is no collection service, and community collection bins and transfer stations are overloaded
  • How To Fund?
    • Rates funded at $22/household per year (x 50,000 homes = $1M per year) seems like a bargain (it is so cheap because glass sorted into colours with minimal breakage is highly valuable to O-I)
  • Concerns
    • Is the timing reasonable?
      • The council says it can get crate collection organised within a few months
      • But I’ve been told it takes 9 months just to build trucks with 3 bays for kerbside sorting so I can’t see how this can be done so fast…
      • I’d hate to see this self-imposed deadline come and go and for the public to get angrier
    • Will the tendering process be fair?
      • To meet the self-imposed deadline the council will need to accelerate the tender process
      • There may only be one provider (Waste Management again, who removed glass in the first place) that can gear up in time
      • This means that smaller, local operators may not be able to submit a tender which is unfair to them
  • What I’m proposing

Did you know that 40% of the glass we were putting into our mixed recycling bins went to landfill and did not get recycled?

Waste Management, the contractor that picks up our mixed recycling bins declared they would no longer accept glass in the mixed recycling wheelie bins for 2 reasons:

  1. The health-and-safety issue to their team of broken glass embedding into paper and cardboard and injuring their workers
  2. Those contaminated items go straight to to landfill because shards of glass aren’t acceptable to the glass companies, and cardboard and paper studded with glass is not acceptable to the pulp companies.

Why was there so much breakage? Because there were 4 opportunities for the glass to break on it’s way to be recycled:

  1. When we put a glass bottle into our mixed recycling wheelie bin and it lands on another glass bottle and breaks
  2. When the mixed recycle bin is tipped into the truck and glass bottles smash together
  3. When the truck compresses it’s load with a hydraulic press to create more space for the next wheelie bin, glass can get crushed
  4. When the truck returns to the depot and dumps it’s load onto the concrete floor near the conveyor belts for sorting

These 4 chances to break means that 40% of the glass we were putting into our mixed recycle bins in Tauranga was not recyclable and went to landfill instead.

Why didn’t we separate glass sooner? Why didn’t the council see this coming?

  • Residents put no pressure on council because we didn’t know there was a problem looming. We felt good for doing what we thought was right with our mixed recycle bins
  • It was convenient, and we didn’t know that 40% of the glass we thought we were recycling was going to landfill
  • The council knew that awarding the contract to a private company to deliver the recycling programme came with the risks of them changing their minds about what they collected, but there was no problem until there was one

The council staff who specialise is waste minimisation did recommend separating glass in meeting minutes going back several years. But because the problem wasn’t a problem at the kerbside no action was taken.

It’s good that the contractor refused to let this broken system go on so we get a chance to fix it.

4.2. Food-Waste: Provide a kerbside food waste collection service

I support the councils proposal in the Long Term Plan 2018-2028 to provide rates-funded, kerbside food-waste collection service by 2020.

  • Why is it a good idea?
    • Did you know that food waste is 50% of the weight of our household rubbish?
    • Compare that to glass at 5% which is getting all the attention right now
    • Food waste is the greater problem and greater opportunity
  • When?
    • 2021
  • How To Fund?
    • Rates funded @ approx $250/household per annum (which could save you $100 annually for disposing of that food waste into general rubbish)
  • How does it work?
    • You are provided with 3 components (as shown in the photo below)
      • A small food waste caddy for your kitchen
      • A larger collection bucket that you place on the roadside on collection day
      • Bio-plastic liner bags
    • It is rates funded so every household has the opportunity to save on the cost of putting their food waste into general rubbish
  • What I’m proposing
    • That the food waste is taken to a central Anaerobic Digestion facility which creates valuable, nutrient rich soil for farming
      • Anaerobic Digestion is superior to composting at home (fruit, vegetables and shredded paper) because of the larger variety of acceptable material:
        • Meat & shellfish
        • Bones from chicken / beef / pork
        • Bread
    • That the council specifies that the trucks collecting food waste are electric

Further Reading:

4.3. Switch from plastic rubbish bags to wheelie bins for rubbish

The council is proposing a switch to rates-funded rubbish collection in wheelie bins.

I do not support this service being rates funded but I do support the switch from plastic rubbish bags to wheelie bins.

  • Why are wheelie bins a better idea?
    • To improve the health and safety for the team who pick up the bags
    • To increase cleanliness because plastic rubbish bags are prone to breaking open
    • To reduce the non-biodegradable plastic (the rubbish bag itself) going to landfill
    • You only pay for what you use, so it financially incentivises residents to look for ways to reduce, recycle, reuse before they generate rubbish and incur the cost
  • When?
    • 2020 to provide time for existing collection contracts, the tendering process and truck building
  • What’s a better way to fund this collection?
    • Not rates funded
    • Better: User-pays, pre-paid (not rates funded) so we are incentivised to generate less waste
  • What I’m proposing:
    • You pre-pay for collection with tags that you secure to the handle each time you need a pick-up. The collector cuts these tags off when they arrive.
    • Or, even better, embed RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags into the bins and code them to your address. You pay each time it’s collected from a pre-paid balance that you top up when required
    • Need extra collection?
      • For larger household, offer a bigger bin size (with a larger price per pick-up)
      • Or suggest people take their rubbish to transfer stations for dumping
  • Why my idea is better
    • Pre-paid is better than rates-funded collection because with rates-funded collection there is no incentive to reduce our waste. The bin is collected every week and it doesn’t matter how full or empty it is. Those of us that work hard to reduce our waste are subsidising those that generate a lot of waste
    • In my scenario, if I only put out my bin for collection once a month, I only pay for one pick-up. Far less than those that put out their bin for collection every week
  • Concerns
    • My proposal does increase the incentive to put unrecyclable material into mixed recycling bins (which is why I’m proposing the “ultimate recycling system” below)
    • Illegal dumping may rise with my proposal

4.4. Petition the government for a 10c refundable deposit scheme for Beverage Containers

I support Marty Hoffarts idea of petitioning the government to create a refundable beverage container deposit scheme.

  • Why is the refundable deposit scheme a good idea?
    • Even if we do have the convenience of kerbside collection as proposed above. It’s not perfect. Some people will illegally dump their rubbish, throw about recyclable materials into their general rubbish, throw bottles from cars into bushes or into waterways, or leave piles of bottles in playgrounds at night.
    • How do we get those recycled too?
    • By making them valuable. By making them worth 10c each with container deposit legislation.
  • When? 2020
  • How to fund?
    • Consumers pay 10c extra for the products they consume (which they get back as cash if they dispose of that item properly)
    • Manufacturers pay their share of improvements to the system
  • How does it work?
    • Central government sets the law and determines the timing
    • Manufacturers change the labeling on their products to remind consumers of the new value of empty containers
    • The funds pass from the consumers, to the retailers, to the distributors where the funds are collected and used to improve the recycling system

Further reading:

The same should be done for car tyres by adding a $5 disposal fee to the price of new tires. See Marty Hoffarts 2014 TEDxTauranga video on this.

4.5. Rather than installing 3-bin systems in public spaces, just slap on a sticker

  • You’ll see public rubbish bins in parks, along walk-ways and in other public spaces. You might think that all the council needs to do to encourage recycling is to provide a mixed recycle bin beside each rubbish bins, or a 3 bin system for rubbish, glass and paper/cardboard/plastic. But the bad news is, it doesn’t work
  • Why public recycling is so hard:
    • Many items are not recyclable in NZ
    • Messaging is complicated because the number of possible items that can/can’t be recycled is enormous and growing (the best we can do is a confusing image like the one below)
    • Packaging is constantly changing
    • Recycling technology changes often which evolves the accepted materials list
    • The most effective communication tool, which is face to face from a trusted source, is the most time consuming and expensive
    • Other cities have different rules
    • Infrequent use, which means individuals have to learn all over again next time they have an item in their hand for disposal
    • If the rubbish bin is full (they are often smaller in a 3-bin system), people will put their rubbish into the recycling bins
    • When someone has a piece of rubbish in their hand they don’t want to think too hard when they are ready to throw it away. Providing them with 3 receptacles instead of 1, and requiring them to read signage even for a few seconds is just too hard for many people
  • So I propose these 3 simple solutions instead:
    • Apply a sticker onto all public rubbish bins that says “please take recyclable items home with you”
    • Be slow to provide additional public rubbish bins
    • Be slow to provide trials of 3-bin recycling systems

4.6. Increase the waste levy from $10/ton

With the charge for rubbish taken to our transfer stations set to just $10 per tonne, dumping our rubbish instead of diverting it to recycling is cheap and easy.

If we set this closer to Australia’s rate of $140 per tonne, we would be highly motivated to divert and change our behaviour.

The additional revenue from this change could be used for cleaning up public dumping (which is likely to increase), and investing in further improvements to our recycling systems.

4.7. Double-down on education programmes

Here are 4 major sectors that need their waste streams improved.

Each sector would benefit for additional education, but figuring out who pays for it is an issue (this is another reason why the refundable deposit scheme works so well because financial incentives are the easiest to communicate).

  1. Residential Waste Education
    • Putting the system I have proposed above in place creates feedback loops to educate residents on what is acceptable material and begins to put pressure on manufacturers to change their packaging choices
  2. Event Waste Education
    • Require food vendors to provide sustainable take-away containers. No polystyrene. No plastic. No “PLA” (Poly Lactic Acid) which is derived from natural materials such as corn starch but still takes a long time to biodegrade even under the right conditions. No “compostable” plastic either (see below in the FAQ’s section for the bad news about this material)
    • Encourage customers to plan ahead and bring their own containers
    • Or provide washable ceramics
    • Or provide biodegradable bamboo, paper and cardboard containers and cutlery
    • Unknowns:
      • How do we fund this?
      • How to encourage participation?
  3. Organisational Waste Education
    • Council funds a Resource Wise Events education programme to educate business owners for free on how to minimise their waste
    • Additional funding would increase the resources and participation in this programme
    • Industrial and commercial businesses stand to decrease their costs by reducing their waste. Particularly:
      • Construction waste
      • Manufacturing waste
      • Farming waste
    • And then we can look at other important issues such as:
      • Waste water
      • Air pollution
      • Chemicals – Help them identify non-toxic alternatives to chemicals they use
    • Incentivise participation with a competition with prizes?
      • Carbon neutral challenge?
      • Work with associations to create industry specific competition for environmental sustainability?
    • How to fund?
      • Charge a nominal fee for audits (enact a bylaw to ensure compliance)?
  4. Food Service Industry Waste Education
    • Conduct an audit of all Tauranga cafes, restaurants, bakeries etc to determine their food waste practices. Show them how they can save money
    • Many already do a great job to deliver excess food to charities, and have their coffee grinds and food waste collected
    • Showcase best practice, and create an education strategy with businesses throughout the spectrum. Turn it into a competition with prizes
    • How to fund?
      • Charge a nominal fee for audits. Show them how participation saves them money

5. What are the pros and cons of a rate-payer funded kerbside rubbish collection and mixed recycling wheelie bin collection?

I do not support the councils proposal (in the Long Term Plan 2018-2028) for the following reasons:

  • Pros:
    • Every residents is provided with a recycling bin (instead of only the most motivated recyclers paying for a contract from a private company), which is likely to increase the amount of recyclable material that is diverted from landfill
    • The health-and-safety of the collectors is improved because robotic arms can be used to lift the wheelie bins which lessens the chance of muscle injury and cuts from sharp items
  • Cons:
    • It creates a buffer between residents and the global waste system so residents don’t see where the items they think are recycling are ending up
      • Many people don’t know almost everything is shipped overseas to become another countries problem
      • Sometimes landfilled anyway
      • Sometimes burned or incinerated
      • Sometimes dumped near the ocean
    • It doesn’t trigger a behaviour change in our consumer buying decisions
      • Eg we keep buying plastic bottles #1 and #2 because we know we can put them in our recycling bin rather than figuring out how not to buy that plastic in the first place)
    • It doesn’t provide instant feedback
      • If we make mistakes with the items we put in there, the whole bin is taken anyway
      • Unacceptable items include paper and cardboard contaminated with food oils and liquids, plastic bags that jam the machines, plastic grades 3-7 that we think should be recycled (but aren’t), and tetrapacks that look like cardboard but have layers of plastic, aluminium and cardboard and are not recyclable at all
    • A catch-all recycle bin creates highly contaminated recycleate which means that a percentage of the volume can’t be recycled and goes to landfill anyway
      • (This situation has improved somewhat now that broken glass has been removed)
    • And for the rubbish bins: The small wasters who are trying hard to reduce the waste they generate, are subsidising the large-wasters because they are all paying the same price via their rates. It doesn’t matter if their general rubbish bin is full or empty

See the next section for what I’m proposing instead.

6. What are the components of the ultimate recycling system that would divert the most material away from landfill?

  1. Compost [caddy]
    • Kerbside collection (weekly)
    • Rates funded
  2. Glass [45 litre crate]
    • Kerbside collection (2 weeks) & kerbside sorting (with unsuitable materials left behind)
    • Rates funded to start with until the container deposit legislation kicks in
  3. Mixed recycling for plastic, metal, paper, cardboard [wheelie]
    • Kerbside collection (4 weeks) & kerbside sorting (with unsuitable materials left behind)
    • Rates funded to start with until the container deposit legislation kicks in
  4. General rubbish [wheelie]
    • Kerbside collection (weekly)
    • Pre-paid
  5. Greenwaste [wheelie]
    • Kerbside collection (4 weeks)
    • Optional

The benefits of the scenario I’m proposing here are:

  • It diverts the most material possible away from landfill
  • Feedback is built in to the system to educate residents on what is and is not acceptable material
  • Reduction of waste to landfill is financially incentivised
  • Contamination of recyclable material is reduced

In my proposal, each home would have the following containers (they wouldn’t all be kerbside at the same time):

  1. 45 litre crate (for glass)
  2. 60 litre caddy (food waste)
  3. 120l wheelie bin (rubbish)
  4. 120l wheelie bin (plastic/metal/paper/cardboard)
  5. + an optional 120l wheelie for greenwaste

7. What else would you like to know about my recycling ideas?

Q: Are you proposing any changes to Greenwaste collection (multiple private companies)?

  • Greenwaste is the collection of wheelie bins of grass clippings, leaves, and branches by multiple private companies. I am not proposing any changes to this arrangement
  • If these businesses are able to create a user-base which sustains their operation, then I wish them all the best

Q: Is it true that China is no longer taking our recyclable material and governments around the world are stockpiling?

  • Yes.

Q: Is it true that “compostable” plastic food containers and cutlery are little better than plastic?

Q: Why doesn’t everyone recycle?

If you are reading this article, you probably recycle, but I know that many people do not. The top 3 reasons are:

  1. They don’t care
    • They don’t even think about it
    • They have bigger problems to deal with
    • Recyclable items just go into their rubbish bags like everything else without a second thought
  2. It appears expensive
    • They are used to buying rubbish bags a few at a time for a few dollars.
    • They don’t want to take on a contract for an extra $200 a year for a separate recycle bin
    • They haven’t crunched the numbers to realise it could actually save them money by reducing the rubbish bags they would need to buy
  3. It takes extra work
    • They’ll need an extra collection container in their kitchen, have the chore of emptying that smaller container into their wheelie bin, and then wheeling that bin down to the street once a fortnight
    • For some people that’s too much to ask

7 reasons why my family recycles at home (2 adults + 3 kids)

  1. For me it feels good to put all my glass, steel, aluminum, paper, and cardboard into my mixed recycling bin
  2. It feels like I’m sending them off to the next stage in their life-cycle, their usefulness is not yet over, that they still have value to someone as a resource
  3. I like the idea that I’m diverting them away from being buried in the ground in a landfill where they would stay for hundreds of years and might pollute our ground water or release harmful gases
  4. Those items are big so it means we only need a small rubbish bin in the kitchen that fits under a shelf in our pantry
  5. It reduces how frequently we need to empty the rubbish bin in the kitchen
  6. It reduces how many pre-paid rubbish bags I need to buy
  7. It just feel like it’s the right thing to do for our planet, that it’s a way to reduce my families negative impact

Q: Is it true that cotton or paper bags are not much better than plastic?

Q: Where does each type of material actually go for recycling?

It’s actually quite hard to find a definitive answer for this question. As information comes in, I will continue to update this section.

  • Glass
    • All NZ’s glass makes it’s way to O-I in Auckland for melting and creation of new glass bottles. It is our most successfully recycled product
  • Plastic #1, Plastic #2
    • Bundled and sent overseas. China has closed it’s borders so we are looking for another country to take it
  • Plastics 3 – 7
    • Bundled and sent overseas. China has closed it’s borders so we are looking for another country to take it
  • Paper
    • Some is processed in NZ, some is bundled and sent overseas
  • Cardboard
    • Most is processed in NZ and contributes to new cardboard packaging
  • Greenwaste
    • ?
  • Construction Waste
    • Some materials are recycled. Some are deposited into land reclamation or fill, some are simply taken to landfill

8. Test Yourself: How many points can you get for your recycling, and waste-reduction efforts?

  • Your household does not recycle. Everything goes into your weekly rubbish bags/bin [0 points]
  • Your household has a mixed recycle bin for cans, paper, cardboard (and, until recently, glass) [5 points]
  • You compost food scraps for your garden [5 points]
  • You take your own cardboard box or re-usable shopping bags when you go grocery shopping [5 points]
  • You say no when offered a plastic carry bag when buying clothing, takeaway food or other items at retail [2 points]
  • You and your workmates recycle at work [10 points]
  • You correct your workmates mistakes when they put recyclable items in the wrong containers [10 points]
  • When you go to your favourite takeaway food outlets you bring your own plastic containers with you [5 points]
  • You use a keepcup for barista coffee instead of disposable paper cups [5 points]
  • At home you use stainless steel straws instead of disposable 1-use plastic straws [5 points]
  • You refuse to use single-use plastic cups, plates, cutlery for parties [10 points]
  • You don’t use your insinkerator at home because you know that everything that you put down there is scooped out at the waste water treatment plant and taken to landfill in a truck to rot [5 points]

Conclusion

As you can see, waste management globally is a broken system. In some ways it’s exciting because we have the opportunity to fix it:

  • You and I can change our consumption behaviour and minimise our waste
  • We can put pressure on manufacturers of our favourite products to make better packaging decisions
  • We can lobby central government to enact laws that compel individuals and organisations to change their ways with financial incentives
  • We can increase transparency into the system so we can see where the items we think we are recycling are really ending up

There’s lots to do, but together we can get it done.

Vote Sheldon Nesdale on to Tauranga City Council.