News | 29 June 2020
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Council to stop collecting low grade plastic for good

Due to a changing global market and a glut in low quality plastics, Wellington City Council will only accept plastics numbered 1, 2 and 5 in kerbside recycling, Public Place Recycling bins, and at the Recycle Centre from Monday 20 July.

Image of a pile of recycling for Recycling Centre reopening to public

Much of Wellington’s low value plastic (typically 3, 4, 6 and 7) goes overseas, but these markets are oversupplied and volatile. Essentially at the moment there is no market for these plastics, and most other Councils have already stopped collecting them.

There is also a high carbon cost incurred by sending it abroad – whereas high-grade plastics 1, 2, and 5 are recyclable by companies in New Zealand that repurpose them into products like food grade packaging, traffic cones and fence posts, says Waste Operations Manager, Emily Taylor-Hall.

“We’re keen to stick with plastics that can be processed in New Zealand and support the growth of our on-shore processing, as well as providing us with confidence that the right thing is happening with them.”

Plastic items numbered 3, 4, 6 or 7 will now unfortunately need to go in the general rubbish yellow bags and will end up at the landfill, which is why we need to look at changing our consumer habits, says Councillor Laurie Foon, Waste Minimisation Portfolio Leader.

“We need to work collectively to reduce the amount of plastic packaged products we buy, and look at how we can reuse and repurpose those we have. Rather than relying on other countries to get rid of our waste, we need to collectively be part of the solution to making a difference both here and globally.

“There’s power in numbers. Consumers can have a huge influence on manufacturers and retailers. If a favourite product is not made of plastic 1, 2 or 5, or not clearly labelled, people can get in touch with the manufacturer or retailer and ask them to consider making changes to more acceptable packaging. The best place to influence is at the front end with sustainable packaging, rather than struggling to deal with a difficult to recycle waste end product.

“Plastic Free July is a global campaign aimed at reducing single use plastic in our lives – everyone can find out what they can do better at,” adds Councillor Foon.

Plastic makes up about 8% of Wellington City Council’s kerbside collection tonnages. Of this 8%, half is recycled on shore in New Zealand and half is currently sent overseas for reprocessing. Plastics numbered 1, 2 and 5 make up 90% of plastics put out in Wellington’s kerbside recycling.

Regionally, Wellington City Council is committed to dropping its waste output by a third by 2026, and smart thinking, making better consumer choices, and collective sustainable action is a step in the right direction, says Mayor Andy Foster.

“We know Wellingtonians are passionate about recycling. We absolutely share that passion, and like many Wellingtonians, will be frustrated by this news, but our commitment to sustainable packaging and circular economy solutions is a priority.

“Stopping collecting these plastic items shouldn’t mean an increase of waste going to the landfill, this can be an opportunity to highlight the issue, and change our ways for a better and more sustainable future.

“New Zealand is proud of its ‘number 8 wire’ attitude, and now we need to put that to good use by reducing what goes to landfill through new initiatives, incentives and innovation.

“I have already taken this issue up with the Minister, and will be supporting Government to move to require phasing out of these low value, un-reusable plastics. We shouldn’t be importing plastics that will only end up in our landfills. We will also be taking this up with industry.”

The Waste Minimisation Seed Fund supports development of innovative solutions for reducing waste, so that Wellingtonians can be leaders in waste minimisation.

Plastic products are marked with a number from 1 to 7 showing what type of plastic it is.  This number is usually found inside a triangle on the bottom of the packaging. Plastics numbered 1, 2 and 5 include:

  • water, juice, soft drink and milk bottles
  • shampoo and cleaning product bottles
  • large yoghurt containers and ice cream tubs.

Some common examples of plastics numbered 3, 4, 6 and 7 which will no longer be accepted from Monday 20 July include:

  • some biscuit trays
  • squeezable plastic tomato sauce bottles
  • packaging for ham, fresh pasta etc.

If you can’t find a number, then it needs to go in your rubbish.

Information about the changes can be found on the Council website and in the What to do with your waste search tool.

There are no changes to kerbside collections for glass, paper and cardboard.