Recycling Under the Spotlight

6 February 2009

Green kerbside recycling bins could be replaced by plastic bags - which may eventually be sold to residents - in one of a number of suggested changes to the Capital's kerbside recycling system.

The withdrawal of the familiar green bins is one of a number of options contained in a report to next week's Wellington City Council Strategy and Policy Committee meeting, which unpicks the Capital's recycling system.

Mayor Kerry Prendergast says the present global economic downturn, and the fact it has caused the prices of glass, plastic and steel to collapse, has raised questions about whether recycling is the best way to deal with reusable rubbish.

"While it makes us all feel good to know that our bottles, cans, tins, paper, cardboard and plastics aren't going straight into the landfill, recycling is in fact a very expensive service - and there are questions about whether the shipping of thousands of tonnes of recyclables overseas to places like China is good for the environment.

Councillor Celia Wade-Brown, the Council's Environment Portfolio Leader, says it's proposed that the thousands of green bins, placed on footpaths each week, be phased out mainly because of the mess they cause in windy Wellington, including blockage of drains and marine pollution - and because they hurt our recycling staff.

She says recycling also costs the city some $2.6 million a year - and at best we've been able to make about $165,000 per year from the sale of recyclables. 

"We haven't modified our recycling system in over a decade.  It's time we had a look at it and had an open debate about the pros and cons, including which materials are the most worthwhile to recycle. Do advantages such as reducing global use of virgin materials outweigh local transport considerations?"

Cr Wade-Brown wants to know what Wellingtonians think about the proposals floated in the report. "I know full-well that Wellingtonians have embraced recycling in the past decade - how do we want it to continue and who should pay for it?"

Mike Mendonca, the Council's CitiOperations Manager, says not only are the bins considered too small by many, they are also unstable, hard to grip, and have to be lifted "well above head and shoulders" to be emptied into trucks. "Our guys - who are among the fittest workers in the country - suffer repetitive strains and other injuries from lugging these bins. And often residents have trouble relocating their bins on windy days.  There has to be a better way."

It is proposed in the committee report that, to reduce the cost of recycling to the Council, plastic recycling bags be introduced and possibly be made available for sale to residents - possibly at about 60 cents per bag. The bags would be made of recyclable plastic.

Cr Wade-Brown agrees that this concept is likely to meet with resistance - "I stress that it is a proposal - we want Wellingtonians to tell us what they think - whether the Council should, for example, fund the supply of recycling bags from rates."

One option in the report involves the delivery of, say, 20 recycling bags for free to all houses - and then households would be required to buy any extra bags. "The philosophy behind this is based on the idea that we should all be moving to reduce our overall generation of waste - and that includes recyclables.

"Reduce is the top of the five Rs of waste minimisation - reduce, re-use, recycle, recover and residual management (ie disposal)."

"Possible extensions of the types of materials collected will be considered later this year."

Wellingtonians are encouraged to make their views known via the Council's Long-Term Council Community Plan engagement exercise, which is now under way.

People can go online at the Wellington Long Term Plan website and make their comments on the 'Environment' web page. 

Each Thursday evening until the end of February, between 7.00pm and 9.00pm, people can also call a hotline - (04) 801 4205 - and talk to Mayor Prendergast and City Councillors and pass on their views about Council spending priorities - recycling included.

The report can be read at the Meetings / Strategy & Policy section of this website or see the Related Link below.

Recycling - facts and figures:

  • About 13,000 tonnes of material is recycled in Wellington each year
  • Total waste to landfill - 65,000 tonnes per year
  • The recycling collection service costs about $2.6 million to run each year - about $47 per participating household
  • Sale of cardboard, paper, plastics and aluminium / steel fetches about $165,000 a year
  • Most of Wellington's recyclables are shipped to China and South East Asia - where they are used in large-scale manufacturing
  • Wellington city - and most other councils around New Zealand - have to pay to ship glass to Auckland to be reused (the price of recyclable glass for sale has collapsed).