Mixed results for Public Place Recycling bin scheme

9 July 2019

Wellington City Council introduced a Public Place Recycling bin trial to the capital last May, and now just over a year on, a recent audit show it’s doing well – but we could do better.

Image of Public Place Recycling bins

The first bin was installed in Cuba Mall, with eight additional recycling stations rolled out around the city for the public to recycle glass, plastic, cans and paper/cardboard items – with separate bins for rubbish.

An audit of recycling collected in the bins in October 2018 showed a few teething problems with a 48% contamination rate, compared with the most recent one which showed a much improved 17% contamination rate.

The trial, a joint project with the Love NZ/Be a Tidy Kiwi campaign delivered by the Packaging Forum, will determine the future of public place recycling in the future, and Mayor Justin Lester is happy with the results so far.

“This additional recycling system has resulted in a good number of recyclable items that can be processed and repurposed being diverted away from the landfill. 

“The Council has run a recycling trial in the past, but the bins were constantly contaminated with rubbish so it came to an unhappy end. We're pleased to see that public education and environmental consciousness, combined with a new design, multilingual instructions, and coordinated colour coding across the country, has proved to be more of a success this time around.”

Councillor Iona Pannett, Portfolio Leader for Infrastructure and Sustainability, says that although it’s good news to see the contamination rate appearing to decrease, at 17% there’s still room for improvement.

She also points out that the amount of products diverted from landfill throughout the trial is relatively small when compared with kerbside collection. Approximately 6 tonnes of plastic, paper, card and cans has been diverted and around 29 tonnes of glass, compared to the 6,920 tonnes of co-mingled recyclables and 4,650 tonnes of glass that are collected from households a year. 

“However, the bins do give out a good message about the need to recycle. The Council encourages Wellingtonians to figure out whether they need a product in the first place, or promotes use of products like keep cups for coffee that can be used again and again,” she says. 

Council’s Waste Minimisation Project Officer Aviva Stein says the results are promising, but a recent audit found the most common contaminants were soft plastics, dirty napkins and compostable packaging. None of these can be recycled and should go in the rubbish bin instead.

“It’s hard to compare with different trials as there are so many different models and audit methodologies – but so far, so good. The most disheartening thing though, is seeing a whole bin load of recyclable items ending up in landfill because it’s contaminated with unaccepted waste.

“We know it can be confusing, but we ask that people follow the instructions, think about what they’re putting in the bins, and if they’re really unsure to put it in the rubbish bin – and check out our online recycling directory later on for future reference.”

Council allocated $300,000 from its annual waste minimisation levy funds which it receives from the Ministry for the Environment. At the conclusion of the trial a decision will be made as to the practicality and cost of implementing public place recycling in Wellington permanently.