News | 28 October 2020
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Wellington gets a pass mark in recycling survey

In a recent survey, Wellington city residents got a good report card on their recycling knowledge – but we could all do a bit better.

The Colmar Brunton Waste Minz survey shows 93% of Wellingtonians recycle and 87% believe it’s worth taking the time to recycle right, higher than the national average. We also get top marks for remembering to rinse before we recycle, but we can be guilty of ‘wishcycling’ – recycling things we’re unsure of and hoping for the best.

On average, Wellington residents are getting 2 out of 3 things right, with some common misconceptions that lead to contamination like any plastic material and any paper can be recycled, compostable equals recyclable, and that lids and caps will be removed at the sorting plant.

Based on the insights from this survey, there is a clear opportunity to improve recycling knowledge and sorting behaviours, says Mayor Andy Foster.

“Wellington city respondents are more likely to err on the side of caution if they are unsure of whether an item is recyclable or not, and place it in the rubbish (68%) rather than the recycling (32%). This is the right action, as it reduces recycling contamination – if in doubt, throw it out!

“Almost all Wellington city respondents rinse items, but fewer remove lids which is unfortunate as some lids are separately recyclable. We need to take some personal accountability and challenge behaviours like thinking it’s fine to put a few incorrect items into the recycling because it will be separated and cleaned at the recycling sorting centre. That takes up people’s time and costs all of us money.” 

While this study found the majority agree recycling is important, uncertainty about what can or can’t be recycled is affecting the outcomes, says Councillor Laurie Foon, Waste Free Wellington portfolio lead.

“There is a huge amount of information available about recycling, and we work hard to ensure our messaging is correct and easily accessible, but there are still a number of common items that trip people up.

“For instance, we get a lot of questions about whether takeaway coffee cups are recyclable or compostable by Wellington City Council’s collection services. The answer is neither – all takeaway coffee cups must go in the general rubbish destined for landfill. 

“We recommend sitting in your favourite café to enjoy your coffee, or using keep cups or cup reuse systems like Again Again to reduce the millions of single-use coffee cups ending up in the country’s landfills.

“While we encourage recycling correctly, the ultimate goal is to not need to do it at all, so we need to work collectively to reduce the amount of recyclable items we buy, and influence the manufacturers to provide alternative solutions like refilling and reusing.”

There are common items we often ‘wishcycle’, or place in our recycling hoping for the best, that actually need to go in the rubbish bin – these include:  
Compostable packaging   ✘ 
Till receipts   ✘ 
Plastic cutlery   ✘ 
Meat trays   ✘ 
Juice cartons   ✘
Coffee cups and lids   ✘ 
Plastic straws   ✘

Remember to look for the recycling symbol and the number on plastics – not just the symbol – as Wellington City Council only accepts plastics numbered 1,2 and 5. But remember no meat trays until new sorting machinery is introduced.

Remove lids and caps from all bottles and containers as these are too small to be recycled. Lids and caps can go in your rubbish or save them up to take to Sustainability Trust which is running a collection trial.

And if you’re not sure if an item is recyclable? Check out the what to do with your waste search tool.

“I am looking forward to national progress on container deposit legislation or the requirement for a stamp of certification and, to see the Government require industry to use 1,2 and 5 plastic wherever possible,” adds Mayor Foster.  

Much of Wellington’s low value plastic (typically 3, 4, 6 & 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.