Tackling the plastics problem

26 June 2020

We’ve come a long way in seven years. We can claim our district is now leading the way in recycling and waste management. We came from a low start. 

In 2013 Council decided to do something about recycling and later set an ambitious target of Zero Waste by 2040. It’s a huge ask but one that our environment demands. We can’t keep dumping rubbish in a hole in the ground and think that is OK. It is not OK.

In 2013 all households had a large black plastic bag, all rubbish was collected in it and it all went to the dump. 

At that time 52,000 tonnes of rubbish from our district was dumped at Colson Road – a horrible, dirty scene but the realm of seagulls and smells.

Since then the Council has delivered bins of different sizes, colours and shapes to pepper our sections to the annoyance of some, but the environment is starting to smile. A blue crate for bottles, yellow for recycling, green for food scraps and a red top bin for the dump. 

What has the Zero Waste initiative achieved in just seven years?

Total district waste to landfill has now decreased to 32,000 tonnes – a whopping 40 per cent reduction in seven years.

Recycling from kerbside has increased to 6,800 tonnes - about 50 per cent of kerbside waste - with markets earning revenue for most.

Nearly 1,000 tonnes of food scraps has now been diverted so far to commercial composting. Home composting is being encouraged and is growing fast.

The Materials Recovery Facility (the “MRF”) was an early development at The Junction on Colson road with another specifically designed to manage commercial and industrial waste being planned (the “dirty MRF”). 

Major builds or demolitions in future will be required to have an approved recycling plan. 

Council has now added The Junction Zero Waste Hub and a new and much improved transfer station soon to start.

But sometimes we have to rethink how to manage some recycling – in particular plastics. We have been collecting all plastics which are numbered 1 to 7. 

The many plastic bottles and packaging that come into our homes with the weekly shop usually carry a number from 1 to 7 in a triangle logo. This shows what type of plastic they are.

But sadly not all plastics are created equal. 

We used to have a recycling market for all plastic types 1 to 7 but that has changed.

We still have a recycling market for types 1, 2 and 5, which make up about 85 per cent per cent of the plastics that have been going in the yellow-top bin. They’re used in the packaging of a wide range of food and drink, bathroom and cleaning products. 

Council is now proposing that we no longer recycle types 3, 4, 6 and 7 as nobody anywhere in the world wants to take them as they’re much harder to recycle, so we’ve been stockpiling these and they may well end up in the landfill.

Type 3 plastics are mostly biscuit and cracker packet trays; type 4 is used for some ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauce bottles; type 6 is commonly found in some yoghurt and soft cheese packaging as well as some sushi and meat trays; type 7 is found across a range of packaging including fresh pasta and sliced meat trays.

China and other countries that took this rubbish have had enough of dealing with the health and environmental problems it brings. 

This is a global problem. Central Government is drawing up policies to discourage the use of problem plastics and to build better recycling systems at home. We can all help by reducing our purchase of products which exclusively use this packaging and thereby we can influence manufacture. Changing our spending habits and how we shop and looking for alternatives to plastic will make a massive difference to what we have to throw away. We can break free from how we’ve all come to rely on plastics to contain our fresh food and hundreds of other products. Plastic-Free July is a perfect time to start doing this.

So in Taranaki, we’re considering refining our region-wide Zero Waste drive to screen the problem plastics out of recycling. We all have a part to play in this. You can help by checking the plastic type number on packaging. If it’s 3, 4, 6 or 7, try looking for alternative products that have no packaging or are in recyclable packaging. If you can’t find an alternative, put it in the red topped bin. 

We’ve made huge strides already towards Zero Waste. We know our people are supportive of this vision. We knew there would be some hurdles on the way, but if we all do our bit, we can get over them.

Richard Handley
New Plymouth District Councillor
Plastics recycling