Credit: Original article can be found here
Waste experts are looking at ways of dealing with Canterbury’s recycling locally rather than shipping it abroad as international markets close up.
Recycling company EcoCentral is investigating whether it is economically and environmentally viable for the millions of drinks bottles, household products and old newspapers discarded each year to be dealt with in the South Island.
While the study will examine recycling options for everyday plastic and paper products, it will not focus on the issue of Christchurch’s soft plastics.
With many countries banning imported wastes, Canterbury is keen to try recycling locally.
Every year Kiwis create thousands of tonnes of plastic and paper rubbish that is sent abroad to be recycled, with EcoCentral’s Christchurch facility dealing with 1000 tonnes of residential recycling every week.
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About 22,000 tonnes of paper and cardboard products – equivalent to about 1000 12-metre shipping containers – and 2500t of mixed plastics are exported annually from Canterbury alone, sent to sites in India and Malaysia.
Experts here want to see if we can fight the war on waste on New Zealand’s shores.
EcoCentral chief executive Craig Downie is exploring whether the region’s plastic and paper recycling could be dealt with in the South Island.
“Finding long-term, onshore, environmentally sustainable solutions is very important to the industry,” said Craig Downie, chief executive of the Christchurch City Council-owned EcoCentral.
“The feasibility study will research all residential recycling solution options. Soft plastics are not a focus of the study, however it is possible some options may address this commodity.”
In Canterbury, mixed paper accounts for about a third of the contents of the average domestic yellow recycling bin, with cardboard making up 7 per cent and plastic 5 per cent.
Many environmentalists argue that the war on waste needs to begin with a reduction in the amount of recyclable products we produce in the first place.
Another 12 per cent is non-recyclable waste that has to go to landfill.
Residential recycling forms only a very small proportion of the country’s total recycling, the bulk coming from commercial and industrial use.
With New Zealand’s paper mills at capacity any excess is sent overseas, Downie said, while economies of scale mean the volume of recyclable products is hard to justify the financial investment in facilities here.
But international markets are tightening up the quality of recyclable material they are willing to accept.
The Philippines returned 69 container loads of supposedly recyclable waste to Canada earlier this year after it was contaminated with soiled nappies, while Malaysia refused waste from Australia that was infested with maggots.
An agreement EcoCentral had with an operator in Jakarta also came to an end recently after Indonesia tightened its standards of acceptable levels of contamination.
In May, Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage indicated she would approve a stocktake of New Zealand’s recycling facilities to explore the feasibility of new processing plants here.
New Zealand is one of about 180 countries and states committed to the Basel Convention, a global treaty aiming to better regulate global trade in plastic recycling, stop environmental pollution and ensure material is clean and the destination country has actually agreed to receive it.
Canterbury produces about 1000 tonnes of residential recycling every week.
The convention will restrict the export of mixed products from 2021, and Downie feels it is vital the sector “gets ahead of the game”.
Environment Canterbury councillor Lan Pham said while the idea of throwing something “away” was debunked, there is “still a mountain of our own waste to climb in terms of consuming less and producing less waste in the first instance”.
She said: “I have no doubt this [study] will be a very welcome step to all Canterbury citizens who are increasingly uncomfortable with our waste streams being shipped offshore and want to see New Zealand take a much more proactive approach to taking responsibility and dealing with our own waste.
Reycling from Canterbury is exported to India and Malaysia for processing, but Downie wants to see if there are environmental and economic benefits to doing it here.
“I hope this study signals the time is up on us blindly polluting our own environment and food chain. We’re now ‘eyes wide open’ that we degrade the environment at our own peril, and addressing our waste issue could not be more urgent.”
Recycling efforts are often frustrated by people misunderstanding what can be recycled, Downie said..
“The biggest issue for us is people using yellow bins like a second rubbish bin, and people thinking something can be recycled like lids on a bottle when it can’t be.
“Everybody has the right idea and wants to do the right thing, but they don’t always do their due diligence and check what can be recycled.”
It would take a day to deal with this pile of recycling at EcoCentral’s Wigram site, with trucks coming in three or four times a day from being out on collections.
– Do not squash or crush bottles and containers, as they need shape for Christchurch’s facilities to sort them correctly.
– Don’t put shopping receipts in the yellow bin, as most are made from unrecyclable material.
– Don’t put plastic bags in the yellow bin, as they can’t be machine-sorted.
– Plastic meat trays are recyclable, so can go in yellow bins. Bathroom and beauty products with recycling labels and a plastic number of 1 to 7 are also ok.
– Rinse recycling to remove debris, empty bottles and remove their lids – these go in the red bins. Wet paper also can’t be recycled, so bins should be kept clean and dry.
– Yellow bin items must be bigger than a yoghurt container to be recycled. For more information, visit ecocentral.co.nz
One of the key ways of reducing contamination of recyclable waste is by the public putting correct items in yellow bins in the first place and not “wish-cycling”.