It’s Recycling Week! What better time to discuss how and why the global issue of waste and recycling is important in New Zealand, what you can do to give your waste the best chance of being recycled, and how this fits into the bigger concept of waste minimisation!
Around 3.2 million tonnes of waste is going to landfill in NZ each year (MFE, 2006) and according to recycle.co.nz, ¾ of this could be being diverted. This equates to 8kgs of waste per person, per week, heading to landfill that could have been reused, recycled or composted.
The good news is that while global waste levels are a real problem, and NZ is a disproportionate contributor, there are things we can do (like recycling!) to make a difference. Let’s dig into what recycling actually means, and how we can make sure what we use is given the best chance of getting processed correctly.
What is recycling and why is it important?
Recycling is central to sustainability as one of the ‘R’ trifecta, ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’, entrenched in us since primary school. By recycling, we are not only helping the environment by mitigating the effects of climate change; we’re also alleviating the harmful impacts that landfill can have on our own health.
What is recyclable?
Not all recyclables are created equal - some are easier and cheaper to recycle than others. Whilst plastic is normally the most discussed type of recyclable, it is important to recognise that buying goods in glass or cans (instead of plastic packaging) can have a positive impact on the environment. For example, an aluminum can is the most cost-effective material to recycle. “Recycling aluminium requires only 5% of the energy and produces only 5% of the CO2 emissions as compared with primary production and reduces the waste going to landfill.”
The ‘recyclable item’ that creates the most confusion is plastic, which makes up a total of 8% of New Zealand’s entire waste stream. There are two types of plastics: ‘thermoset’ and ‘thermo-plastics’. Thermoset plastics are typically very hard and rigid plastics, such as appliance components, and tend not to be recycled. Thermo-plastics are the plastics that are used the most in day-to-day packaging. What you’re looking for when recycling plastic is the recycling symbol where you will see a number inside (from 1-7).
The recycling symbol is a consummate representation of recycling. It is a circular model that looks at recycling in a three-step process that forms a closed loop.
The first step represents collection of materials, the second if the manufacturing process of those recyclable materials into new products, and the third step is the actual purchase and use of the products made from recycled materials. Therefore, you are only a true recycler if you are buying products made from recyclable materials as well as recycling those materials.
What kind of plastics can I recycle?
Numbers #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE) are easier to recycle than other plastics. These can be made into containers, rubbish bin liners, outdoor furniture, clothing etc.
Plastics numbered #3, #4, #5, #6 and #7 are often not seen to be worthy of recycling - they are harder to recycle and/or remanufacture from. For that reason, try to avoid these plastics wherever possible as they typically end up back in the landfill!
What happens to my recycling?
Most of our recycling needs to be shipped overseas as our population size doesn’t warrant a national manufacturing base. China (the biggest receiver of our waste and recyclables) has new restrictions on imports of waste products which now means that there is now stockpiling of waste and recyclables around New Zealand. This means that, as a country, we have to think of ways in which we can use these resources.
An exciting update on this front is the recent opening of Flight Plastic’s fully integrated PET (polyethylene terephthalate - the most common type of plastic) recycling plant. #1 (PET) can now be processed and re-manufactured into RPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) trays and containers in our very own Wellington. The impact? One tonne of new virgin PET becomes one tonne of RPET which can be recycled again and again.
What else can I do to support recycling efforts?
Check your council’s website to understand which types of plastics are recycled in your area. Currently #1 and #2 and collected in most areas, whereas #4 and #5 are only collected in some areas.
Make sure you’re recycling correctly. This is a critical one! In order for your recycling to be collected, it must be clean - recycling gets rejected if ‘contaminated’, which negates all of the good work you’ve put in. Make sure that you are washing your recycling before you are putting it out for kerbside collection.
Think outside the box. Don’t stop at your kerb-side recycling bin - you can now recycle your soft-plastics at selected stores of Countdown, New World, Pak’n’Save and the Warehouse. Composting is another way you can reduce the amount of waste that you send to landfill. If you’re not keen to reap the benefits of compost in your own garden, why not see if your local community garden could make use of it - your waste could be turned back into a useful resource.
Join our community. By having your voice heard and advocating for the change that you want to see in business, you’re encouraging Kiwi businesses to adopt better, more sustainable practices.
Use our app! There are plenty of accredited businesses that are reducing their landfill waste by recycling, composting and supporting/rewarding people who BYO containers. You can use our app to find accredited businesses that have been awarded with these badges.
Every year, our businesses are diverting 450,520kg of waste from landfill, with recycling programs accounting for 37% of that total. We’re also saving 164,375 items of disposable packaging from landfill thanks to our businesses supporting BYO containers and adopting eco-packaging in their stores. What a result!
What else can I do to minimise my waste?
Without taking away the significance of recycling, it is also important not to forget the first two ‘R’’s of the mantra,’Reduce’ and ‘Reuse’.
Reducing the amount that we actually consume is a top priority. Shifting our consumption patterns will have the most significant impact on the amount of waste that we produce collectively and as individuals.
Secondly, we need to reuse. This requires us to move away from a throw-away society towards a more circular economy where we view our waste a resource. Adoption of this ‘reusing’ mentality is being powered by conscious consumers (like you!) and businesses who are aware of the true environmental and social costs of their consumption.
So let’s go! Use recycling week to kick-stat a re-evaluation of how much waste you produce, then make a plan to reduce, reuse and recycle. Use our app to find businesses near you that support BYO practices, or have our recycling and composting badges. Sign up to join the Conscious Consumers community and support the change that you want to see in the world.