Tuesday, 26 May 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

War on waste will need public’s support

The days of households dumping their recycling in a wheelie bin and forgetting about it will need to end if Thames-Coromandel District Council is to control the costs of dealing with waste in the future.

From 15 June, TCDC will only collect certain grades of plastic as part of their kerbside recycling scheme as it aims to end “wish cycling” - a practice where all manner of rubbish ends up in recycling bins, whether or not it can be recycled. From 2 June, households are being asked to transition to the new rule by placing only plastics labelled 1 or 2 in their wheelie bins, along with cardboard, paper and metal tins. After a two-week grace period, wheelie bins will not be emptied if they contain other plastics.

For council’s solid waste program manager, Mark Cressey, it’s the first step in a war on waste that will only be won with the support of the community. He says knowing what can and cannot be recycled gives households the ability to make informed choices about their own purchases and consequently the waste they are generating. “Look at meat trays as one example,” he says. “If you are buying mince in the supermarket, just turn over the tray, check if has a 1 or a 2 in the triangle and if not, that tray will be going to landfill. An alternative would be to go to the deli counter in the same supermarket and ask for the mince to be wrapped in brown paper.”

TCDC has come under pressure in recent months over the spiralling costs of waste management and, while acknowledging there is work to do to restore public confidence, Mr Cressy says, going forward, council was aiming to work better and smarter alongside the community to reduce both waste and the associated costs. “We absolutely need the community on board if we are going to achieve our goals of reducing what we are currently sending to landfill,” he says.

In 2017, when the Eastern Waikato Waste Management and Minimisation Plan (WMMP) was last reviewed, over 18,000 tonnes of landfill waste were being produced in the Thames-Coromandel District every year. The plan set a target of a 13 per cent reduction by 2022, including a five per cent decrease in kerbside household waste going to landfill. However, the goalposts moved significantly in 2018/2019 as China’s National Swords Policy all but ended the practice of importing waste from overseas and sparked a waste crisis for local councils right across New Zealand. Customs figures show New Zealand exported 10,494 tonnes of plastic to China in 2016.

Mr Cressey says what can now be recycled essentially comes down to what there is a market for and currently in the Thames-Coromandel District, with regard to plastics, that is Grades 1 and 2. He is hopeful that once residents understood that other plastics were destined for landfill, they would try to eliminate them from their rubbish. “Waste is often seen as the poor cousin when it comes to council services,” he says. “If we turn on our taps and the water doesn’t come out, then we immediately know we have a problem. But with waste, we tend to just put it at the bottom of the driveway and we think it goes away, but of course it doesn’t.”

While increasing waste costs have been largely blamed for recent budget overruns at TCDC, Mr Cressey says council was committed to stabilising these costs and better communication with the public on how that can be achieved was part of the plan.

He says council would be talking to local supermarkets about the issue of packaging, but ultimately customer demand would be the greatest tool for change. “The phasing out of plastic bags is proof that if consumers demanded better packaging solutions, industry would respond to that,” he says.

Councillors are likely to be asked to review the WMMP again to increase the focus on reducing and reusing, with recycling ultimately becoming the last resort.

Better signage and an improved layout at TCDC’s existing refuse transfer stations are among the measures being undertaken in the short term. “I want to see information and education boards in place at our transfer stations so people can make better decisions,” Mr Cressey says. “I want them to be places people want to visit, I think we can set a higher standard for these facilities without a huge cost. But the public needs to know that waste is an important issue and worthy of their attention.”

Council is also aiming to take a modern and progressive approach to the new Whitianga refuse transfer station which is currently under design. Options being looked at include the collection of reusable builders’ waste as well as a recovery facility like the highly successful Seagull Centre in Thames. Mr Cressey says Mercury Bay councillors, Murray McClean and Tony Fox, as well as Mercury Bay Community Board chair ,Rekha Giri-Percival, had been part of a visit to the Xtreme Zero Waste facility in Raglan where they were hugely impressed with the multiple processes diverting 75 per cent of waste away from landfill. Continuing interest and support from elected representatives would be critical to driving the change in approach needed within the district.

While the task ahead is certainly formidable, Mr Cressey says he is heartened by what he has seen from the community to date, particularly in the weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown. “We had some significant changes to kerbside collections that we needed to implement within a matter of days,” he says. “But around 96 per cent of our households got on board and helped us out, that was an amazing response and we are so grateful for how the community supported us during what was such a challenging time. I believe the community does want to deal with this issue and as a council we do need to support them to do that by providing good information and education.

“We need to help people get interested and even excited about waste and the opportunities we have to do better both from an environmental and cost perspective. One of the reasons we made the new mobile compacting facilities around the district so colourful and visually engaging is to try and help people feel positive about using them and we need to try and do the same with other initiatives.”

More information about the changes to kerbside recycling is available at www.tcdc.govt.nz.

The existing refuse transfer station in Whitianga. A more modern Whitianga transfer station with a strong focus on re-use and recycling is in the planning as Thames-Coromandel District Council steps up plans to reduce the volume of waste going to landfill.

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