Wellington council could quit rubbish trade

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 07:15 22/02/2012
Wellington rubbish bags
Fairfax NZ
TRASH CASH: The price of Wellington City Council rubbish bags may increase from $2.20 to $2.50.
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Wellington's rubbish collection service could face the axe as the cost of rubbish bags looks set to increase again.

The cash-strapped Wellington City Council is once again proposing to increase the price of yellow rubbish bags.

The council will also consider getting out of the rubbish business altogether, as it struggles to compete with private wheelie bin operators.

Use of the council's rubbish collection service is declining as recycling levels rise, leading to a proposed 13 per cent increase in the cost of bags. That would raise the recommended bag price from $2.20 to $2.50. A five-pack of bags would go from $11.04 to $12.48.

If given the go ahead, it would be the latest in a series of price hikes, including a 5 per cent increase last year.

CitiOperations manager Mike Mendonca said the increase was being recommended to councillors for inclusion in the draft long-term plan, which will be signed off next month ahead of public consultation.

The sale of bags paid for the collection service, with surplus going towards the recycling service. Declining bag sales were increasingly a problem, he said.

"You still need to drive a truck down every street."

In a review of waste collection services, the council would also consider whether it should get out of rubbish collection entirely, as private bin companies increasingly took over the market.

Up to 40 per cent of Wellington households had wheelie bins through private companies, Mr Mendonca said.

"It's a bit of a strategic question of whether the council needs to be in the business."

If the council did get out of the business, it would have to ensure everyone still had access to a collection service.

But any decision to quit rubbish collection would be in the long term, and in the meantime rubbish bag prices needed to increase to help balance the books, he said.

Councillor Ngaire Best, Three Waters and Waste portfolio leader, said the proposal to increase prices again was yet to be discussed by councillors, and she was unsure how it would be received.

However, given the objective of diverting as much waste as possible away from landfill, increasing bag prices could be a good idea, she said.

"We have got to set our fees in such a way that we really do ourselves out of business."

Any move to axe rubbish collection entirely was also yet to be discussed by the council.

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Rubbish was a core service that people expected from councils, but if it was uneconomic to compete with private businesses, the council may be better off out of it, she said.

"One has to always look at services councils are providing and whether we should be leaving those services ... it wasn't that long ago that councils were in the business of distributing milk."

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