Garbage guru Zac Jordan walks a tightrope between the shifting realities of the global recyclables market and keeping the capital's suburban recycling scheme free.
He says it's a juggling act that's getting harder to pull off as the volatile market, which relies heavily on the whims of Chinese demand, is further squeezed when companies like Fonterra put low-value products, such as Anchor's lightproof milk bottles, into the loop.
As Wellington City Council waste operations manager, Mr Jordan is responsible for directing, streaming and creating revenue from the tides of rubbish that flow round and through the capital.
The scheme costs close to $5 million a year to run, which this year includes a share of $750,000 in losses since China's "green fence" policy shut down demand for formerly lucrative grade 3 to 7 plastics. The policy applied from February till last month, , and strictly enforced regulations on importing scrap.
"It is being felt by the whole recycling industry but we're hanging in there," Mr Jordan says.
It cost a further $350,000 to extract unrecyclable materials and rubbish such as nappies and food from the recycling that household put out for collection.
Fonterra is also part of the problem, he says. Its Milk for Schools scheme, launched earlier this year, uses Tetra Paks that mostly cannot be recycled except at schools.
Mr Jordan says the scheme sends a mixed message to schoolchildren, who are told the cartons are recyclable but get a different story when they take them home.
The dairy giant's black-lined lightproof bottles for its Anchor brand are also causing headaches - their value is greatly diminished because that black layer cannot be separated out and they can only be made into new products that are black or brown.
"They are recyclable but it's almost worthless - it puts a dent in our pockets for what is arguably a gimmick," Mr Jordan says.
He believes the solution is for companies such as Fonterra to work with councils and recyclers to come up with packaging that can be processed and turned into new products in New Zealand.
Fonterra brands environmental manager Nic Bishop does not disagree: "We're trying to work hand in hand with councils to find solutions."
And he does not dispute that lightproof bottles are less valuable than clear plastic milk bottles but says the co- op is working on a "continual process of linking packaging into local recycling solutions".
Four sites in Auckland and Christchurch can process the lightproof bottles. Mr Bishop says the company already recycles them into black slipsheets for its pellets and is developing other products including agricultural piping and culverts, for which there is big demand.
As for the Tetra Pak problem, he says a solution is in the offing. At present, the Milk for Schools packs go to plants in Malaysia and Thailand.
There they are turned into roof tiles, schoolbooks and paper, but the company is working with councils and recyclers to come up with new products the packs can be recycled into, with the eventual goal of building a national Tetra Pak recycling facility.
WHERE IT ENDS UP
Colour-sorted glass goes to O-I New Zealand, in Auckland, where it is mixed with other raw materials, fed into a furnace then melted down to make bottles and jars.
Non-glass items are sorted by Carter Holt Harvey's Full Circle processing plant at Seaview, Lower Hutt, then destined for uses such as clothing, furniture and electrical insulation.
Aluminium cans go to Macaulay Metals, and shipped to China to be reprocessed.
Steel tins go to Pacific Steel and are refashioned into reinforcing rods for concrete.
Recycled paper and cardboard goes to one of Carter Holt Harvey's mills in Penrose, Auckland. Paper is repulped to make 100 per cent recycled corrugated cardboard for packaging. Cardboard is repulped for 30 per cent recycled board for cardboard boxes.
No-one processes PET (plastic grade 1) in New Zealand, so most of it ends up in China and is made into carpets and polar fleece garments.
About 8 per cent of what goes into kerbside recycling bins in Wellington is non-recyclable, including toothbrushes, nappies, food, shoes, plastic toy packaging, rollie packets, supermarket meat trays and polystyrene.
If plastic doesn't have a triangle with a number in the middle, it is less likely that it can be recycled.
Put recycling out as close to collection time as possible, so it is less likely to be blown into stormwater drains and the surrounding environment.
Wrap sharp objects, including broken glass, in newspaper or cardboard before disposing in a council landfill rubbish bag.
Smartphone users can download a collections day reminder that activates an hour before recycling is due. The collection roster can also be view on the council's website.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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