Young scientists spot problem with New Plymouth council's plastic parking tickets video

SIMON O'CONNOR/Stuff.co.nz

Budding young scientists are concerned those really paying for parking are birds and marine life. 

Students from Highlands Intermediate's marine studies class have urged the New Plymouth District Council (NPDC) to consider biodegradable paper for their CBD parking machines after finding hundreds of tickets at local beaches. 

However, the NPDC said it's too costly to consider. 

Highlands Intermediate science specialist Pat Swanson shows the effort needed to break down plastic parking receipts ...
SIMON O'CONNOR/Fairfax NZ

Highlands Intermediate science specialist Pat Swanson shows the effort needed to break down plastic parking receipts found along local beaches.

Science specialist Pat Swanson said his group of students had been doing beach clean-ups at Tapuae Marine Reserve, near New Plymouth's Back Beach, and noticed there were dozens of plastic parking receipts turning up along the shore. 

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While most of the tickets dated back to June or July this year, some which were still intact were printed in May 2015. 

Swanson said this sparked an idea for a science experiment and the kids took the receipts back to the school lab to see what it would take to break them down. 

"We thought potentially they could be a danger to marine life, they could be an ingestion problem they're also not very aesthetic - it's not nice finding rubbish on your local beach." 

They submerged the tickets in salt water and put them in a food processor and they did the same with ordinary paper, Swanson said. 

"Within one minute the paper had turned to mush, but after one minute with the parking receipts they were still pristine."

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After around 10 minutes they were only just starting to crack and tear, he said. 

To discover first-hand how difficult it was to break down the receipts, the students were asked to come up with solutions.

They came across the Dunedin City Council who made the decision in 2014 to switch to biodegradable paper in all their machines and suggested to the council, the New Plymouth district should go the same way, Swanson said.

However, council staff had said an issue with the biodegradable material is that in wet weather the paper would swell and jam the machines, Swanson said. 

"So far we haven't had a lot of results. The council know about our project but we're concerned... we don't want it to stall and we actually want something done about it." 

The students had also designed stickers which they thought could be helpful to put on the parking machines to encourage people not to print a receipt in the first place, he said. 

"The kids feel a real sense of empowerment with it and to know that they can work towards making a change is actually really powerful." 

Council's chief operating officer Sue Davidson said the biodegradable paper was too expensive "at this stage" so the council wouldn't be exploring that option. 

"People don't need to print a paid-parking ticket if they don't want to. The machines currently have a sticker reminding drivers of that, and we'll soon be updating the machines to say 'Please think of the environment before you print this ticket'," Davidson said. 

"We really encourage people to use our NPDC PayMyPark app.  It's a paperless payment system but also it has really handy features, such as reminders of when your parking is about to run out and being able to pay for the exact amount of parking you use."

When it came to littering, the council preferred education to punishment and had only issued 20 fines for littering since June 2010, Davidson said. 

Project Hotspot's Emily Roberts said the students' findings were important, particularly because it showed that litter being dropped on the city's footpaths was washing up on local beaches. 

Plastics, including the receipts, food wrappers and bottles, were often found at beach clean-ups and everyone should be looking to properly dispose of rubbish so it doesn't end up a danger to wildlife in the area, she said.

 - Stuff

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