Cleaning up

Last updated 12:37 07/11/2012
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MURRAY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ
JUST CHECKING: Jacob Beazley picks out foreign objects from the paper line.

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Palmerston North residents score 93 per cent for correct use of the wheelie bins. City council reporter Janine Rankin visited the Materials Recycling Facility to see how the process works.

It's not perfect, but we are getting there.

Recycling has become the norm for most Palmerston North ratepayers and most people are doing it right, most of the time.

But there were kinks found in the system after the orange-lidded wheelie bins were rolled out two years ago.

The budget blew and there were problems at the plant.

The $4.7 million project to transform a closed landfill into a waste-minimisation centre, opened with much fanfare by then Prime Minister Helen Clark in 2007, took an unbudgeted extra $1.1m to complete at the recycling plant alone.

Mountains of collected recycling built up outside a plant thwarted by regular breakdowns.

When the wind blew, plastic bags were whipped up, blown around, snagged on fences and trees, and floated down the Manawatu River, creating a sight that Cr Chris Teo-Sherrell described as "representative of how we treat the river".

When it rained the paper and cardboard that makes up nearly 80 per cent of the collected material got wet, driving down its resale value.

In what should have been a relatively clean, modern facility handling clean material, there were, in fact, rats.

But that was a year ago.

After another $612,000 was poured into the facility, the system is running smoothly.

The collection area has been closed in, so loose plastic does not get blown around.

The roof protects material and workers from the weather.

And the way material is fed into the plant has been improved markedly.

Instead of being pushed on to the conveyor in great clumps, the belt passes through an opening in the pre-sort area that smooths it into a steady stream.

That enables staff working at the entrance to extract large cartons from the flow and loosen any materials that have been tied into plastic bags.

A fine screen allows any small items, such as bottle tops, gravel, broken glass and sharp objects to drop out, removing a source of contamination and cause of damage to the machinery, and making the work safer for staff.

With the improvements in place, the rest of the plant continues to operate as it was designed to, largely free from the regular breakdowns often caused by jams in the system.

Supervisor Pete Siddall says that running at capacity the plant can handle up to four tonnes an hour. With 16 to 18 tonnes a day coming in, it means a one-day-a-week routine stoppage for maintenance can usually be factored in.

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About 400 tonnes of recycling material a month arrives at the plant, along with 155,000 tonnes of glass.

Recycling is a $6.89m a year expense for the council.

About $1.93m is expected to be collected from the sale of recycled materials this year. But it is a challenging market, with council income down on budget in the first quarter of this year by nearly $136,000.

Rubbish removal and recycling costs the average ratepayer $4.10 a week.

While the determination to reduce waste remains - zero is the target - one of the biggest challenges for those putting policy into practice, is people.

They are responsible for the 7 per cent of the recycling collection that should not be there.

"We will be able to reduce that with education," said Mr Siddall.

About 15 per cent of the collection had to be dumped shortly after the bins were introduced.

From items as bizarre as a pig's head and a chainsaw, the collection is also liberally sprinkled with items people hope they might get away with, or are genuinely confused about.

Computer keyboards and old clothes certainly can be recycled, but not at this plant.

Fabric is particularly hazardous for the machinery, as it is inclined to get tangled in the works and cause stoppages.

Siddall says a good rule of thumb for householders is that their recycling bin should not smell.

If it does smell, there is something in there that shouldn't be.

People seem to be catching on.

The rats have moved on, or were at least keeping well out of view when the Manawatu Standard visited last week.

The worst things found in the recycling:


■ a pig's head

■ a chainsaw

■ nappies

■ fabric

Do:

■ Read the instructions under the orange lid of your bin.

■ Tie a knot in plastic bags, or squeeze them and tie them into one bag, to stop them flying away.

■ Put the bin at the kerb at least half a metre from parked cars or other objects.

■ Rinse cans and bottles before recycling.

Do not:

■ Do not put anything in the recycling bin that used to be alive, whether animal or vegetable.

■ Do not overfill the bin. Things fall out when it is lifted to be emptied into the collection truck.

■ Do not put your rubbish bag on top of the bin. The driver has to get out and move it.

■ Do not put ashes in the recycling.

■ Do not sort recycling and tie it in bags.

■ Sorted and graded glass goes to OI-Glass in Auckland to make new glass products. The balance is used on site under roading for backfill and in construction projects.

■ Paper and cardboard is baled on site by Carter Holt Harvey subsidiary Fullcircle, bound for Kinleith, Whakatane and Penrose to be re-used.

■ Steel and aluminium cans are sold to local metal recyclers. Steel is recycled into fabrication steel in New Zealand, while aluminium goes to Japan and Australia in the absence of New Zealand recycling options.

■ PET plastic goes to Hong Kong to be flaked into fibre for fabrics and carpets.

■ Milk and softdrink bottles go to Budget Plastics in Manawatu to be chipped, washed and made into pellets. Milk bottles become plastic bags; other commodities' bottles are made into pipes.

■ Plastic bags and shrink wrap go to Hong Kong to be flaked for manufacturing products such as tunnel house film.

■ General plastics are exported to Asia for re-use in manufacturing.

The Materials Recovery Facility is planning an open day on Saturday, November 24.

Tours will run at 10am, noon, and 2pm, with a maximum of 60 people in each time slot.

Tour guides are educator Pip Chrystall and plant supervisor Pete Siddall.

The tour also includes a visit to the trial composting site.

To confirm a place, contact goinggreener@pncc.govt.nz.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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