Look under bin lids changes recycling

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 04/02/2014

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A cleaner Palmerston North could be possible, even if it is hard work and frustrating, according to new research.

Findings from Massey University researchers Trisia Farrelly and Corrina Tucker have shown that Palmerston North people can make a difference with their rubbish.

The pair monitored the household habits of four Palmerston North families for nine months, asking them to lessen their litter by watching their recycling and rubbish disposal methods.

They teamed with the Palmerston North City Council to run workshops, weekly waste audits and to provide products, such as reusable produce bags, worm farms and shampoo bars, to help the households. Families signed up for fortnightly check-ins and wrote weblogs in a bid to make changes but towards the end were left at it alone to see how they tracked.

The statistics show the amount of contamination going into the recycling stream - such as dirty pizza boxes that spread grease over other cardboard - dropped.

And, as people became more aware of what they could and could not recycle, the quantity of recycling in weekly kerbside collections decreased and the amount of weekly waste increased.

In some households shopping habits changed, with people picking, and refusing, certain foods because of their packaging, and there was less food waste with compost bins, worm farms and on-site disposal options used.

Marketing was one factor that made more sustainable living difficult, the researchers said.

"You can get so far and do things really well but there's a bit of a brick wall with how shops present their food, packaging - going to different places and planning how to shop, it's more time consuming," Dr Tucker said.

Dr Farrelly said there was only so much people could do in the confines of their households.

"When you go to buy stuff at the supermarket you're overwhelmed by non-recyclables. If you've got a family, or are elderly or on a limited budget, it's just hard and our social structure doesn't work in our favour to reduce waste."

A recycling centre site visit, where research participants watched rubbish being sorted from the recycling, also had a marked effect, with the people seeing the "faces" behind the city's recycling process. Participants also made their own recommendations for policy makers.

"There was an overwhelming feeling of residual frustration from the participants.

"Some of them even turned into environmental activists wanting safe, or more recyclable packaging, or no packaging at all," Dr Farrelly said. "But there was also a sense that [they] can do quite a bit."

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The pair say they hope their research findings will help shape policy change.

They are presenting their findings to the city council this month.

FAMILY CHANGES WAYS

Once a week the Staines family would throw out a bag filled with rubbish, but now it takes them a month to fill one.

Trevor and Catherine Staines, with their 7-year-old daughter, Clare, have noticed the difference through taking part in the household waste minimisation project.

The experience has helped them make more informed choices, change the way they shop, eat, garden and live.

"We're always looking for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle - throwing out is our last resort," Mr Staines said.

They take plastic containers to the butcher, cloth bags to the supermarket for the vegetables, they turn down the option of plastic bags at stores.

They put food scraps in a worm farm, meat scraps in a special anaerobic bin, called a bokashi compost, and spend a bit of time sorting, washing and flattening plastics and cans, while finding ways to dispose of their cardboard and old papers on-site, such as turning it into compost and garden mulch.

Although it requires a bit of effort, the family say it's worth it. "It's taught us so much . . . we're buying smarter with as little packaging as possible and trying to reduce our carbon footprint," Mr Staines said.

Now, nine months on, there's not much else required to perfect the Staines family waste disposal systems and, even though the Massey University researchers are no longer keeping a watchful eye over them, it's something the Staines plan to carry on with.

- Manawatu Standard

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