Kaikōura's district council is being urged to get real about recycling with a warning it could actually be encouraging waste.
The council has resumed its weekly recycling pick ups, but will no longer take paper and some types of plastic because it can't sell them.
During lockdown, the council picked up all rubbish including recycling and dumped it to keep the community safe.
As of last week, householders went back to separating their recycling and carting their rubbish bags, including paper, to the landfill themselves.
The only plastics the recycling pickup will now take are types 1, 2 and 5.
That includes clear drink bottles; milk and janitorial bottles and food storage containers.
Tin and and aluminium cans, glass and cardboard are also still acceptable.
The changes come as the council prepares to take a close look at whether its ambitious recycling policy has become unrealistic.
Kaikōura was an early leader in the national Zero Waste campaign that began in the late 1990s.
It has taken pride in the fact that half its rubbish goes to recycling, rather than the landfill - a better record than most councils.
But this year it had to dump 250 bales of stored reycling materials at a cost to ratepayers of $18,000.
Markets for many plastics have dried up since China stopped accepting them, and recyclers charge the council $7 per tonne to take paper.
A staff report analysing the cost of recycling said less than half the 500 tonnes collected each year had a viable market.
The council pays its waste company Innovative Waste Kaikoura more than $300,000 a year.
When all those costs were factored in, recycling cost the council $1000 a tonne, the report said - nearly three times the cost of dumping it.
"Paying such a huge price to recover material of low quality and value does not appear entirely rational," it notes.
Reducing waste at source - that is, not creating it in the first place - would be a better option, but recycling could be obscuring that fact by giving people the impression that recyling was a solution, it warned.
The report said Kaikōura's landfill fees, at $350 a tonne, were much higher than those at the nearest neighbouring landfills, and were effectively subsidising the recycling costs.
The council's arrangements with its contractor, Innovative Waste Kaikōura, had been "very loose" in the past and it was hard to assess its efficiency, the report said.
With the cost of the contract set to rise to $900,000, it suggested the council take a hard look at whether its Zero Waste to Landfill policy was an increasingly unrealistic goal.
Every additional $70,000 in spending represents a 1 percent rate rise and waste management is one area where the council could achieve real savings for ratepayers, the staff report said.
"Recycling is not the environmental panacea it was initially thought ... a comprehensive review is needed ... it is not a 'sacred cow."
Kaikōura mayor Craig Mackle said the report revealed the true cost of recycling.
"Most people are under the illusion that recycling is free. It's not. It costs big money and really the only way to deal with waste is at source.
People could cut waste by being careful about what they were buying, the mayor said.
"Check the numbers on plastic containers in the shop, and don't buy stuff you can't recycle. As long as you keep buying it, they (the manufacturers) will keep making it."
The council's waste management policy would be reviewed as part of the Long Term Plan process, Mackle said.
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Newspaper Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.