Fair Go's claims about Ashburton's recycling efforts rubbished

8:41 am on 26 March 2023
Recycling bin in Ashburton.

The public recycling bins are susceptible to contamination and most of the recycling ends up going to landfill anyway but it only equates to less than 1 per cent of the Ashburton District's recycling collection. Photo: Jonathan Leask / LDR

Ashburton District Council chief executive Hamish Riach says misleading claims on TV's investigative show Fair Go could undermine years of recycling progress in Ashburton.

A Fair Go episode pinned Ashburton as one of the worst recyclers in the country, which Riach said was inaccurate.

"I think there has been a real misunderstanding around that story," Riach said.

Fair Go stated that at least 80 percent of Ashburton District's public recycling was not sorted - and ended up being dumped in landfill.

The implication was that everything that went into recycling bins ended up in landfill, Riach said.

"It's very disappointing and undermines a lot of effort going into recycling.

"What they were talking about was the public rubbish bins,'' he said.

"Because of the amount of incorrect stuff going in those bins all over the country, not just Ashburton, the recycling from the public bins ends up in landfill because they are so contaminated.''

He said the household (kerbside) recycling "absolutely'' goes to recycling.

The district kerbside recycling has had issues with contamination, but through a three-strike monitoring programme it was below 5 percent, Riach said.

The Fair Go story had the potential to undo all the progress made in the district's recycling habits.

"If people believe it's not worth it, they will just stop doing it."

Fair Go responded, saying they believed they had made a clear distinction by using "the words public place or public recycling", as opposed to home or kerbside recycling.

"We would hope that these efforts to make it clear that we are talking about recycling in public places, rather than at home, make our purpose clear as we in no way want to detract from home or kerbside recycling."

Riach's concern was that while the programme intended to focus on public bins, "there was an impression left that Ashburton was poor at recycling in general".

Council's infrastructure and open spaces manager, Neil McCann said that, as a snapshot, the 26 recycling bins in public areas in the district produced 600kg of material in February, which was dumped in the landfill "due to the significant contamination".

"This amount is only approximately 0.2 percent of our total district recycling."

With no contaminated loads of kerbside recycling in February that means that 99.8 percent of recycling was recycled.

McCann said the government funded the public three-bin systems years ago, and many councils installed them "all over the place''.

"Every council has realised what has been going into the bins is typically half-filled coke bottles with their lids on and things that aren't washed down like we typically do for kerbside recycling,'' he said.

"It's those reasons why they have been contaminated and going into rubbish."

The council has also been monitoring kerbside recycling bins since August 2020 to combat contamination levels.

When a load of recycling is contaminated and rejected, it costs ratepayers an additional $1000 to be redirected to landfill.

Polystyrene problem

Of bigger concern for the district's waste minimisation goals is polystyrene management.

Wastebusters had been taking polystyrene, compacting it, and sending it off to be recycled but that service has recently stopped.

Infrastructure and open spaces group manager, Neil McCann, said the problem was it was much cheaper for commercial properties to chop up polystyrene and put it in with the general waste, than to deal with it properly.

"To do the right thing is going to cost money."

If the council was going to facilitate better polystyrene practices, the resource recovery park "needs more space and there is a cost associated with that", McCann said.

The council has a workshop in April to discuss solid waste and recycling.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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