Rubbish & recycling  |  18 Oct 2021

Christchurch City Council Resource Recovery Manager Ross Trotter lifts the lid on what happens with the stuff that you put in your red, green and yellow wheelie bins.

Remember that empty tomato sauce bottle that you put in your yellow wheelie bin for recycling? Did you know that could end up back in your house as a supermarket meat tray or a strawberry punnet?

What about those empty aluminium drink cans that went into the yellow bin?

They will get recycled back into new aluminium cans.

Most of us are too busy to give much thought to what happens to the items that we put out for recycling, but often they go on quite a circular journey.

Once the items are picked up by the kerbside recycling trucks, they are taken to the Materials Recovery Facility in Wigram, operated by EcoCentral.  There, they pass through a range of machinery that separates them into different product types. The sorted materials then get sent off to a range of national and international reprocessing plants.

The bales of aluminium and steel cans get sold locally for recycling, while the glass is crushed into sand that is used for road fill.

EcoCentral sells bottles and containers numbered 1 to a New Zealand-based processor who remanufactures them into clear meat trays or strawberry punnets for supermarkets.

The plastics that are numbered 2 and 5 are also reprocessed into other useful products.

Paper and cardboard get sent overseas for recycling.  The market for these is extremely competitive. To maximise the price we receive we need to produce clean materials that are untainted by other materials. Because we are a small supplier in a global market, we risk losing our buyers if we don’t meet high quality standards with our recycling.

That is one of the reasons why we are constantly asking people to take care with their recycling and only put accepted items in the yellow bin.

We want to recycle as much as possible because it is better for the environment and helps off-set the costs of processing recyclables. Even when commodity prices for recyclables are low, it still costs significantly less to recycle than to dispose of the same material to landfill.

Our kerbside rubbish, organics and recycling collection service costs about $40 million a year to run.  The money for that comes from the rates that Christchurch property owners pay.

If we lose access to any of our recycling markets, it is likely that we will have to send more material to landfill. That will push up the cost of the kerbside collection service, which in turn will hit ratepayers in the pocket.

It is important too that people keep their green wheelie bin for organic waste only and not put general rubbish in it.

That is because the material that we collect from the green wheelie bins is processed locally into certified organic compost, which is used around the South Island, mostly by the agriculture sector.

When the contents of your green bin are collected at the kerbside, they are trucked to the Organics Processing Plant in Bromley – the biggest composting facility of its kind in New Zealand. There, the green waste gets put through a shredder which has 138 teeth on it that breaks the material down. It is then moved into one of 18 sealed tunnels, where most of the composting happens. The composted material is then taken outside to fully mature.

When the maturation process is complete, the compost is sold to businesses and farms around Canterbury and beyond.

Around 55,000 tonnes of kerbside organic material a year are processed through the plant.  This is food and green waste that would otherwise go to landfill.

If we want to continue to divert as much waste as possible from the landfill, we need people to put the right stuff in the right bins. Most of you have improved, but we need everyone to get on board.

Please remember too that the choices you make when you shop are powerful when it comes to cutting waste.  Try and opt for items with the least amount of packaging or items which are able to be recycled in the yellow bin or alternative recycling schemes  

The best way to reduce the amount of rubbish we are sending to landfill is to prevent waste in the first place.