The 'tl;dr' on New Zealands Recycling
SO WHAT THE HECK IS HAPPENING WITH CHINA AND OUR RUBBISH?
China has said that they no longer want to be the dumping ground for the rest of the world. China has, in my opinion, commendably committed to improve the quality of life for their 1.3 billion people with the aim of clearer skies, waters, and soil in the hopes to reduce health problems. This will seriously impact their economy, but the public and officials remains optimistic that improving the environmental standards is more beneficial. Fair enough! Good on you China, but it is looking bad for us. And by the rest of us, I mean everyone who is not China. It is a global issue.
WHAT'S GOING ON IN NEW ZEALAND?
The way it works is that our recycling companies sell our waste to other markets, like China. But since China has put a stop to that, our recycling facilities around the country are bursting at the seams. There is so much un-sellable plastic with no where to go. Now that we aren't selling it, a lot of our recycling is being buried at the dump with the rest of our landfill waste. But, unlike our landfill, it will take thousands of years to break down. And perhaps, it will never, ever, not exist. DAMN!
SO WHAT CAN BE SUCCESSFULLY RECYCLED?
After getting 7.3 million tonnes of assorted waste a year, China is saying 'no' to
1. 24 different kinds of, what was once considered, 'recyclable materials'; and,
2. not properly cleaned goods. So, items cannot have more than 0.5% contamination. That is, your greasy pizza boxes and your pasta sauce jars that still have some red in there. They are guaranteed landfill.
3. Composite products, like Pringles tubes. It is carboard, plastic and aluminium.
- You think plastic is the problem, but The Bay of Plenty have had it especially hard with the announcement that their recycling bin no longer allows glass because of how much glass entered the bins broken, and how uncommercially viable it is for them to sort. Residents will now need to drop off their community glass depositing bin themselves, which people fear will mean more glass in landfill.
- New Zealands Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has said this week that a ban on single use plastic is imminent. Imminent!
- Some smart kiwis are coming up with great solutions. The Waste Minimisation Fund has funded some companies and innovators to re-purpose our waste, but because we are at critical mass for waste, we need more.
AND WHAT ABOUT THIS BLOODY COMPOSTABLE BUSINESS:
When you see 'compostable' on packaging, in most cases, unless you can get it in to a commercial compostable facility, I am sorry to let you know that it is land fill, baby. Your home compost bin cannot get the heat needed to break it down. And if it gets to land fill, it is as bad as plastic.
Which sucks because there are some products nailing that 'eco' look, that say 'compostable' on it. It gives us a thrill to be so green, but these companies are providing massive issues for facilities because at this stage there are no standards, no labelling, and no certainty that nature can absorb how they biodegrade.
And to make it even worse, New Zealand only has 11 facilities that can process compostable packaging. Gah!
MAYBE IT'S NOT A BAD THING:
Here's some hard hitting facts for ya! Kiwis use 1.6 billion single use plastic bags per year. That is 332 plastic bags per person. Last year, NZ sold 41'000 kilograms of plastic to China. And we have one of one of the lowest recycyling rates in the developed world as over 90% of our nations plastics are never recycled.
Maybe China saying no, and consumers saying no, means that we are going to force the government to create some more facilities, as well as put the onus back on the big companies. Did you know that the phrase 'litter bug' was sponsored by companies like Coca Cola a way to turn the responsibility on you, the user, so they could stop being responsible for their single use bottles? And the 'Tidy Kiwi' slogan, and the little logo of the boy skipping to the trash are all mostly used on packaging to again, turn it back on you. Yo, why should it be our problem?
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN:
1. Companies manufacturing need to make from better (non-mixed) materials so we have the opportunity to sell them,
2. Companies should have more responsibility to thir packagings end of life. Perhaps they will have to bring back the buy-back systems.
3. We will need to seperate each kind of waste and dispose of appropriately.
4. Tell companies that they need to do better. They listen.
5. Clean your recycling, and
6. We need to use less plastic. We could all move away from being a throwaway culture.
It is easy to feel discouraged when the problem seems so big, but once again, I feel incredibly hopeful. Hopeful that we will see change in our lifetime. I can't even believe the amount of change that has happened with single use plastic this year. Even places like India have banned single use plastic! I also love the idea that as a greater community we are having the chance to reimagine the way we would like to do our life. Which could be slower and more intentional as consumers. But also, telling those big companies where to shove their plastic. Remember, waste is a design flaw. Use less and complain more.