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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Up to our eyeballs in recycling?

31 May 2018

Recycling has become a way of life for most Kiwis.

Instead of just throwing everything in the rubbish bin/bag or wheelie, most of us now religiously separate out our plastics, paper, glass and cans -- carefully placing them in the appropriate recycling receptacle in the belief that we're helping the environment.

Truth is... you might be wrong.

I've been told that here in the South Waikato, recycling has become a bit of a joke and that on some occasions, the recycling truck simply goes straight to the tip and dumps its contents into the landfill.

Oi! I just spent several minutes of my week separating that crap and you go dump it anyway?

One of the reasons for this "dump the recycling" strategy appears to be that a lot of the plastics that were previously being sold to China are now unable to be sold at all.

China doesn't want them, nor do any of the other international gathering-points for such stuff.

As a result, there has been a huge stockpile forming -- to the extent that now we've run out of room for storing it so there's no alternative but to invoke the Lone Ranger theme and head "to the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump dump...."

So what's gone wrong? Why is our once-valuable plastic now worse than worthless?

Well from speaking to people involved in the recycling process, it seems that lots of the recycling collected contains plastics that are not really that recyclable. There's also a lot of food matter still attached to this plastic and that makes for a "stinking mess" once the stuff has been baled and sitting around for a while.

It seems we could be trying to recycle as many maggots as we are old yogurt containers.

So what's the fix?

Better education would be a good start. Teach people that polystyrene and cling-film are not the most recyclable of plastics and ought not be included with the HDPE and other far more valuable waste we toss in the recycle bins. People ought to look for the little triangle with a number in it to determine the type of plastic they're dealing with. Generally speaking if there's no triangle with a number, it may not be a viable recycling option.

Secondly, just give the milk bottles and food containers a quick rinse before you throw them in the bins. Hell, it doesn't take more than a few seconds and clearly (especially in mid-summer), it's going to make someone else's job a whole lot less unpleasant once this stuff is collected.

Finally... I think that as a nation, we need to spend more time and effort trying to come up with our own ways to recycle, repurpose or re-use this waste.

We've got some bright people in NZ -- surely we can come up with great ideas for turning our plastic waste into something more than landfill.

Once again I would suggest that the government of the day offer a challenge/reward for soliciting these great ideas.

How about a $1m prize for the person or persons who can come up with a viable way of recycling problem plastics into practical products right here in New Zealand?

Hell, if we did come up with such technology, we'd not only solve our own recycling waste problems but also be able to license the process to other countries who have exactly the same problem. That's a double-win and a value that would exceed the cost of running the challenge by orders of magnitude.

Do you think anyone in government will be clever enough to work this out for themselves?

Nah... of course not.

Hey, I'd like to see plastic waste used to create body-panels for our indigenous EV industry -- that'd be a huge win.

I know throw this to the Aardvark audience and invite your best ideas (sorry, no prize on offer though).

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