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Can we fix it? Waste made good

The well-known motto reduce, reuse, recycle is being taken to the next level by local heroes and abroad - big changes, led by the small.

lass clinking. Cans rattling. Hard plastic wheels on concrete. If you didn’t remember what day it was, the loud reminder trundling past your window will jog your memory.

New Zealand puts around 2.5 million tonnes of waste a year into landfills.​

It’s been a fortnight and the recycling bins are out; full to their brim too – one would think everyone’s a committed recycler. And why wouldn’t you be? The process has become so simplified it’s merely a quick clean then ‘which bin do I put this in?’ decision. However, no matter the efforts to reduce waste in our country, we’re still dumping far too much for our own good.

New Zealand puts around 2.5 million tonnes of waste a year into landfills. The issue with this is that decomposing waste generates greenhouse gases. The gases become hazardous as they penetrate groundwater and soil, becoming a potential harm for future generations. With such a high landfill rate it’s hard to imagine a Zero-Waste NZ is on the cards – but it is – Auckland and other regions are set on being waste-free by 2040.

Zero Waste is a possibility. As the years progress the amount of people who are recycling increases too – due to either a growth in knowledge, or expanding accessibility.

Large Kiwi sustainability projects have gained recognition overseas; some of which are finalists in the C40 Cities Awards. The annual awards acknowledge environmental contributors across 10 categories from all around the globe – Auckland gaining a front-running position in two of these; one being Auckland Council’s Waste to Resource project. The Waste to Resource project is a finalist in the Solid Waste category after making the biggest change in waste services in the Southern Hemisphere – bringing seven regional services into one waste management system. This was merely the beginning of a large push toward Auckland becoming zero waste.

It’s not all about big change though. Smaller yet effective schemes all over the country have been tackling problems for years – recycling the unimaginable, the weird and the wonderful. Good spoke to some organisations about their inspirations to tackle waste issues.

Coffee capsules

Coffee capsules and pods have become a recycling challenge, especially in more recent years with the development of domestic coffee machines – how do you dispose of the coffee capsules?

Unfortunately it is not as simple as putting them in your recycling. “Firstly, the packaging is complex and often a mix of different materials. Capsules can be made out of plastic, aluminium and/or biodegradable materials. Secondly, they often contain leftover coffee remains, which contaminates recycling. Any contaminated recyclables have to be removed when the recycling is sorted,” says Auckland Council waste planning manager Parul Sood. “They are also very difficult to process due to their size. This means they are not captured through the recycling sorting machinery to be baled with other bottles or cans for transport – which is the same for loose bottle caps. (If you are putting plastic or glass bottles into your recycling bin, keep the caps and lids on so they can be appropriately sorted at the recycling centre.) Some coffee pod/capsule companies now offer their own return schemes for recycling.”

Nespresso New Zealand has had a capsule recycling programme in place since opening its first boutique in Auckland in 2011. Their capsules are made of aluminium which makes them infinitely recyclable, though the onus is on the consumer to recycle them. Since 2011 Nespresso has been continually working on plans to make it as easy for the end user to recycle as possible and in October 2016 announced a collaboration with New Zealand Post to extend the reach of its existing recycling programme.

By using a specially designed recycling bag, consumers can now drop their used aluminium capsules into any New Zealand PostShop in more than 270 locations across the country. Each recycling bag holds up to 130 capsules, and the return postage is paid by Nespresso.

The capsules are then sent to EcoStock, in Auckland. EcoStock are specialists in reverse engineering of packaged food materials, separating various forms of packaging from food, including Nespresso coffee grounds. The coffee grounds are then blended with other organic materials to create a compostable blend, and the aluminium is bailed into high density blocks, which are sent to the aluminium industry to manufacture into new products.

“We have been looking for ways to make it easier for people to recycle the capsules as their participation is essential to make our recycling efforts a success,” says Nespresso New Zealand’s new country manager John Ciaglia. “The bag has been specifically designed to be carried in New Zealand Post’s national network and is a significant step for us to provide more accessibility to recycling for our customers.”

Nespresso is also continuing its partnership with recycling and upcycling pioneer TerraCycle. In August TerraCycle and Nespresso upscaled its recycling programme by introducing new drop-off stations for people to present their used Nespresso capsules to be recycled. The areas are scattered nationwide from Kerikeri to Invercargill at more than 100 florists and garden centres.

Orewa Lions Club volunteer Laurie Rands is also doing her bit. She collects the capsules and spends hours separating the coffee and aluminium by hand. Rands’ recycled coffee pods aren’t merely recycled so they stay out of bins; they’re raising money for Kidney Kids Foundation, an organisation that supports children with kidney issues.

Rands is based in the Hibiscus Coast, Auckland, and runs her region’s segment of the Kidney Kids fundraiser called ‘Kan Tabs’. ‘Kan Tabs’ involves the collection of aluminium items such as Nespresso capsules. She collects the items then onsells them to her local scrap dealer, giving all of the funds received to Kidney Kids.

Why rinse your recycling?

Not only do food leftovers start to smell sitting around in their containers in the recycling bin, they will be rejected and thrown into landfill if they are filthy. Plus, stuff is manually sorted by human beings so spare a thought for them.

Awesome outcomes

Like Rands, more and more organisations are looking directly at what they can do with recycled goods. New Zealand-owned company My Mojo creates stationery from eco-friendly materials. The stationery is not manufactured in New Zealand as plastics are not processed here – but My Mojo director Tony Ellis says this means the company can offer the stationery at a good price.

My Mojo sells various pieces of stationery ranging from note pads to highlighters and pens – all of which have aspects of recyclable materials. Ellis’s children inspired the idea of eco-stationery: “What my kids are doing at school, and their commitment to sustainability, and the fact that they get through so much stationery throughout their years at school, and it seemed to kind of all fit together,” Ellis says.

TerraCycle also encourage using materials to create new things. They have given the public direction on making zip lock bags into wallets, and have initiated a reward scheme that encourages recycling oral care waste. Those who collect the used items for TerraCycle can win money or a park bench made from the recycled oral care waste.

Consumer voice

TerraCycle recycles the ‘unrecyclable’, looking for waste solutions for products that are deemed difficult to recycle, so it was the obvious partner for Sealord when consumers complained about Sealord’s pouch packaging. In August 2016 they teamed up to provide an innovative recycling option that sees the pouches pelletised so they can be used to make plastic goods such as park benches, watering cans and waste bins.“We got a big response when we introduced our new Tuna Pockets and Tuna Express products. Consumers love the freshness and complexity of flavours … but they didn’t like that the pouches could not be recycled,” says Craig Harrison, senior brand manager at Sealord New Zealand. TerraCycle has already kept more than four billion pieces of food and beverage packaging and other waste from going to landfill, and with its partners, has donated more than $15 million to charities and schools through its various programmes. It’s working on creating solutions for other difficult items including cigarette butts and used chewing gum.

Plastic bags

Ensuring plastic bags and food wrappers are recycled has been made even easier thanks to a new soft packaging initiative by the Packaging Forum Inc including foundation partner Cottonsoft Ltd with KiwiSoft, CottonSofts, Paseo and Tuffy brands.

Most councils don’t want you to put plastic bags in your recycling bin because they get caught in the sorting machines.

Since the launch of the Soft Plastic Recycling Programme launched in late 2015, more than 10 million plastic bags have been repurposed.

“People may be surprised to learn 4.3 million soft plastic bags and wrappers are being thrown away every day in New Zealand,” says Malcolm Everts, category marketing manager at CottonSofts. “With over 45 tonnes of plastic bags and wrappers already dropped off at various retailers since this initiative launched, we’re proud to be supporting activity that has resulted in this rubbish not going to a landfill or worse.”

How does it work? Look out for Recycle Soft Packaging bins at your local supermarket. The bins can be found at more than 200 Countdown, New World, Pak’nSave and The Warehouse stores in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Canterbury. In the next three years the programme will expand to Otago, the Bay of Plenty, Manawatu and other regions.

The soft plastic that can be recycled includes toilet tissue and kitchen towel packaging, shopping bags, bubble wrap, bread, pasta and rice bags, fresh produce bags including netting citrus bags, frozen food bags, dairy and ice-cream wrappers, cereal box liners, squeeze pouches, courier packs, newspaper wraps and confectionary wraps and lolly bags. The collected plastics are sent to Replas Australia for processing.

The soft plastics that are recycled can be turned into things like park benches and fitness circuits for playgrounds as well as everyday items like bollards, decking and even recycling bins too. The Clive Bridge cycleway in Hawke’s Bay, designed by Metal Art, was made from 4.2 million recycled plastic bags. Metal Art has teamed up with Replas Australia to bring its range of recycled plastic products to New Zealand.

More cool stuff

New World and Pak’nSave have created New Zealand’s world-first recyclable butchery trays. The initiative saw Foodstuffs win a 2016 Green Ribbon Award for waste minimisation. Made of 50 per cent recycled plastic, the trays can be put in roadside recycling bins and have replaced non-recyclable polystyrene foam, 100 million of which ends up in landfills every year. Foodstuffs’ goal is to move its packaging towards being 100 per cent recyclable either roadside or back at store. Single-use packaging doesn’t make financial or environmental sense, says Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd managing director Steve Anderson. “Going to the trouble of manufacturing a product from a finite resource, then using it once for a few days before relegating it to a landfill is simply inefficient and irresponsible.”

For Auckland City to achieve the goal of zero waste by 2040 everybody in the city needs to be participating, says Sood. “It’s an aspirational goal which means we work towards an economy that is not lenient but circular, where you try to get those products that you are producing back into that cycle of life and that’s the aim,” she says. “The bigger vision is that the whole city thinks in a way that everything you produce is actually in that circular waste state rather than a lenient state where you make something, use it and then throw it away.”

Recycling is also not the answer to everything, says Sood. “It is one option but it is also down the line, so it is thinking about ‘what can I reduce in terms of my footprint of my impact in that space? And can I reuse it locally?’ What else can you do with it? And then if you can’t do any of that, then it’s good to recycle it and not put it in the rubbish.”

The 'Can We Fix It?' series, which looks at how we're using innovation and ingenuity to try and solve some of our thorniest problems, is brought to you by KiwibankKiwibank is passionate about the future of New Zealand, and about making Kiwis better off. They’re 100% Kiwi-owned, which means their profits stay right here in New Zealand.

This story was first published atGood.

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