“Well done fella, you’re awesome,” said Clutha District Council solid waste officer Steve Clarke, during a walking tour of Kaitangata last week, as he placed a green sticker on a resident’s recycling bin.
He and Wasteco employee Michael Bennett perform random checks of the recycling bins around Clutha “a couple of times each year.”
Bins are allocated a green, yellow or red sticker depending on the level of contamination discovered inside.
“Contamination is anything that isn’t allowed in the bin,” Mr Clarke said. “This could be glass, food, or the wrong kind of plastic. If there’s contamination, I knock on the door.”
He said, on the whole, the district had improved its recycling practices, with some help from the “Waste Wizard” series of billboards and newspaper ads that gave recycling tips.
People were trying to do the right thing, he said, but were sometimes confused about what kind of material went where.
One bin on the tour had a plastic shopping bag inside, and was duly awarded a yellow sticker.
“If you can scrunch it up in your hand, it can’t be recycled,” Mr Clarke said.
Only one bin received a red sticker, for having a pair of gumboots inside. The resident they belonged to was irate when notified of their mistake, but Mr Clarke was able to calm them down.
“We’re not trying to tell people off, we’re just trying to educate them,” he said.
Mr Bennett had discovered far worse items during his time with Wasteco. On collection days he sometimes had to jump into the back of the truck to fish out items that were not meant to be there.
One bin was full of soiled nappies.
“So you come home smelling like nappies,” he said.
Wasteco worked in conjunction with the council, and sent them photos of the registration numbers of offending bins.
Mr Bennett said the strangest item he came across was an entire dead sheep in a recycling bin.
“The whole thing fit in a bin quite well.”
He said contamination limits were becoming increasingly strict, and part of the cause was China, where much of the plastic to be recycled ended up.
“China has become strict. They’re not accepting plastics three to seven anymore because the markets for those are shrinking. Also, if they find any piece of contamination, they reject the whole thing.”
This pushed the problem back to OJI, a company which had a recycling processing plant in Dunedin. Following China’s tightening of standards, they did the same.
Mr Clarke encouraged people to wash their recycling thoroughly, because the tiniest piece of food or other waste detected could have the whole lot thrown out.