Cleaning up our act: Getting a grip on recycling in New Plymouth

Amy Benton


Keeping it clean

The most stand-out issue with our recycling is the huge number of recyclable items that do not get cleaned – making them non-recyclable after all. In fact, of the 160 household bins audited, more than 70 per cent contained uncleaned recyclables! Unfortunately, due to being contaminated, these items all end up in the landfill. The list of dirty recyclables included milk bottles that weren’t empty, let alone rinsed (gross!), and meat trays still covered in pieces of raw meat and blood (double gross!!).

Though not so gross, things like shampoo and shower gel bottles, oil bottles, margarine containers, plant-pots, and literally EVERYTHING else in your bin should also be clean. This is even extended to paper and cardboard so if you spilt your drink on it, ate fish and chips off it, covered it in paint and glitter, blew your nose with it, wiped your hands with it, or left your pizza grease on it, then it’s a no-go for recycling (although grease-stained paper and cardboard are great for going into compost bins).

Another issue is bottle lids. Despite often displaying recycle symbols and numbers, any lids smaller than about 10cm diameter are actually too small to be processed and end up going to the landfill. It’s especially important that the lids are not left on bottles as when the bottles are compressed, the lids pop off with decent force, posing a health and safety risk to our manual sorters. The best option for small lids is to put them in your red rubbish bag.


The deal with plastic

Fifty-five per cent of the household bins included in our audit contained non-recyclable hard plastic: 8.8 per cent contained plastic bags and 43 per cent had various other soft plastics. That’s a lot of plastic that shouldn’t be heading to our Materials Recovery Facility! How can we fix this? Well, here are three important things to consider when it comes to plastic and recycling:

Is it soft plastic?

If you can easily scrunch the plastic in your hand (for example, plastic bags, bubble wrap, cling-wrap, cellophane, food wrappers and cereal packets), then leave it out! Soft plastics get caught up in the machinery at the Materials Recovery Facility, making the sorting process more costly and difficult.

Is it a plastic container?

The only plastic accepted for recycling in New Plymouth is plastic containers numbered 1 to 7. So, if the item is not used to contain something, such as food or liquid, or it doesn’t have a recycling symbol with a number from 1 to 7, it’s not for the recycling bin.

Is it a durable plastic?

The New Plymouth Materials Recovery Facility is designed to process mostly single-use items which are easily flattened and baled. Even if they pass the numbered container test, bigger, hard-wearing items just don’t work so leave them out please! These items include: washing baskets, buckets, garden sprayers, tool boxes, reusable water bottles and any other sturdy, non-single use plastic items.

Other plastic perpetrators

Other non-recyclable plastics found in our most recent audit include toilet seats, toothbrushes, coat hangers, plastic shower caddies, scrubbing brushes, straws, children’s toys, printer ink cartridges, credit cards or other plastic cards, roll-on deodorant bottles, fly swats, air freshener dispensers and cartridges, cricket bats, tarpaulins and umbrellas.


Mixed material products

Anyone who’s been to check out our awesome Materials Recovery Facility will have seen the machinery and manual sorters hard at work, making sure all our products end up in the right place. The sorting process results in six different categories: paper, cardboard, plastics 1-2, plastics 3-7, tin and aluminium. The contents in each category must be of a high quality in order to be accepted by the companies that purchase our recycling – which means the items in each bale must be purely made of the specific material they are classed as.

Unfortunately, this means we cannot accept any products made from a combination of different materials. So please leave the items below (and similar products) out of your recycling bin:

  • Razors.
  • Pringles cartons.
  • Hot chocolate powder/instant coffee cartons.
  • Pplastic-coated cartons and cups (e.g. soy/almond/oat/rice/long-life milk cartons, coconut water and juice cartons, milk and yoghurt plastic-coated cardboard cartons, coffee cups and other takeaway drink cups).
  • Books with plastic-coated covers.
  • Plastic-coated paper.
  • Ring-binder folders.
  • Laminated paper.
  • Tablet sheets.
  • Garden hose.
  • Photos.

Some mixed material products are super easy for you to separate at home, such as cardboard boxes and envelopes with plastic windows, meat trays and yoghurt/dip containers with soft plastic seals, and baking paper/tinfoil/cling wrap boxes with metal or plastic cutters. As whole items these things are not recyclable but rip out the plastic or metal bits, leaving just the paper, cardboard, or plastic container, and they’re good to go!


The rest

A final few things that should never go in your bin, to make sure that all your recyclables do get recycled:

  • Polystyrene - even if it has a recycle symbol and number on it!
  • Garden waste.
  • Food or liquid.
  • Timber.
  • Clothing, shoes and any other fabric items such as cloths and wipes.
  • Rubber.
  • Any metal that is not a clean tin or can.
  • Tinfoil, flexible aluminium trays or foil food packets.
  • Batteries.
  • Nappies.
  • Cigarettes.
  • Dead animals or bones.
  • Sanitary pads.
  • Medical waste.
  • Glass.

More information

We understand that with so many different products and materials out there it can be tricky to know what’s recyclable and what’s not, so hopefully this little guide clears up a lot of the confusion out there.

You can also check out our website – NPDC Rubbish and Recycling  - or download our NPDC Rubbish and Recycling App for an easy A-Z list of what you can and can’t recycle, as well some alternative disposal methods for those tricky items!

Written by Amy Benton

Resource Recovery Team