Karen Driver, of Envision New Zealand, says that the Covid crisis has exposed the flaws in our recycling system. Photo: Matt McCrorie.

Covid-19 shows flaws with city’s recycling system


Environmental consultant Karen Driver says that Covid-19 has revealed that our local recycling systems are broken.

Councils around the country, including the Nelson City Council, had to suspend recycling services throughout Alert Levels 3 and 4.

While kerbside collection was consistent, most recycles, excluding glass, were sent to landfill because of the lack of fully-automated sorting facilities.

Karen, from Envision, says she understands the safety concerns around closing facilities, but thinks time for a more robust system that fosters greater collaboration between councils and the community.

“I think our systems are broken. The fact that we couldn’t process recycling because of Covid-19 shows that. We need a system that is more resilient. We live in a country that is always going to have emergencies of some kind.

“We can’t, at every crisis say, ‘oh, we can’t handle that, we’ll dump it into a big hole.’ It’s not practical at all.”

She says with most of our recycling going into the ground over the last seven weeks, now is as good a time as any to rethink how we handle waste.

“It’s a good opportunity for people, those who have continued to put stuff in recycling but know that it was going to go to landfill, hopefully that gives people a feel for how much is being generated.”

Karen says the recycling is only better by a degree than landfill, anyway.

“There is far too much focus on recycling, nationally. Ultimately there needs to be a re-focus on avoiding and reducing waste, away from recycling.”

Type 1, 2 and 5 plastics are the highest quality. The other plastics are low grade and are generally sent offshore for processing into products that are inferior to the original product – called downcycling.

“Type 1 plastics you can recycle again into new milk bottles and meat trays, it’s good quality plastic. But as you get to the lower grade plastics, they are usually downcycling with each use, they lose their value and structure.

“It works its way out of the system.”

A lot of the push for reducing waste is on consumers, and they need to be careful with what they buy, but Karen says that the system needs to change.

“Bad packaging shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Karen also thinks that there should be more of a focus on dealing with our recycling in New Zealand rather than shipping it offshore.

“I’m keen to see greater collaboration between councils and the community to support a focus on avoiding and reducing our waste,” she says.

“Councils can’t do it all and there are many within our community who already drive waste avoidance and reduction and need support, and many others who are keen to be involved.”