As climate change worsens, the impact of pollution becomes increasingly obvious all around us. The way that we manage our waste has a significant impact on this; in fact, a recent report shows that New Zealand sends approximately 12.59 million tonnes of waste to decompose in landfills per year. The waste in these landfills will take decades to degrade.
With this continuously rising amount of waste produced per year, it's hard to imagine ways to incite change, but we can. Responsible disposal of waste through recycling is one of the many things that we can do to turn the tide against climate change.
This guide aims to help New Zealand residents understand the way the government handles their trash and the ways that they can mitigate environmental impact through recycling. We’ve included a list of recyclable and non-recyclable materials to help everyone begin to sort their waste so we can take the first steps together to save the planet.
Recycling in New Zealand
Recycling procedures vary in each city. In general, they follow a basic structure of collect, sort, and separate:
- Collect: The council responsible for waste management is sent out to collect waste materials from businesses and residences. Once they collect all of the waste, they send it to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for sorting.
- Sort: The MRF will then sort the waste into different materials. The most common recyclable materials are glass, plastic, paper, and metal.
- Separate: After sorting, the materials are separated depending on their reprocessing procedures. Some recyclable wastes are repurposed in New Zealand, while the rest are sent out to be processed overseas.
While some plastics will be grouped in with the recyclable materials, some cities don't recycle specific types of plastics because of their composition. These are the different types of plastic composition recognised in New Zealand:
- Type 1: Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PET (soft drink bottles, food jars, and trays);
- Type 2: High-Density Polyethylene (water bottles, cosmetic containers, cleaning products containers);
- Type 3: Poly Vinyl Chloride (exterior containers, carpet backing, packaging);
- Type 4: Low-Density Polyethylene (cling film, bubble wrap, zip-lock bags);
- Type 5: Polypropylene (medicine bottles, hard containers, plastic cutlery);
- Type 6: Polystyrene and Expanded Polystyrene (styrofoam cups, foam products, toys);
- Type 7: Others (oven bags, roofing, cases).
Regions such as Auckland, Marlborough, and Southland recycle all types of plastics, but the regions of Wellington and Waitaki only collect type 1, 2, and 5 plastics. Even more restrictive, Porirua and Waitomo only accept type 1 and 2 plastics.
The Chatham Islands and Gore have different combinations of plastic types that they accept for recycling. Researching the plastic recycling regulations of your specific city is important if you want to ensure you’re disposing of your waste properly.
Why Should You Start Recycling?
Recycling provides countless benefits, not only for the environment, but also for the economy. Here are some of the benefits a country can reap if the large majority of its population practices recycling:
Recycling Saves Non-renewable Resources
Most recyclable materials are derived from natural resources, which means that recycling preserves these limited resources. For example, every tonne of paper recycled can save 17 trees. This is the biggest advantage of recycling.
Recycling aluminium cans can save up to 95% of the energy needed to create new cans using natural resources. This is because extracting aluminium from bauxite requires a temperature of 1000°C. An enormous amount of energy is exerted to achieve and maintain this level of heat.
Since recycling aluminium doesn’t require extraction, we significantly reduce the need to use high levels of electricity. When we recycle one tonne of aluminium, we save four tonnes of bauxite and reduce carbon emissions by nine tonnes.
One tonne of CO2 emission is equivalent to driving 9,500 kilometres, which means that when one tonne of aluminium is recycled, we reduce CO2 emissions equivalent to 50,600 kilometres driven by car.
Recycling Creates Opportunities
According to Zero Waste and Economic Growth research, recycling opens up over 200 times more job opportunities than landfills and incinerators. This is great news for cities with significant unemployment rates. Jobs in these sectors don't require a college degree, making them much more accessible for a large portion of the unemployed population.
It's critical to understand that for an economy to grow, it needs an increase in employment and investment. The recycling industry is one of the most efficient investments a city can make to create employment opportunities and spur economic growth.
Recycling Protects Wildlife
The plastic that we carelessly throw away pollutes our oceans and harms our wildlife. In fact, around a hundred thousand marine animals and almost a million seabirds die every year due to plastic ingestion or entanglement. In addition to this, many endangered animals have gone extinct due to deforestation. While this is disheartening, we can prevent further damage through recycling.
Recycling can help alleviate both of these issues. Think of supply and demand — the more we use non-recyclable materials, the more we increase the demand, increasing the irreparable damage we inflict on our oceans and forests. However, this means that we have the power to mitigate this damage by increasing demand for recyclable alternatives, thus preserving the habitats of wildlife around the world.
Recycling Reduces Carbon Dioxide Emission and Greenhouse Gases
The greenhouse effect maintains the Earth's temperature due to a balance of water vapour, methane, and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. These are “greenhouse gases” that absorb heat from the sun and hold the warmth in our atmosphere. This trapped heat is what makes the Earth habitable.
However, pollution has significantly increased the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Incinerating fossil fuels emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and when rubbish is dumped in a landfill, it decomposes and releases methane gas into the atmosphere. Methane and carbon dioxide are potent greenhouse gases that lead to increased global temperatures, which is now commonly known as global warming.
Recycling reduces greenhouse gases by reducing the need to burn fossil fuels and decreasing the amount of waste sent to landfills, thus releasing less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
What Can You Recycle?
Luckily, there are many materials that you can recycle. Here are some of the most common recyclable materials in New Zealand:
Paper & Cardboard
Papers and cardboards are the most common recyclable waste worldwide. These materials are very versatile, and we can turn them into many different kinds of products, thus reducing waste. Some of paper-based products that you can recycle include:
- Printer paper
- Cardboard boxes
- Egg cartons
- Carton boxes
Among all the materials listed here, glass is by far the most reusable. It can be melted and reused an infinite number of times without losing its quality. In fact, many experts believe that glass can be used as a substitute for almost 95% of raw materials.
Many glass manufacturers use recycled glass to create new products. You can recycle glassware and glass-based containers, but decorative glass cannot be recycled.
Aluminium is also an infinitely recyclable material, and recycling aluminium consumes far less energy than creating new aluminium. Today, many manufacturers melt recycled aluminium to transform it into new products.
In earlier years, most plastics were intended to be single-use. Fortunately, many manufacturers have started producing more durable and longer-lasting plastic products to reduce pollution. A great example of durable and recyclable plastics is PET or type 1 plastics; in fact, almost all cities in New Zealand recycle PET or PET-based plastic products. However, we recommend researching your city’s local guidelines for plastic recycling to confirm which plastics they will allow you to recycle.
What Happens to Non-recyclable Materials?
While many companies are converting to practical and sustainable materials, some still use non-recyclable materials. Not all non-recyclable materials are harmful; some of these non-recyclable wastes are compostable, meaning that they can degrade on their own without damaging the environment. However, non-compostable and non-recyclable materials are sent to landfills, where they will stay for many years before decomposing.
Composting is the natural process of breaking down biodegradable materials into nutrient-rich soil. Organic materials, such as leaves, food scraps, and paper decompose to create compost. We can use compost to improve soil quality and fertility. Since compostable materials naturally degrade on their own, there is no need to send them for recycling.
Landfills are places where non-recyclable and non-compostable materials go. These wastes usually take decades to even start their natural degradation process; in fact, most plastic-based materials will not biodegrade in our lifetime.
In some countries, they dispose of these wastes faster via incineration, which turns the waste into energy and/or heat. However, this method produces harmful smokes and chemicals that can enter the atmosphere and contaminate the air we breathe.
Recycling is one of the best things we can do to have a positive impact on the environment. It conserves natural resources, protects wildlife, and combats climate change. Countless countries worldwide, including New Zealand, are partaking in the effort to reduce non-recyclable wastes in landfills. However, we shouldn't stop there.
Many individuals think that their efforts to improve their impact on the environment are futile, but if everyone thinks like this, nothing will happen. By changing our perspective, we can be a part of the solution instead of the problem. No individual efforts are too small. By opting for sustainable alternatives to single-use products, we can collectively take the first step towards a cleaner and healthier Earth.