Recycling holds nightmare find

By ILONA HANNE -
Haki Rangi holds up a hypodermic needle he fortunately spotted while on the pre sort line.
Haki Rangi holds up a hypodermic needle he fortunately spotted while on the pre sort line.

Tara (not her real name) is a nicely spoken, polite young woman in her 20s. She doesn't do drugs or put her health at risk unnecessarily, yet right now she is undergoing testing for the HIV virus, and someone in Stratford may be responsible.

Tara works at the EnviroWaste sorting facility in New Plymouth sorting through the recycling collected from all around Taranaki. In January this year she was stabbed through her protective gloves by a used hypodermic needle while she was pulling non-recyclable items off the conveyor belt in the pre-sort area of the plant.

"It is so fast, you are grabbing stuff as you see it, but a needle can be hidden under or in something else, so you don't always spot it until it is too late."

Tara immediately informed Paul Chapple, her supervisor, who took her to the work doctor.

"I was told I would have to have three blood tests, before I could be sure I didn't have HIV or a type of hepatitis."

According to the American Centre of Disease Control, the average risk for HIV infection after a needlestick or cut exposure to HlV-infected blood is one in 300 people.

Murray Bain, Envirowaste Taranaki manager, says he was "gutted" on hearing one of his team had to undergo testing.

I take it personally. They are great staff, really good, and they shouldn't be subjected to this. There is no excuse. Needles should not be turning up in recycling bins. This isn't people not knowing what can be recycled; this is people not caring that they are putting other people at risk.
Murray Bain, Envirowaste Taranaki manager

To make matters worse, two days after Tara underwent the second of the three blood tests, she was stabbed by another needle.

"It put me right back to square one, so now I won't have the all clear until December this year. I will have spent all of 2016 scared that I may have been infected with a life-threatening virus."

It impacts on all aspects of Tara's life. Until December she has to take extra precautions with her partner, and can't get a tattoo for example, let alone plan to have a child.

If it happens again, I don't know what I will do. It is stressful certainly.

Needles aren't the only issue for the team however. Paul says the staff have also found soiled nappies - both child and adult size, in the recycling crates.

Dirty nappies often turn up in the recycling bins meaning whole loads of recycling end up contaminated and taken to the landfill. Human waste also causes a health hazard to those handling them.
Dirty nappies often turn up in the recycling bins meaning whole loads of recycling end up contaminated and taken to the landfill. Human waste also causes a health hazard to those handling them.

"A few weeks ago we found three dead sheep gutted and thrown out in a recycling bin in Stratford."

As the bins are emptied by the truck, often contamination like this isn't spotted until it is too late. The sheep were well hidden inside the bin and were therefore tipped into the truck contaminating a whole load of recycling.

"That's a lot of stuff which ends up in the landfill instead of being recycled."

Even innocuous items such as balls of wool can cause problems in the recycling. The wool tangles up in the rollers at the sorting facility causing machines to shut down.
Even innocuous items such as balls of wool can cause problems in the recycling. The wool tangles up in the rollers at the sorting facility causing machines to shut down.

Murray says they have started auditing the trucks, checking each truck on its return to the plant to help them identify which areas are the worst for contaminating the recycling.

Stratford is by far the worst of the three districts. It is shameful what turns up in the bins.
Murray Bain, Envirowaste Taranaki manager

Auditing trucks means Paul and Murray are able to identify which part of the town contamination is coming from. The town is divided into two areas for recycling. While Area A is overall the worst for causing contamination to the bins, the sheep carcasses came from Area B.

The team at EnviroWaste would like people to put more thought in.
The team at EnviroWaste would like people to put more thought in.

"We are now telling our staff to manually check bins before emptying them This means it takes a lot longer for recycling to be collected, but we are sick and tired of having whole truck loads of recycling contaminated and ending up at the landfill."

Murray says EnviroWaste is working closely with Stratford District Council to identify regular offenders. Collection trucks are fitted with a camera in the hopper so they they can identify culprits quickly.

"Stratford District Council is going to operate a three-strike system, meaning after people have committed three offences they will no longer receive the service until they can convince us they will comply and follow the rules correctly."

Sven Hanne, director of assets at Stratford District Council, says he is "disgusted" with the items found in recycling bins.

"We understand people making mistakes and thinking something like a plastic toy can be recycled when it actually can't be, but there is no excuse for putting human or medical waste in the recycling bin. It demonstrates a blatant disregard for other people's safety and health."

Murray agrees.

"It isn't as though the information isn't easily available. All three councils have information on their website letting people know what can and can't be recycled. If you aren't sure, then don't put it in. Many of the items we are having issues with such as animal carcasses, nappies, wool or plastic bags. They can all be safely disposed of in your rubbish bin. Needles and other medical waste needs to be disposed of correctly and safely, and that isn't in either your recycling or general rubbish bin. Putting things like hypodermic needles in the recycling is at best thoughtless, although I would call it criminal myself when you end up with a young woman undergoing HIV testing."

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