Tauranga leaders and residents have been scrambling for solutions after a decision by Waste Management to stop collecting glass kerbside, as of March 1.
What's next for would-be recyclers and how many bottles and jars are likely to be landfilled in the coming months? Bay of Plenty Times Weekend reporter Dawn Picken talked with decision makers, experts and residents about moving mountains of glass.
It's Thursday morning when we spotted Ray (who would only give his first name) sorting bottles by colour into collection bins at Mount Maunganui Intermediate.
He lives nearby and takes turns with neighbours bringing glass for collection.
"I don't mind it, but I hope there's enough people that are responsible enough to do it and not simply dump their bottles anywhere."
Already, reports and photos show glass en masse outside new community collection sites like this one and outside the glass recycling bins at the Bethlehem Town Centre, where bottles and boxes lined the ground last weekend.
BTC manager Andrew Wadsworth said the centre increased its number of bins from three to five and were emptying them daily. Papamoa Beach Foursquare owner Ben Duffield said the first week of hosting glass recycling bins had been very busy and Waste Management was now making daily pickups.
Waste Management's decision to stop collecting co-mingled glass has kicked off a frenzy of complaints to Tauranga City Council.
It also has city leaders mulling a kerbside glass recycling service ahead of a more comprehensive, rates-funded waste collection system for 2020-21.
Councillors Wednesday voted unanimously to seek community feedback on the stopgap glass plan. A council report said individual households will need to manage around 6000 tonnes of glass per year.
Back in Time
TCC environment committee chairman Steve Morris told Bay of Plenty Times Weekend the community is travelling back in time when it comes to recycling in particular and waste collection as a whole. He said council decided in 1994 to exit the rubbish field.
"Since then, private companies have been doing what has essentially been our responsibility. If you look all around New Zealand other cities or districts, most are doing council-funded rubbish service."
The Waste Minimisation Act requires local authorities to promote effective and efficient waste management within their districts. Morris said Tauranga hasn't been doing its job the past 24 years. Rather than a co-ordinated waste removal system, Bay residents watch each week as truck convoys from a half-dozen companies rumble the same streets, one after the next, after the next …
"We've been at the mercy of private business decisions, and as a result our community is suffering. It's up to us to pick it up, literally."
Morris thinks council can collect rubbish and recycle more items for considerably less money than what residents currently spend.
"It is a core service. It's what councils are supposed to do. It's what Parliament has said we are supposed to do. What we wouldn't do is with our sewage treatment plant, we wouldn't say to people, 'Sorry, we're not going to take solids anymore. Can you please take a chamber pot to a sewage treatment plant or one of your friendly neighbourhood centres? People would think – 'Nuts'. And I know there would be other cities and towns around the country looking at us with equal amazement as to how we could be going backwards."
Waste Management explained its decision to stop collecting kerbside glass on its website. General manager Lower North Island David Howie said recycling glass at Mount Maunganui posed unacceptable safety risks to staff, was commercially unsustainable and was often counter-productive in diverting waste from landfill.
"We have recycled mixed glass at our Mount Maunganui site for a long time. But the glass is often broken into small pieces and needs to be sorted in different colour streams."
Howie said other recycling products are easily contaminated by glass shards, which leads to materials that could otherwise be recycled being diverted to landfill.
The company has distributed its Bins for Better Communities at seven sites across the Western Bay - in Bethlehem, Mount Maunganui (2), Papamoa, Te Puke, Omokoroa and Bowentown. Sorted glass from those sites will be collected and transported to an Auckland furnace and transformed back into glass.
The Glass Packaging Forum, a voluntary product stewardship scheme, estimates about 27 per cent of New Zealand's glass ends up rolling around or splintered into landfills – about 60,000 tonnes' worth.
GPF's Dominic Salmon said best practice for recycling is a 'glass out' system, where separate crates for glass are manually handled and separated at kerbside. It reduces labour and processing costs.
Salmon said more councils around the country are considering a 'glass out' system. He said health and safety concerns cited by Waste Management are manageable.
"It doesn't create a well-supported story for the community to accept. You're looking at glass, which is infinitely recyclable."
Also, Tauranga's proximity to the glass furnace in Auckland removes logistical barriers to recycling.
Waste Management officials didn't return calls before deadline for this story. But a regional manager at O-I, New Zealand's only glass bottle and jar manufacturer, defended the company's decision to stop collecting kerbside glass.
Penny Garland said people used to think communities could save a fortune on collection by putting recycling in one bin and letting technology do the sorting.
"Once I've put it into my bin, roll it to the kerb, I've saved the planet, and there's this notion something really magical happens after that. But I can tell you, it's not magic and it's pretty awful."
In reality, glass gets contaminated with things like chicken bones. Garland says Waste Management's new recycling manager lives off-grid himself and has pledged to stop mixing recyclables.
"Co-mingling is a waste model, and what you want are models of collection that are about recovering what's in the bin … God bless your council, they're actually popping up and starting to get those links in place. I live in Auckland, and it breaks my heart … they won't do separate glass recycling."
O-I recycled more than110,000 tonnes of post-consumer glass in New Zealand last year– about the same weight as 601 empty Boeing 747s. Garland said most glass is consumed in the home, so the best opportunity to recover it is at the kerb.
The director of Smart Environmental, one of the country's largest glass recycling collectors, said even the most expensive technology wastes 50 per cent of glass from wheelie bins.
Grahame Christian said glass comprises 40 per cent of overall weight of recycling streams in a household.
"It's a mathematical equation effectively, but if you get income for glass as opposed to sending it to landfill … it does pay for itself, depending on scale."
Christian said East Waikato, Thames, Coromandel and nearby districts have some of the best rates nationwide of diverting glass from tips, because it's separated into crates, colour-sorted and sent directly from depot to glass processor.
"Some councils seem to isolate themselves off from the rest of the country and do things differently. Heaven knows why; they're not unique … Western Bay of Plenty, with all due respect, is no different to anywhere else in the country. There are no unique features except its governance."
Ministry for the Environment spokeswoman Helen Cowie said central government is studying ways to improve recycling rates nationally, including introducing a container deposit scheme (or similar).
"The most frequent challenges with recycling glass in New Zealand revolve around logistics and transport costs to get collected glass to recycling plants … If market demand for glass drops or quality requirements change, this can affect whether or not it is viable for councils to continue to offer glass recycling collections in their region."
Against the Tide
As Steve Morris and others pointed out, Tauranga's waste practices run counter to those of nearly every other district and municipality in the country.
Council research shows Christchurch, Timaru District, Rotorua District, Wellington, Thames/Coromandel/Hauraki/Matamata/Piako, Dunedin, Taupo District, Palmerston North, Hamilton (proposed) and Auckland have rates-funded rubbish and recycling services, though several also offer user-pays rubbish bags.
All councils provided a minimum of fortnightly recycling service for glass and dry recyclables.
Tauranga council staff have indicated they'll seek funding of set-up costs for interim kerbside glass collection from the Glass Packaging Forum (25 per cent), Ministry for the Environment (50 per cent) and O-I (contribution unknown). The balance would be covered by a waste levy, estimated at $22-$26 per household per year.
If accepted into the 2018-28 Long-Term Plan, a comprehensive rates-funded service for rubbish and recycling would not begin until 2021 due to time needed to implement plans city-wide.
Councillor Morris said having council take over waste removal would reduce costs for average users and minimise duplicate services. In the interim, council encourages use of bottle banks for recycling. But Morris acknowledged it's easier to put glass in the bin.
"I noticed last rubbish day more rubbish bags out on the street. Recycling certainly ain't gonna increase in the next couple months."
Western Bay mayor Garry Webber said his council might want to work with Tauranga on a rates-funded glass collection service. But they're also reviewing waste removal practices (currently in the hands of the private sector) and wanted to hear from the community before making a decision.
'Glass Roots' Solutions
Private providers are trying to step in while council sorts the recycling issue. Annie Lawler of Mount Maunganui recently started her own glass collection business called Class Glass.
"I couldn't believe in the 21st century; we're not collecting glass anymore."
The former teacher is offering driveway glass recycling for $3 per colour-sorted box. She has also applied for a licence to do kerbside collections. Lawler wants to keep glass from landfills and make recycling easier.
She said while council spends months consulting the community and putting out bids for tender, glass will pile up.
"People would rather spend time shopping or at the beach. People like their drink, and if they're recovering from their drink the day after, you don't want to be queuing at the tip or sending your kids to school with bottles. 'Hey, Johnny, here's your lunch, and take the beersies with you'."
Lawler said new drink driving laws had encouraged people to drink at home. She has a reach of 10,000 people on Facebook, yet only 10 have signed on as customers.
"I think people want to wait six months while the council provides the service, but I have this service available. If they're choosing just to put it into landfill, that's a real shame."
Lawler's also talking with café and bar managers about her system.
Otumoetai resident Henry Fa'afili last week posted on a community Facebook page asking if people would be willing to pay a small fee for their glass to be taken for recycling. He said early response was "fantastic and really positive", but now said he and a mate were going back to the drawing board.
"We might still go ahead with it and look at maybe getting a business sorted. The last thing we want to do is set up a business and then come September or August, council says we're taking glass again."
Fa'afili said he had already collected neighbours' glass for recycling.
O-I's Penny Garland said she understands ratepayers are angry they've lost a convenient service but co-mingled kerbside glass collection wasn't working, anyway.
"As dark as the night seems in Tauranga at the moment, you're actually going to a better place."
The hospitality industry is a 'significant consumer' of wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages in glass bottles, according to the Glass Packaging Forum.
Its website states time-poor and often transient staff, combined with lack of space for recycling bins, means the hospitality sector generally has low recovery rates for glass. GPF said it's working with Hospitality New Zealand and its 3000 members to change that.
Hospitality New Zealand regional manager Bay of Plenty Alan Sciascia said some businesses had been affected by Waste Management's decision not to collect kerbside glass, while others have not.
"If they don't already have a separate bin for their glass they've got two options: either get a separate bin ... or they find space in their general rubbish."
Cornerstone duty manager John Watene said the pub used a different company for recycling than for its general rubbish.
"We've always separated our glass. It's standard procedure."
Watene said three, 100-litre bins are collected twice a week: two for glass, one for cardboard.
Rain Bar general manager Sarah Sopp said her operation does not recycle glass.
"We haven't been affected in a business sense. It just goes into the regular rubbish. Of course, I'd like to recycle at work, but it's not always practical."
Sopp is looking at other environmentally-friendly practices, such as replacing plastic straws and containers with paper ones.
Smart Environmental director Grahame Christian said recycling isn't widely practised in the hospitality industry partly because they want to chuck all their glass together.
"Then there's the hazards of tipping the glass out of the big wheelie bin and then processing it, and once you layer that cost into the process it becomes cost-prohibitive."
Croucher Basecamp (formerly Brew) co-owner Nigel Gregory said the business uses Waste Management's recycling bins, which are cleared weekly. He said Basecamp fills around half a wheelie bin per week with glass. They've replaced bottles and cans with concentrated bags of soda, which run through taps.
"It saves a huge amount of recycling."
Tauranga City Council Glass Plan
*45-litre crate for each house
*Collected kerbside fortnightly
*Collectors will colour-sort glass
*Estimated cost per household of $22-$26 per year
Source: Tauranga City Council
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