Let's talk trash. As in, the rubbish collection for Tauranga City residents that started this month. The new service has received a lot of attention, largely from groups complaining the council takeover is too expensive and unnecessary.
I've been staring at my new, ginormous bins the past month. The recycling bin, at 240 litres, is big enough to stash a body, if you're into that sort of crime. I'd use the food scraps container, but it's too small for much more than a head. Of lettuce. Of course.
If I sound flip, it's because debate about rubbish has been contentious. I blame this partly on the way the council has communicated. While I have seen multiple messages about how and why the rubbish service has changed, I'm not sure TCC ever hit the right notes in the public relations department. Where are our community champions? Messaging that speaks to the fact we're all in this together? A down-home campaign promoting how we'll all help save the planet?
It's in the Western Bay. The district council hired a communications firm to spit-shine the rates-funded garbage collection. The campaign is called Kerbside Collective.
Elements include a folksy video where neighbours whistle to the kerb with their bins. Smiling residents exercise in photos and schoolchildren look adorable. Cartoon-style illustrations include factoids emphasising that 1800-tonnes of waste could be diverted from landfills each year, thanks to the new system.
That's equivalent to 17 blue whales, 2500 cows, 300 elephants or 25,000 beer bottles. It's all very Kiwi and very positive.
One of the campaign's rallying cries is getting "binfit". The workout reference is a humorous take on training for "the biggest challenge we face - improving our waste line and reducing the landfill bulge."
Waste line - get it? The cynic in me cringes. But Ms Cynic gets shoved aside by a predominant feeling that the campaign is bloody brilliant.
I used to pay around $35 per month for rubbish and recycling bins. That's $420 per year. The new service, added to rates, costs $230 per year, a savings of $190. However, when I moved into a new home last March, I dropped the bin service and set out plastic council bags each fortnight for $3.50 each. That's only $91 per year.
But ad hoc recycling wasn't convenient. Or tidy. I collected containers and bags of recycling in my pantry and garage, sorting it into paper, cans, plastic and cardboard, then visiting the tip every fortnight. It took only 5-10 minutes to fling everything into metal bins at the Te Maunga transfer station, but it was a smelly, icky excursion I won't miss. Now I look fondly at my ginormous recycling bin, where I commingle all my recyclables except glass. Tip trips will be a rarity.
But the point Tauranga City Council leaders have been trying to make, which is neatly embodied in the Western Bay's PR campaign, is that we're all in this rubbish mess together.
The test of whether enrolling everyone into a four-bin system where even food scraps get collected will be whether we reduce the amount of waste dumped into landfills. Experts say 70 per cent of our household waste that goes to landfill could be composted or recycled instead. Almost 33 per cent of Tauranga household waste is food.
In addition to reducing landfill use, I would also hope universal bins will keep people from stuffing household waste into community bins and from tipping rubbish on to the roadside. That may be too much to ask, as some people are pigs who leave a trail of trash in their wake even when they have other options.
Tauranga ratepayers have no pay-as-you-throw option. If you live in the Western Bay, you pay $149 per year for mixed recycling, glass and food scraps collections. The $3.95 per pick-up for general rubbish is a cost only charged when you attach a prepaid tag to your bin. It's a financial incentive to jettison less stuff.
Why don't Tauranga residents have PAYT? At first, it seemed like a no-brainer. But studies of PAYT in communities throughout the world show mixed results, with a reduction in waste going to landfill, and in some cases, an increase in illegal dumping.
At least we can pay less for a smaller bin next year.
Tauranga City Council staff estimate the new rubbish and recycling service will halve the amount of household waste sent to landfills by 2028.
It is a noble objective that I hope we'll achieve. We could be saving the equivalent of 300 elephants' weight worth of rubbish per year, according to the Western Bay of Plenty District Council.
Plenty of questions remain about the new collection system that only time can answer. Meanwhile, we have one clever marketing campaign and a lot of ratepayers in the Bay wondering if the new scheme will achieve its goals.