Most types of plastic will no longer be accepted for recycling in the Far North due to a burgeoning worldwide mountain of unusable plastic waste.

From mid-January the Far North District Council will accept only type 1 and 2 plastics for recycling at its transfer stations. That means types 3-7 will have to be dumped along with other non-recyclable household waste.

The move will bring the Far North into line with Whangārei, which has never taken types 3-7, and Kaipara, which stopped about four years ago.

The number identifying the type of plastic is found in a triangle on the bottom of the bottle or container.

Advertisement

Most of the world's waste plastic used to be exported to China but the global market collapsed earlier this year, especially for types 3-7, when the Chinese government slashed imports due to contamination fears from dirty plastic.

Acting infrastructure manager Glenn Rainham said that left the Far North District Council, like many other local authorities, with few disposal options for plastic waste.

"We could pay agents to take all types of plastic and hope they can find a recycler overseas. However, there's strong evidence that much of this plastic is not recycled and instead ends up polluting the countries it is shipped to,'' he said.

"We could also stockpile plastic in the hope a solution is found. However, industry experts agree there's little likelihood of the market for plastics numbered 3-7 improving any time soon."

In any case the council had no suitable site for stockpiling plastic, which deteriorated quickly when left in the open.

As a result Rainham said the council would accept only plastics 1 and 2 for recycling and send all other grades to landfill.

"No one is happy about sending plastic to landfill. However, until viable alternatives are available, we believe this option will have the least impact on the environment."

Trish Macintosh, a trustee of community group Russell Recyclers, said the council's decision made sense because there was little that could be done with plastics 3-7.

Alastair McDuff, of community group Russell Recyclers, in action during the recent Bay of Islands Ocean Swim. Photo / Sandy Myhre
Alastair McDuff, of community group Russell Recyclers, in action during the recent Bay of Islands Ocean Swim. Photo / Sandy Myhre

The answer to the plastic waste dilemma was for people to be aware of which materials could be recycled and avoid products packaged in plastics which were not, and to encourage companies to switch to compostable containers.

The kind of items packaged in problem plastics included yoghurt, deli items such as hummus, and takeaways.

A nationwide deposit scheme for plastics 1 and 2 would also help, Macintosh said.

Some community groups are trying to persuade Northlanders to ditch plastics altogether.

Plastic-Free Kerikeri produces cloth shopping bags and uses the proceeds to fund projects such as providing compostable dog poo bags.

The group was one of several around Northland taking part in a day of action last month calling on the Government to bring back bottle deposits.

Barbara Belger of Plastic-Free Kerikeri trades cash for empty plastic bottles as part of a nationwide campaign last month to bring back bottle deposits. Photo / Supplied
Barbara Belger of Plastic-Free Kerikeri trades cash for empty plastic bottles as part of a nationwide campaign last month to bring back bottle deposits. Photo / Supplied

Plastics 3-7 will still be accepted at no cost at Far North recycling stations until January 14. After that those plastics should be included in household rubbish.

Kerbside recycling collections in the Far North are done by private companies which are making their own decisions on plastics 3-7.

Northland Waste, which runs kerbside collections in the northern half of the district, has already stopped collecting plastics 3-7. Waste Management, which looks after the southern area, is considering its position.

In the 11 months to mid-September, the Far North District Council collected 1955cu m of plastic for recycling, almost enough to fill an Olympic-sized pool.

Customs figures show New Zealand sent 2,700,000kg of plastic waste to China in the first three months of 2017. Over the same period this year that plummeted to 126,000kg.

Before the market collapsed New Zealand was earning about $26 million by selling waste and recyclables to China.


Local Government NZ, including the Far North District Council, is lobbying central government to work with local authorities to reduce the country's waste.

Options include adopting a nationwide approach to collecting and processing recycling, and a container deposit scheme to encourage re-use of plastics and bottles.


What type of plastic?

There's no hard and fast rule, so the only way to be sure is to check the number on the bottom of the bottle or container.
Type 1 (polyethylene terephthalate or PET) is typically used for soft drink, water and condiment bottles.
Type 2 (high-density polyethylene) is often used for milk, juice, shampoo and cleaning product bottles.
Type 3 (polyvinyl chloride or PVC) is used in food wraps, blister packs and toys.
Type 4 (low-density polyethylene) is used in bread and produce bags as well as drink cartons.
Type 5 (polypropylene) is used to make containers for yoghurt, deli foods and takeaway meals.
Type 6 (polystyrene or styrofoam) is used to make disposal cups, meat trays and takeaway containers.
Type 7 is everything else.