Aucklanders send 144kg of household rubbish each to landfill annually - that's 200,000 tonnes of rubbish collected across the whole city, every year.

Nearly a tenth of that is made up of items that have been recycled incorrectly - including soft plastic bags, which cannot be processed by Auckland council's machines.

Over Christmas and New Year the amount we chuck away increases by 10 per cent and the number of items we send for recycling increases by 20 per cent.

• READ MORE: Auckland dad collects a years' worth of plastic

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Every week we put our bins out to be picked up from the kerb, but what happens next?

The journey for a bag of rubbish isn't a long one: it's driven by truck either directly to a nearby landfill or to a local transfer station.

The North Island's busiest transfer station is in Waitakere, West Auckland, where up to 300 trucks a day drop off endless bags of household rubbish.

Health and safety protocol means the rubbish picked up kerbside won't be sorted for recyclables - everything goes to landfill.

Household waste like that which you might drop off at a transfer station when moving house will be sorted, however.

Residents may feel after their rubbish is collected it's out of sight, out of mind, but Auckland Council's manager for waste solutions Parul Sood reminded people there was no "away" when it came to rubbish.

"If you put it in landfill, what does landfill do?" she said.

"It is a big hole that you're putting stuff in."

The council implemented a 2040 zero waste vision in 2012 which has already reduced waste by 10 per cent in the past four years.

But while we're getting better at reducing our rubbish, there's still work to be done, Sood said.

Part of the issue stemmed from the fact that as the city expanded, increasing amounts of building waste from construction sites was being dumped.

"It's really cheap to put things to landfill."

• READ MORE: 'The dirty truth behind Auckland's building boom'

Economic and other incentives for companies to reduce and recycle were needed at a national level, she said.

At the household level, there was room for improvement too.

Every year Aucklanders send 18,000 tonnes of incorrect recycling to landfill - 13 per cent of all recycling collected across the city.

"Once it gets to landfill that's the end of it. Once it's gone there, it's gone, and it's a waste of resource.

"If you have put stuff in that bin which could have been recovered or recycled it's gone forever."

When it's gone it's gone, says Auckland Council's Parul Sood: The average rubbish bin contains 65 per cent of waste which could be avoided or put to better use. Photo / Michael Craig
When it's gone it's gone, says Auckland Council's Parul Sood: The average rubbish bin contains 65 per cent of waste which could be avoided or put to better use. Photo / Michael Craig

The most common unrecyclable items found in recycling bins are plastic bags, coffee cups, polystyrene trays, clothing and used nappies.

"Plastic bags cannot be recycled or collected for recycling in the council's collection service," Sood said.

Any plastic that can be crumpled in your hand, including every single one of the 1.6 billion plastic carry bags Kiwis use each year, cannot be recycled by the council because it jams the processing machines.

Retailers, including most New World, Pak 'n Save, Four Square and Countdown stores, have bins for soft plastics, which get emptied and taken to specific locations for processing.

Last year Kiwis dropped off over 100 tonnes of soft plastic bags for recycling at participating stores – some 25 million bags.

"It is one of the items people probably do forget about and stick in the recycling bins," Sood said.

Refuse truck runner Jordan Sealy work their route around Te Atatu, Auckland. Photo / Michael Craig.
Refuse truck runner Jordan Sealy work their route around Te Atatu, Auckland. Photo / Michael Craig.

If you've ever gathered up bottle from a party in a disposable plastic bag and stuck them in the recycling, that bag has ended up in landfill.

It was the same for broken glassware, Sood said.

The glass was the wrong kind for recycling and broken crockery similarly could not be recycled.

"What goes into the recycling bin is basically packaging materials from your kitchen, laundry or bathroom."

Reducing waste by buying items made to last, reducing plastic bag use and upcycling or donating items that could be given a new life was all key to meeting the council's zero waste target.

Landfill sites around the Supercity are full of items that didn't need to be thrown away.

• READ MORE: 'Auckland Council's clampdown on recycling cheats'

In fact, Auckland Council statistics estimate up to 65 per cent of the average rubbish bin's contents could have been recycled or composted, nearly half of that is food waste.

The council wants to reduce that proportion to 5 per cent.

Increasing waste would eventually mean more land partitioned for landfill, which used a lot of space and was expensive to maintain.

"If we are creating a lot of waste and chucking it away, where would you have the next one built - in your backyard?"

Auckland council's tips on how to recycle right:

Still not sure what goes in which bin? Use the council's rubbish and recycling search tool.