The recycling Wellingtonians have been stockpiling for weeks due to Covid-19 restrictions could end up going straight to the landfill anyway.

Wellington City councillor Laurie Foon said it was "devastating" but also a practical reality.

People's garages, backyards and kitchens have been filling up with wine bottles, beer cans, cardboard and plastic for more than six weeks now.

Subscribe to Premium

Collection services will resume in Wellington tomorrow after being put on hold since the country went into lockdown, but the regional recycling sorting facility will only open when New Zealand moves into Level 2 on Thursday.

It means that while people's increasingly unmanageable recycling piles can be taken away tomorrow, they will go straight to the landfill.

Advertisement
Wellington's regional recycling sorting facility will open when New Zealand moves into alert level 2 on Thursday. Photo / Supplied.
Wellington's regional recycling sorting facility will open when New Zealand moves into alert level 2 on Thursday. Photo / Supplied.

But even when the sorting facility opens, there is no guarantee recycling will actually be recycled.

That's because the plant in Seaview might be inundated with all the material accumulated during alert levels 3 and 4.

In that case, trucks will be directed to the landfill until levels subside and become more manageable.

Still, recycling isn't a sure thing.

There are concerns some recycling will be contaminated because people haven't washed it out properly.

If too much contaminated recycling ends up in a truck, the whole load will also be directed to the landfill.

Wellingtonians have been stockpiling recycling for more than six weeks. Photo / Supplied.
Wellingtonians have been stockpiling recycling for more than six weeks. Photo / Supplied.

However, Wellingtonians are on much firmer ground with glass recycling.

Regardless of whether the country is in alert level 3 or 2, the council has worked with contractors to enable glass to be collected from tomorrow and sent to Auckland for processing without any physical contact with staff.

Advertisement

Normally in one month up to 700 tonnes of glass is collected.

But glass will only be picked up if it's in the official council crates,- anything else will be left on the kerb.

All recycling has to be in official crates, wheelie bins or bags, the only exception to this is that neatly bundled cardboard will be collected.

Extra trucks will be deployed and contractors will work longer hours to get through what's expected to be a mountain of recycling.

Wellington City Council waste operations manager Emily Taylor-Hall said the aim was to still recycle as much as possible.

"But we do have to keep an eye on contamination being picked up and making some calls around what does and doesn't make it to the sorting plant.

Advertisement

"If food hasn't been completely eliminated and that has sat around for a long time, you can imagine that's probably not going to be very pleasant."

Glass will be recycled but only collected if it's in the official council crates. Photo / Supplied.
Glass will be recycled but only collected if it's in the official council crates. Photo / Supplied.

Christchurch City Council reported problems with contaminated recycling when the EcoSort recycling facility resumed operating last Monday.

If there is more than 10 per cent of contaminated material in the recycling stream, it cannot be processed through the facility as the quality of the product would be too poor to attract any buyers.

Council Resource Recovery Manager Ross Trotter said about a quarter of the material collected from yellow wheelie bins last Monday didn't belong in the recycling stream.

"The contamination levels were so high that only four truckloads of material could be sent for recycling. The other 18 truckloads of material that was collected had to be sent to landfill."

Taylor-Hall said the best way Wellingtonians could ensure their recycling stockpiles actually were recycled was to stagger what they put out and make sure it's clean.

Advertisement

"That's absolutely going to give us a bit more of a fighting chance of processing as much as we can."

Wellington City Council waste minimisation portfolio lead councillor Laurie Foon echoed those comments and urged people not to overwhelm the system.

"If you've been able to stockpile a little bit, it might be stockpiling for a little bit longer and not putting an overwhelming amount out in your recycling, so not flooding the top of your bins and not putting out bits on the side."

The Covid-19 lockdown has made many people more aware of the amount of recycling they have, she said.

"The stockpiles don't lie! We need to look at better ways to reduce waste and recycling – minimising food scraps, packaging and containers is an easy way to start.

"Since alert level 3, more of Wellington's bulk stores have been operating. The public can order online and pick up from the stores in their reusable, sterilised glass jars.

Advertisement

"Now's also the perfect time to set up your own composting system if you have room – a bokashi, worm farm or compost bin is a great way to use up scraps. You can even put ripped paper and cardboard, including pizza boxes, into your compost bin or use it for new garden beds or mulching around trees."