Keep New Zealand Beautiful week begins today. Reporter Susan Strongman takes a look at the rubbish we leave on the kerb.

Used nappies, beer bottles, takeaway cups, your Herald - all items that are likely to end up in the bin once they're finished with.

As Kiwis, we're good at throwing stuff out - last year 81,000 Keep New Zealand Beautiful volunteers collected 942 tonnes of rubbish from across the country - the equivalent of about 522 Toyota Corolla hatchback cars.

The cleanup covered 40,000 metres of road and shoreline, and 24,300sq m of graffiti was painted over or scrubbed away.

This week, the 48-year-old organisation aims to get together 50,000 volunteers, and in 2016 it hopes to get 30 per cent of New Zealand's schools to do the right thing, general manager Heather Saunderson says.

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Last year, according to the Ministry for the Environment, tidy Kiwis sent 2,930,764 tonnes of rubbish to landfill. Of that total, 77 per cent came from the North Island, and in the first half of this year, Kiwis have thrown away 1,570,105 tonnes of rubbish already - not including recycling.

According to Auckland Council, New Zealand's biggest city sends about 1.2 million tonnes of rubbish to landfill annually.

In addition, more than 100,000 tonnes of material is recycled across the Super City each year which, when combined with general waste, is the equivalent of about 720,222 Toyota Corollas.

The council's waste minimisation goal is a lofty one - zero waste by 2040 - waste planning manager Parul Sood says.

Talking trash is a passion for Ms Sood - she has a master's degree in environmental science, a postgraduate diploma in environmental law, and worked in waste management in Delhi, India (which had a 2001 population estimate of 9.879 million) before coming to New Zealand in 2003.

She has seen a lot of change in attitudes towards rubbish since she began at Rodney Council 10 years ago, when recycling was first introduced.

"There was a bit of suspicion in the community - people thought it was a way for the council to charge them more money," she said.

"I remember I went to a community meeting where someone stood up and said, 'You're wanting us to wash the bottles - so you're wanting us to use more water and charge us higher rates'." But now recycling has become the norm for many, and Ms Sood says people do it without thinking twice.

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But she says there's always room for improvement, which is why the council is continually trying to remind people of how to recycle correctly.

Ahead of the zero waste goal, there are short- and medium-term targets - including reducing household rubbish from 160kg to 110kg a head each year (a 30 per cent reduction) by 2018. Ms Sood said the council hoped to reach these goals through a number of methods - including implementing a composting service, and working with companies to create more sustainable packaging.

The council also plans to introduce a user-pays system for landfill waste, to encourage waste minimisation through ratepayer funded recycling and composting.

But why should we care about how much waste we create?

Ms Sood says recycling, rather than sending waste to landfills, is an important way of ensuring a clean future for New Zealand's biggest city.

"The materials we use for making products are finite resources, so reducing, reusing and recycling items helps us make the most of what we have, and reduces the environmental impact from having to extract new materials."

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Land is another finite resource - so using it to bury rubbish means it cannot be used for things such as housing, parks and other facilities.

According to the council's most recent Waste Assessment (in 2011/12) the city's two landfills in Redvale and Whitford have capacity for another 25 to 30 years.

This could be extended if people worked towards the council's goal of zero waste by diverting more rubbish from landfill - to recycling facilities or to be reused at home.

Keep New Zealand Beautiful's general manager, Heather Saunderson, says the best way to help keep New Zealand clean is through education.

As in any country, there are pockets of people who are aware of the sustainable movement and their waste footprint, she says.

"But we need to get out there and better educate everyone."

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