The price of leaving waste at Whanganui's only transfer station has increased, rubbish bags at the kerb may be phased out, fly tipping has increased and only about a third of Whanganu's potentially recyclable waste material is recycled.

It's not going to get any easier. According to Massey University Zero Waste Academy co-ordinator Jonathan Hannon, the problem of rampant waste is worldwide and on a par with climate change in needing urgent action.

Since about 2002 two large foreign-owned private businesses have had "a stranglehold" on Whanganui waste collection and disposal.

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They have neither minimised waste nor kept the price of disposal down. Some people want a council-run kerbside rubbish and recycling system - but not everyone will be happy if it is introduced.

It's a Gordian knot of problems with no easy solution.

Two private businesses collect Whanganui's kerbside waste. Photo / Stuart Munro
Two private businesses collect Whanganui's kerbside waste. Photo / Stuart Munro

There are three main large businesses in the game.

Waste Management and EnviroWaste are huge privately owned companies, and the Whanganui Resource Recovery Centre (WRCC) is a nonprofit joint venture by Whanganui District Council and the Tupoho Whānau Trust.

A fourth business in the mix is Midwest Disposals Ltd, the owner of the Bonny Glen Landfill, where most of our waste ends up.

Three of the four are owned by big Asian corporates.

Waste Management is owned by Beijing Capital Group, which is linked to the Chinese government.

EnviroWaste is owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing's Cheung Kong (CK) infrastructure.

The two each own 50 per cent of Midwest Disposals.

Whanganui waste minimisation working party chairman Rob Vinsen has been chipping away at this waste conundrum for years.

The collection and disposal went to private businesses around 2002.

He said having both a waste collection and a waste disposal business could motivate the owners to maximise waste, in order to increase profit.

The websites of both Waste Management (WM) and EnviroWaste (EW) say they aim to minimise waste.

EW closed its Gilberd St Transfer Station to the public about six months ago, leaving WM's Liffiton St Transfer Station the only place in town for most people to take waste.

Prices at Whanganui's Liffiton St Transfer Station went up in March. Photo / Bevan Conley
Prices at Whanganui's Liffiton St Transfer Station went up in March. Photo / Bevan Conley

WM increased prices there in March. Users have complained the prices charged are inconsistent, but WM Customer First manager Marsha Cadman denies this.

She said the cost of recycling is increasing, as Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand join China in restricting their intake of recyclable material.

"Supply has continued to exceed demand, driving down the price for many of these materials."

Both companies used to collect rubbish bags, paid for by buying stickers.

EW stopped about a year ago and only collects bins from the kerbside.

WM will still collect a bag with a yellow sticker, but has dropped the maximum bag weight from 20kg to 10kg. It may stop collecting bags altogether.

That would leave Whanganui people with the choice of two private bin collection companies, and one transfer station.

They would have two choices for disposal of green waste, the transfer station and WRRC.

The result of council's survey of views on waste is due to be announced on December 5.

The main question it asked was whether people want the council to start a fully ratepayer-funded kerbside waste collection.

If it does people who minimise their waste and put out a bag every three weeks will be paying a lot more, Vinsen said.

If the scheme is optional only 60 per cent may take it up - and it needs big numbers to drive the price down.

Bonny Glen Landfill can accomodate 12.7 million cubic metres of waste. Photo / Bevan Conley
Bonny Glen Landfill can accomodate 12.7 million cubic metres of waste. Photo / Bevan Conley

Vinsen has been to the Bonny Glen Landfill, and said it's impressive. It takes waste from Rangitīkei, Manawatū, Palmerston North, Whanganui and Wairarapa.

"It's a very tidy operation. Basically all you are going to see is a tipping face no wider than six trucks. It's all compacted in, and covered with soil. The leachate is run through the wastewater system at Marton and all the gas is piped off and flared."

Bonny Glen will soon take all Taranaki's waste as well.

The New Plymouth, Stratford and South Taranaki councils have been building their own $43 million landfill near Eltham.

They spent $7.5 million and got resource consents, before accepting a good offer from Midwest Disposals.

Having a landfill supplied will probably be cheaper for their ratepayers than building a new one, Vinsen said.

He's pleased their Central Landfill has only been mothballed, so they can go back to it if Bonny Glen doesn't work out for them.

Government requirements are another part of the mix.

Since the 2008 Waste Minimisation Act local councils have been obliged to assess and minimise waste, but they can decide for themselves how to do that.

In most larger centres, councils have one contracted business that collects waste and recyclables from the kerbside. It's unusual for a town the size of Whanganui to still have rubbish bags.

New Zealand isn't doing well on the waste minimisation front, Massey University's Jonathan Hannon says.

Waste going to landfill has increased 20 per cent in the last three years, and is among the highest per capita in the western world.

Since 2009 government has imposed a levy of $10 per tonne, above the cost of disposal, on waste going to landfill. Half of this goes back to the local authority, and the rest goes into a contestable national fund for waste minimisation.

The National-led government didn't want to intervene much in waste, Hannon said. The current Labour-led government hasn't formulated policy yet, but it could decide to up the levy on waste to landfill.

There's a paradigm shift going on, Hannon said, with the dawning realisation that using resources then throwing them away is not sustainable.

"The shift is away from lineal resource use - take, use, then dump, burn or bury - to circular resource use. We should emulate nature, where all waste is a resource for biological life."

He said the idea of zero waste was considered extreme 15 years ago.

"These days the zero waste concept is really accepted by pretty much everybody."

EVERY YEAR IN WHANGANUI DISTRICT
+ about 20,000 tonnes of waste is sent to landfill
+ that's nearly half a tonne per person per year

WASTE MANAGEMENT
+ owned by Beijing Capital Group
+ has 50 per cent share of Midwest Disposals, the owner of Bonny Glen Landfill
+ offers bins for recycling and general waste
+ most recycling is sorted in Palmerston North
+ also collects rubbish from kerb in bags with yellow stickers
+ maximum bag weight reduced from 20kg to 10kg
+ operates Liffiton St Transfer Station, where prices increased in March
+ operating in Whanganui for about 17 years
+ eight staff here
+ would contract to provide bin service to council

ENVIROWASTE
+ owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing's CK Infrastructure
+ has 50 per cent share of Midwest Disposals, the owner of Bonny Glen Landfill
+ offers bins for green and general waste
+ closed Gilberd St Transfer Station to the public about six months ago
+ stopped collecting rubbish bags from the kerb about a year ago
+ company policy not to answer media enquiries

WHANGANUI RESOURCE RECOVERY CENTRE
+ owned by Whanganui District Council and Tupoho Whānau Trust
+ non-profit
+ charges $20 and $30 for small and large trailers of green waste
+ takes, sorts and sells recyclable material
+ is near capacity for the number of vehicles it can handle
+ charges $3.50 to take a bag of rubbish

BONNY GLEN LANDFILL
+ 50:50 owned by Waste Management and EnviroWaste, trading as Midwest Disposals
+ given consent to expand in 2015
+ can now grow to 44ha, and 12.7 million cubic metres of waste
+ takes waste from Whanganui, Rangitīkei, Manawatū and Wairarapa
+ is to begin taking Taranaki waste in 2019