Councils across the Waikato are facing ongoing problems with contamination of recycling because people are not sorting their rubbish correctly.
It is costing ratepayers tens of thousands of dollars as recycling sorting lines are stopped and cleaned and truckloads of contaminated waste are dumped instead of being recycled.
Some councils are getting tough with 13 offending Waipa households having their recycling service suspended.
Hamilton City Council reports a steady increase in contamination with people dumping non-recyclable items that in one incident resulted in a truck catching fire.
The city's rubbish and recycling manager, Trent Fowles, says three truckloads of mixed recycling trucks had to be taken to landfill because of contamination.
"Contamination included a bucket of paint, a gas cylinder and an unidentified non-recyclable item [possibly a lithium battery or a bottle of cooking oil] that resulted in a truck catching fire and the contents being dumped out on to the street and subsequently sent to landfill.
"Our Mixed Recycling Facility (MRF) also had to be temporarily shut down a number of times because of contamination. We have even found human faeces and a handgun amongst the rubbish that caused the machinery to stop," he said
Households that repeatedly put the wrong rubbish in their bins could face a three-month suspension of the mixed recycling services, he said.
"All of our trucks have cameras that can detect contamination as the contents of the bins are collected. If contamination is found, it is electronically recorded so we can identify if any households need further education about what can and can't go in the bins.
"If a household continues to put the wrong items in their bins they will receive a warning - three warnings will result in a suspension," says Fowles.
Waipa District Council faces similar issues with contaminated rubbish. Since lockdown, 13 households have had their service suspended due to ongoing contamination in their wheelie bins.
Incorrectly recycled waste has forced the council to dump half of the district's recycling at landfill. This costs Waipa ratepayers up to $33,000 per month.
The costs include transporting the material to landfill, disposal costs and the loss of revenue from otherwise good product which could have been sold on the recycling market.
Council operations team leader Jennifer Braithwaite says: "An average of 206 tonnes of recycling is heading to the landfill each month due to contamination.
"We're seeing everything from bags full of rubbish to used medical products, needles, dog poo, dirty nappies and just last week dead fish coming through the sorting line."
She says that key to tackle this issue is to inspect bins before they are collected.
"This is to ensure only good, clean recycling has been put inside the wheelie bin."
Contaminated bins are stickered in the first instance and not collected. On the next collection, drivers will check them again and if contamination is found, the property owners will be notified, and their bin won't be emptied.
After a third offence, the property owners will receive a letter from council and service may be suspended to that property.
Braithwaite says: "Households with extreme contamination could face having their service removed permanently."
In December, Waikato District Council had to deal with contaminated recycling with many residents not using their two blue crates correctly to sort items and some crates going missing.
The two crates should separate glass from recycling, with on crate for glass and the other one for tins and plastic with recycling numbers 1, 2 and 5.
Since then, not a lot changed, the council says. It still happens every now and again and the missing crates are a problem for some who leave them out too long post rubbish collection.
Meanwhile, after reviewing its glass recycling pick-ups, Waipa District Council has reduced its glass collection pick-ups from 13 to 12 collections per year.
The mixed recycling will be picked up every two weeks, as in previous years.
The change saves council more than 25,000 a year, helping with the mounting cost of contamination of mixed and glass recycling, says Braithwaite.