Councils across the Waikato have taken on the fight against contaminated recycling by hiring bin inspectors to make sure residents recycle correctly - Hamilton bin inspector Naomi has been there since day one.
Hamilton's kerbside collection is operated by EnviroWaste on behalf of the council.
EnviroWaste Waikato King Country area manager David Wilson says the bin inspector is a contractual requirement from Hamilton City Council as part of the tender process.
"Bin inspectors have been used by other councils in New Zealand to educate communities about how to use the new service. The idea of the inspector is to help encourage positive behaviour change and minimise contamination in the recycling bins."
The rollout of the new kerbside service in August last year was the largest service change in almost 20 years, upgrading from black bags to a set of four new bins.
Wilson says: "So it was important to educate the community from the outset so residents know how to use the service correctly and to enable Hamilton to minimise waste and fight the landfill. This included getting the bin inspector and council staff out on the streets making sure people are doing the right thing."
Since the service started on August 31, 2020, the bin inspector, council compliance staff, and cameras installed on the trucks picking up the bins have identified a steady increase of contamination in the city.
Bin inspector Naomi audits about 100 streets in a week, spot checking known problematic areas as well as streets on a schedule, so every street will be checked at some stage.
She says: "I go around and look in every bin in a street, to check whether there is contamination. If I find some, I take a photo of the contamination and the bin. Then I put a sticker and a sign on the bin, explaining why the contents of the bin weren't collected."
After a second offence, residents receive a written letter with further education about what items should go in each bin. Households who have put the wrong items in the mixed recycling bin on three separate occasions receive a third letter notifying them of the temporary removal of the mixed recycling bin.
During the three months, residents can take recycling to the Lincoln St Resource Recovery Centre free of charge.
Each week, Naomi prevents between 50 and 100 contaminated recycling bins from being collected. She says she meets at least 10 people on the day she inspects the bins.
"Some people are friendly and really want to do their recycling right. Sometimes they even wait for me on the kerbside to ask me questions about the bins."
However, she doesn't always get approached with kindness.
"I also meet a lot of people who aren't as friendly, and some get angry and insult me. One time, I put a sticker on a bin that was contaminated and pushed it a bit further away from the kerb, so the contents wouldn't be collected by the truck. The person who owned the bin came out of the house and started yelling at me, saying that if I touched that bin again, they would come and find me. The person then ripped the sticker off and put her bin back out," Naomi says.
Nevertheless, she says she wants to contribute to a cleaner earth for the following generations.
"It is important to recycle and avoid contamination. I want a good future for my kids - and their kids - so I am doing my job as a bin inspector for them."