More than half of the waste Waipā residents toss in their rubbish bins could have been diverted from landfill – much of it food that would have been still good to eat.
That is one of the findings of a Waipā District Council solid waste audit, which involved hand-sorting the contents of 253 randomly selected bins and bags from 44 streets in the district.
Next, the inspection spotlight is being turned on Hamilton as the city council takes a deep look into what people are putting in their red wheelie rubbish bins.
The audits come on top of problems across Waikato with contaminated recycling, which has been costing some councils thousands of dollars each month.
As Waikato News reported last week people are not sorting their rubbish correctly. Recycling sorting lines have had to be stopped and cleaned and truckloads of contaminated waste dumped instead of being recycled.
A total of 13 offending Waipa households have had their recycling service suspended.
Hamilton has also reported a steady increase in contamination as people dump non-recyclable items that has already resulted in a truck catching fire.
The Ministry for the Environment requires all councils to do a solid waste audit at least once every three years.
Hamilton City Council is starting its week-long audit on March 8. Waipā's recent audit reveals a shocking amount of items being thrown away that could have been reused, eaten or recycled.
HCC's rubbish and recycling manager Trent Fowles says: "For Hamilton, audit contractors will be sorting through and weighing the contents of randomly selected red rubbish wheelie bins left on the kerbside in different areas around Hamilton.
"We will also analyse weighbridge records from the Lincoln Street Resource Recovery Centre in Frankton and survey residential waste taken to the Resource Recovery Centre."
Waipa's waste minimisation officer Sally Fraser says: "The audit provided an extremely accurate overview of waste in Waipā. Audits are critical because they allow us to see which areas we should be focusing on to try to reduce waste as a district and get good recyclable materials out of the rubbish."
At 3.6kg every week, the most common item Waipa households throw away is food. "36.6 per cent of the rubbish we found was food, some of it still edible.
"We found a lot of meat, bread and fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as some perfectly good items like chocolate, crackers and biscuits."
The audit revealed that more than half (55 per cent) of items thrown into the rubbish could have been diverted from landfill.
Another common item in Waipa rubbish bins is plastic. The results show that households are throwing 1.4kg of plastic into their rubbish bins each week.
"Some plastics are harder to avoid, but we found that 21 per cent of plastics people are throwing away could have been recycled – like plastic types 1, 2 and 5," Fraser says.
Each household is also tossing 1.3kg of garden waste and organic material in the bin, including items like lawn and shrub clippings, cat litter and hair.
"This makes up around 13.6 per cent of all waste, most of it could be composted at home."
Another common waste type at 12.3 per cent was nappies and sanitary items. Residents are throwing away 1.2kg of this type of waste.
"The rubbish bin is the right place for nappies and sanitary items, although there are certainly alternative, low-waste products out there," Fraser says.
Paper is also often thrown in the rubbish: half of the 0.9kg paper Waipa households are throwing in the bin every week is recyclable.
Frazer says the rubbish bin should be the last option when residents are considering what to do with their waste.
"When we talk about throwing things away, there is no 'away' – it just goes to a landfill in New Zealand.
We need to do everything we can to reduce the amount of waste we generate, reuse what we can more often, compost at home and recycle everything cleanly and correctly."
The full results of the Waipā waste audit will be presented to Waipa council's Service Delivery Committee.
Fraser says the council would continue to educate residents about how to deal with waste by running home composting, worm farm and bokashi workshops, promoting local food sharing groups and supporting projects that try to avoid waste through its Waste Minimisation Community Fund.
To view a video of the waste audit and find out more visit: waipadc.govt.nz/liftingthelid