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The Wellington City Council (WCC) has revealed that plastic bags put in recycling bins by residents have not been recycled since 2011.
This revelation is contrary to the council website, which has listed plastic bags under their list of recyclable materials for several years.
WCC’s waste operations manager Adrian Mitchell realised the bags were not being recycled in October last year, when the current waste contract the government has with a private company came up for renewal.
Upon switching contractors in 2012, plastic bags were stockpiled until the search for a way to recycle them was abandoned and they were sent to the landfill.
WCC’s previous contractor had the facility to recycle plastic bags, but have now gone out of business. According to Councillor Iona Pannet, no one in New Zealand currently has the capacity to recycle plastic bags.
Last July, Minister for the Environment Dr Nick Smith announced the government would be partnering with major players in the retail sector such as PAK’nSAVE, The Warehouse, New World, and Countdown to bring about soft plastic recycling facilities.
These retail spaces will host drop off spots for plastic bags. The bags will be initially sent to Australia for recycling, until the right infrastructure is established in NZ. The system is expected to cost around $1.3 million nationwide.
Smith believes this will be a better solution than the frequently discussed plastic bag levy, or a total ban on plastic bags, which is enforced in countries such as the Netherlands, Brazil, and South Africa.
With regard to the miscommunication, Councillor Iona Pannett said the situation was nothing more than a “mistake,” and stressed there was “no conspiracy here.”
This discovery follows months of drama surrounding recycling in the central Wellington region, which has included a number of student flats being blacklisted by the council for not properly sorting their recycling.