It looks heartening, but can also be an eyesore and a menace.
The recycling bins stationed around town are often chock-a-block with bottles, and bottles that can’t be crammed down the spout are mounting up around the bins.
It seems when a city’s will to recycle is challenged by the cancellation of a private kerbside collection, it will find new ways to save the planet.
“That’s nice,” says Marty Hoffart, the waste warrior, director of the waste minimisation group, Waste watchers Limited. But, he warns, don’t be fooled - don’t be deceived.
“Everyone wants recycling bins out there in the community,” says Marty, “but the problem is they are the most expensive and inefficient way of collecting and recycling beverage containers.
And when Mount Maunganui Intermediate School opened for class on Monday morning, the bottle bins in the school carpark were spilling over and hundreds of loose bottles were scattered around. The school cried “enough”.
Recyclers could take their bottles a few hundred metres up the road to the Te Maunga transfer station, and the kids would be spared the mess and stay safe.
Marty Hoffart says the bins aren’t helping long term, and he again pitches the internationally proven legislated container deposit system.
“Then we wouldn’t see any bottles or bottle dumps out there in the community. There wouldn’t be the need for people to dispose of their bottles publically.
“But until containers have a value, until they’re worth ten cents, many people will just continue to throw them out the window of their car, leave them on the footpath or stick them in council rubbish bins.”
Marty says this week, the beverage industry will have seen all the social media pictures of recycling bins spilling over and think “great”. They give the impression that everyone’s recycling, but Marty says the bottles might represent just two per cent of the population, with many still conveniently sticking containers in their wheelie bins at home, skip bins at work and sending them off to landfills.
“It’s all the containers we don’t see, the one billion containers that go to the landfill every year and have done for 30 years.”
There are other issues with bottle banks which, in the last 20 years, have been tried and the bins were eventually pulled from locations around Tauranga.
“They became magnets for other rubbish – TVs, lounge suites, whatever. But they were unmanned, they couldn’t control what people left there.” The bins can be a band aid but they’re not the answer.
“At some of these drop off points there’s such a huge volume of glass,” says Marty.
“I don’t know at what stage people hosting the bins will start getting annoyed about the mess around the bins, when there are bottles and glass strewn everywhere.”
There have already been online complaints. One person said: “The bins were overflowing so I couldn’t get rid of my bottles. Please send a complaint to council if you agree there might be a better way.” Another said “Tauranga ... you’re fortunate this lot isn’t on your doorstep!”
And on the bottle mountain at the intermediate school, one said: “Children don’t need to see this when they get to school in the morning.”
And they won’t. The school decided the bottle bins had become a health and safety issue and they were ordered to be removed.
Marty says someone’s going to have to clean up and that’s going to cost. “Recyclable glass is quite low value, so it’s not great business for a truck to come and clear a site for just $60 or $70. With people leaving bottles around the bins, it’s not going to be long before the costs outweigh the benefits.
“The beverage industry just wants to externalise all its costs – they have done it for years. They want everyone else to pay to clean up their products and packaging.”
Marty Hoffart’s advocating something called product stewardship – building the cost of recycling into the purchase price of the product – the same system used with tyres, televisions, electronic waste and beverage containers.
In other words, a legislated container deposit scheme and advanced recycling fees on other hard to recycle products like tyres and TVs. It’s fair because it builds the cost of recycling onto the purchaser and the producer, not the ratepayer and the taxpayer.
To cope with an expected increase in recycled glass volumes, Tauranga City Council this week expanded the glass storage bays and drop off areas at its two waste transfer stations.
It’s also looking at a rates-funded kerbside glass collection to divert as much as 6000 tonnes of glass per year from landfill. It could start this year.