Week 18 – Recycling regroup

When we began our rubbish free challenge we tried to clarify as much as possible exactly what we are able to recycle through the kerbside collection scheme – a task that proved to be quite difficult. We spoke to various people at the city council and ultimately received an invitation to visit the city recycling plant five weeks into our challenge. For those first five weeks we worked on the understanding that we could only recycle glass, cans, paper, number 1 and 2 plastic and supermarket plastic bags. At the plant we were encouraged to continue with this and saw first hand how cleaning containers and leaving the lids off greatly affected the quality and weight of what goes into a shipping container. Then we were also told that other plastic ‘bag’ like materials were also recyclable (carry bags, bread bags, gladwrap, cheese packaging etc, see blog week 5). This suddenly made our challenge a whole lot easier, but because we had already sewn cotton bags for fruit and vege etc and were already in the habit of making bread, we didn’t change a lot… initially. Over the last couple of months we’ve bought more and more bread, a pack of bacon and a long awaited block of cheese (when a friend who had been making cheese for us discovered, at the end of a two month process, that it had gone rancid).

Last week, however, the fair weather ended. A gentleman from the recycling marketing division called to say we had been misinformed and that the only bags they accept for recycling are supermarket bags. Apparently other types of plastic bags can contaminate the plastic they sell and jeopardise their overseas markets for it. We are of course very keen to follow the official party line when it comes to recycling, and so will go with this proclamation. I’ll have to call my unpredictable cheese making mate and urge him to get back on the horse.

But this story has an interesting twist in the tail. Yesterday we learned of a Christchurch man, Matthew Darby, who has developed a machine that can recycle any type of plastic into shipping pallets. The process involves warming the plastic so that it can be molded, whilst not heating it so much that gases are produced (www.rangeindustries.com). The irony is he can’t get enough recycled plastic – because it all gets shipped off overseas. Both Mr Darby and the city’s recycling plant want our discarded plastic to turn into profit. One picks up from the kerbside, but the other is locally based and takes everything. Hmmmm decisions, decisions. It seems so weird that there is actually competition for our plastic ‘rubbish’ and we have choices as to who to bless it with! However, we have decided to continue the challenge using the kerbside recycling service as our preference has always been to reduce and reuse rather than to buy whatever we wanted just because we could recycle it.