Published On: Sat, Apr 23rd, 2016

Council reveals plastic bags haven’t been recycled in Wellington since 2011

No plastic shopping bags have been recycled in Wellington since 2011, despite the city council letting residents think otherwise up until this week.

It is not known how many plastic bags were placed in the council’s kerbside recycling by unsuspecting Wellingtonians during that time, but those bags ended up in the city’s landfill.

Plastic Recycling

Council reveals plastic bags haven’t been recycled in Wellington since 2011

The council has apologised for misleading the public over plastic bags and vowed to do a thorough review of the instructions it sends out about recycling.

Adrian Mitchell, the council’s waste operations manager, said on Friday that Wellington’s plastic shopping bags were recycled prior to 2012 when the council switched from its old recycling contractors – which have since gone out of business – to its current contractors, Oji Fibre Solutions.

Oji began stockpiling the bags while it searched for a cost effective means of processing them. But this was abandoned when its search proved unsuccessful, and the bags were sent to the landfill.

Mitchell could not say exactly when the stockpiling ceased, but it was prior to him taking up his current role with the council in 2014.

Mitchell himself did not become aware the bags were not being recycled until October 2015 when Oji’s contract was up for renewal.

The council responded by removing ‘empty plastic bags’ from pamphlets it produces to let people know which materials can be recycled. But it did not update its website or inform its call centre staff.

It is understood Wellington City Council call centre staff were still encouraging people to put plastic bags in their recycling on the day the story broke.

Mitchell accepted the blame for not spreading the word properly.

“Having realised that we’ve dropped the ball on this one, we’re going to do a total review of our communications around recycling,” he said.

New messages encouraging Wellingtonians to avoid amassing plastic bags to being with by switching to reusable shopping bags would follow, he said.

In a statement, Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said she was disappointed to learn that plastic bags were not being recycled, and “doubly disappointed” this was not being communicated to the public.

But she pointed out the council supported Local Government New Zealand’s call for a levy on plastic bags in 2015, and said the council was keen for its citizens to re-use bags rather than recycle them.

Green Party waste spokeswoman Denise Roche agreed it was upsetting that the right recycling message had not being given to Wellingtonians, as their actions would have harmed the environment.

“As consumers, we want to believe that when we put something out in our recycling bins, we’re doing the best thing we can.”

But she also believed Wellington City Council, like all councils, had a hard job on its hands dealing with plastic bags in the absence of a levy.

In July, the Government said it would pump $700,000 into a new service in Auckland that allowed soft plastics to be recycled, rather than impose a levy on single-use plastic bags.

The service has since been extended to Waikato and is expected to appear in more regions over the next year.