If you are in Greater Christchurch, most of Canterbury or Wellington and are putting any kind of lid in your recycling bin, stop.
Unless it is a tin can lid, in which case it must still be attached and folded inside so as not to cut anyone.
However, if the lid ends up coming loose in your bin it will contaminate the whole load and you will face kerbside collection rejection.
Many Cantabrians have inadvertently breached the ‘no-lids’ policy for years, leaving some confused and upset their bins have been rejected because of it.
The situation is not helped by the fact local authorities have different recycling rules – in Wellington lids are banned, as in most of Canterbury (the Mackenzie District does accept lids), but Auckland City Council asks residents to leave lids on all bottles and containers.
Even then there is an exception – they need to be removed for collection on Great Barrier Island.
The Government wants to standardise kerbside collections across the country to cut the amount of rubbish going to landfill and improve recycling success.
The Christchurch City Council, which is carrying out a major review into how it manages waste, began auditing bins in January.
It has spent more than $1.5 million sending about 1500 truckloads of contaminated yellow bin recycling to landfill since May – about 40 per cent of all yellow bins.
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Since bin checks began in the Waimakariri last month, a quarter of recycling bins have been found with enough rubbish to spoil truckloads and force the entire contents to be sent to landfill, at an extra cost to ratepayers of $1000 per truck.
Recycling from both councils is sent to Christchurch’s EcoCentral facility.
“We can’t accept lids, even if they’re marked with a plastic type 1, 2 or 5 as often they’re flat so the sorting machine has difficulty detecting them and they can end up in the wrong recycling stream,” a Waimakariri District Council spokeswoman said.
“A flat lid could be mistaken for a piece of paper or cardboard and end up contaminating other recycling.’’
Lids are often small, so can fall out of recycling bales creating a nuisance, she said.
And do not be tempted to flatten bottles and cans – they need to be 3D to be sorted correctly.
In Selwyn, while slightly squeezed is acceptable, plastic bottles and tin or aluminium cans should not be completely squashed flat, otherwise optical sorters will assume they are paper, leading them to contaminate the paper stream.
The most common concern raised by Cantabrians online is around large yoghurt pots and ice-cream containers – while lids are often marked as recyclable and made from the same plastic as the container, they must still go in the rubbish.
Christchurch City Council’s automated recycling facility cannot take anything smaller than an individual yoghurt pot, so lids must be thrown away.
Waste educator Lesley Ottey of Eco-Educate said the issue was really quite simple.
“Save yourself time, don’t look for a number on lids – screw and flat lids go in the red bin.
“To those who argue and complain bitterly, feel free to go find a solution or really push for product stewardship.’’
But Waimakariri resident Paul Finch despaired at the current system and is urging authorities to prioritise a clearer alternative so people do not give up recycling entirely.
“When it’s clear something isn’t working, something has to be done.
“It’s got to make sense to people who aren’t particularly engaged … it’s not permissible that it should be difficult for anyone.’’
Finch said one solution would be to collect organic waste in one bin and everything else in the other, which would be sorted once collected.
He also proposed introducing deposit schemes and making supermarkets more responsible for their waste.
HOW TO RECYCLE CORRECTLY
Only put plastics numbered 1, 2 and 5 in your recycling.
Take off lids from all jars and bottles and put them in the rubbish, regardless of their recycling symbol.
Ensure tin can lids are attached and pushed inside, or remove and throw away.
Do not crush plastics or cans, as they can be mistaken for paper by sorting machines.
When in doubt, check with your local council.