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Dunedin’s planned kerbside waste collection system will struggle to meet its high-minded goals.
City councillors this week adopted the “four- plus-one” option, during deliberations on the council’s 10-year plan. Each property would be supplied with four bins, with an optional extra 240l container for garden waste.
The costs in rates for the first year of the new service are estimated at $270 to $340 a household. The garden-waste bin would be $140 to $180 extra.
Supposedly, as Cr Jim O’Malley said, this option would help council reach its carbon-neutral goal and allow it to “move back to controlling most of the city’s household waste”. The system would not meet the requirements of every individual in the city but would allow it to deal with the entire city’s waste in the best way, he said.
The fundamental flaw is the lack of incentive for households to minimise their waste. A substantial gain could come with a large reduction in the use of the private wheelie-bin services. These are uncontrolled and create the wrong inducements.
Many households mix general rubbish with green waste in these bins. And why wouldn’t they?
Paying for a commercial provider, they are unlikely to buy the black plastic bags used for council general rubbish. At the same time, they can use the extra space in these bins to get rid of food scraps and green waste. Everything becomes mixed up and green waste is therefore not recycled.
Those same principles will apply to the new red-topped fortnightly “general waste” wheelie bins. Some will have little trouble filling them with general rubbish (either the 80l bin or the 140l alternative). But large numbers of households produce much less non-recycling waste than is needed to fill them. They might be environmentally conscious and/or be among the common household size of one or two people. Why wouldn’t they simply fill up their bins with garden waste?
Many residents could just ditch their commercial service for the council 140l general waste bins and use them in the same way. Additionally, many others could well use the new already-paid-for general refuse opportunity to rid their sections of quantities of green waste each fortnight.
In this way, the council would have failed to “control most of the household waste” as it has claimed.
On the other hand, the 23l weekly food-waste bin could increase the amount of city composting. Hopefully, at the same time, those who already compost continue to do so. That reduces the number of kerbside bin lifts and therefore the costs of collection across the city.
Hopefully, too, fewer residents pollute their yellow-topped recycling bins with general rubbish. They will have already paid for the general waste bin through rates — rather than having to buy bags — and the red bin will be ready to be put out each fortnight.
While the key flaw in the new plan is that the amount of “general waste” collected by the council will rise, it should be admitted finding other options is difficult.
There is something to be said for the incentives to minimise waste because of the cost of the plastic bags. Properly disposed of at secure landfills, plastic bags are not the out-and-out evil they are often portrayed as.
One of their drawbacks, however, is the risk from protruding sharp object for those picking them up.
Finding suitable places to store the line-up of bulky bins will be an issue for flats and many homes.
The new system is targeting a new contract to be awarded in February 2022, and a mid-2023 launch.
It will be far from perfect and will not suit many residents. It is also hard to see it making a major contribution to the council’s 2020 Waste Minimisation and Management Plan.
Councils around New Zealand are grappling with similar matters, and none are coming up with satisfactory answers. That should be acknowledged as Dunedin does its best to develop practical and environmentally better kerbside collection.