Rubbishing Dunedin's recycling

The story of Dunedin's latest foray into city recycling makes dismal reading.

Far too many people are abusing the green and yellow bins and in so doing abusing the recycling contractor, its staff, the city council, the citizens of Dunedin and the cause of recycling.

All it takes is a modicum of civic responsibility to follow the instructions and use the system properly.

Instead, come reports of 12% non-recyclables dumped in the bin including soiled nappies, car batteries, dead cats and, disturbingly and dangerously, needles.

Apparently the expected level - and the norm for other centres - is 5% contamination, making Dunedin's current figures all the more appalling. Even 5% should be far too high.

The city has been warned that all residents might face a rise in the $63 each household pays, through rates, for the wheelie bin system because of the contamination.

Costs are inevitably higher with all the extra sorting and the extra mess.

As happens so often, the conscientious and civic minded will end up paying for the irresponsible and the lazy.

It is unfortunate that the concerns of many people fail to extend beyond their selfish individual interests to those they should share with the wider community.

Anything that costs the ratepayer, or the taxpayer for that matter, costs everyone.

But far too often far too many are unwilling to act for any greater good.

That being so, and when "education" fails, active compulsion is the next step.

Even if there are some additional short-term costs, the council has to step up enforcement.

Council figures recently released showed 395 people had been issued with "first strike" orange cards as warning for improper use of recycling wheelie bins since the system began operating from July 11 last year.

Another 17 had received final-warning "red cards" for second offences, while three faced possible confiscation after being caught a third time.

The warnings were for incorrectly recycled glass, household rubbish, used nappies, wooden fence posts, green waste, ash from fireplaces and clothing.

Something is, at least, being done about the problem but clearly not enough. Given the size of the problem and given the number of households, more than 30,000, the numbers being sanctioned are small.

A period of grace was understandable.

So, too, is a system whereby warnings are given. But what is then required is strict and strong enforcement of what are clear rules.

Even if the short-term costs are high, inspectors have to get out on the streets, inspect bins, issue warnings and then red-card confiscations.

Fair and firm should be the watch words. If some residents feel such responses are draconian, that is too bad.

Just as with the behaviour of children, definite boundaries need to be in place and consequences have to follow when these are breached.

Just as nearly all motorists - either through their consciences or through the knowledge of the likelihood of an expensive ticket - are unlikely to park on yellow lines, so too should residents be loath to dump anything but appropriate recyclables in the bins.

It is all too easy for residents to discard other material. Seldom can this be because of ignorance. Often it might be because of laziness.

Sometimes, out of a false sense of self righteousness, people might feel that their council should collect all rubbish and therefore so they shall.

Others might be trying to save money on the black rubbish bags or on landfill fees.

Every reason is, of course, no excuse at all, and the level of recycling contamination must plummet.


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