Collaboration keeps glass recycling going during lockdown

Colin Turner made four trips on his mobility scooter to the refuse and glass recycling pop-up site in Te Aroha. He took the glass which he and the other residents at his block of flats had stockpiled during the COVID-19 lockdown.

While COVID-19 Alert Level 4 and 3 interrupted most recycling services around the country some councils found ways of ensuring recyclables could still be collected.

One such example is Matamata-Piako District Council which worked with its contractor, Smart Environmental, and the Glass Packaging Forum (GPF) to provide pop-up rubbish and glass recycling drop-off sites were residents could take refuse and recycle glass. The sites, at Morrinsville, Matamata and Te Aroha, proved to be a resounding success with residents recycling 14.5 tonnes of glass bottles and jars.

They also highlighted peoples’ willingness to recycle their glass, with one Te Aroha resident, Colin Turner, making four trips on his mobility scooter. At “81-years-young” Colin took not only his glass but that which the other residents at his block of flats had been stockpiling.

“They are all pensioners like me, so I offered to take their glass for them,” Colin says.

A grant of $6,000 from the GPF helped the council’s contractor provide a mixed-glass recycling bin and staff to manage social distancing at the sites. The sites were open for four hours a week during April, with the last held on Tuesday, 5 May.

“Residents and ratepayers could bring their rubbish to the sites and dispose of it in compactor trucks, and thanks to the GPF, could also recycle their glass bottles and jars,” says Matamata-Piako District Council Group Manager Service Delivery, Fiona Vessey.

“When we’re working towards a zero-waste target, many people in the community find it difficult to think that all their recycling is going to landfill, so being able to come along and recycle their glass was great bonus and is an option many parts of New Zealand didn’t have during the lockdown. Every bit of rubbish diverted from landfill makes a difference, so we’re really grateful to the Glass Packaging Forum for funding this,” Fiona says.

The collected glass will be processed into its three main colours (green, brown, clear) before being used to make new bottles at the country’s only glass container manufacturer, O-I New Zealand, in Auckland.

GPF Scheme Manager Dominic Salmon says while the Ministry for the Environment declared recycling an essential service, it left the decision to collect and process recycling up to councils and contractors.

“We sympathise with councils and contracts as this was a very challenging period, so it’s great to see thinking outside the box, which ensured glass recycling is still available. We are here to work with councils and contractors to keep glass recycling going and, as we move forward, to innovate and build resilience against future crises,” he says.

The GPF’s May funding application round for grants is currently open, with a focus on getting glass recycling back up and running as well as future-proof recycling systems, Dominic says.

The GPF has to date funded over $3.5 million in grants for infrastructure, machinery, public place recycling, and research which results in less glass going to landfill.