19 Aug 2019

About 45 tonnes of soft plastics are ending up at Christchurch’s EcoSort recycling plant each month because people mistakenly believe they will be recycled.

Soft plastics are any plastics that people can easily scrunch or bend in their hand, such as plastic bags, cling film, courier bags, bubble wrap, and cellophane.

These soft plastics cannot be recycled because they are low grade and there is no viable local or international market for them.

The soft plastics are causing problems at the EcoSort facility because they have to be removed by hand, which is a time consuming and costly process.

“The automated machines that sort and bale the materials for recycling can’t detect the soft plastics so staff at the plant have to remove them by hand or otherwise they will contaminate our recyclable material,’’ says Christchurch City Council Solid Waste Manager Ross Trotter.

“It’s a really tough job because the soft plastics often get tangled with the other materials and in the machinery itself. On average four hours a month of production time is lost at the plant because of soft plastic items getting caught in the machinery.

“EcoSort has had to take on extra staff to deal with the problem so that has added significantly to their operational costs, which has to be passed onto the ratepayer,’’ Mr Trotter says.

“We can’t afford though to let any soft plastics into our recycling because if we do, the local and international markets that we currently sell all the accepted contents of your yellow wheelie bin to will stop buying from us.

“If we lose our recycling markets, then there is a high risk the material you put in your yellow wheelie bin will end up at the landfill and we don’t want to see that happen,’’ Mr Trotter says.

“We appreciate the efforts you are taking to recycle but if you have soft plastics, then please put them in your red wheelie bin.

“Do the scrunch test if you’re unsure whether the plastic you’re wanting to dispose of should go in the red or the yellow wheelie bin. If you can scrunch the plastic in your hand or bend it, then it should go in the red bin,’’ Mr Trotter says.

“You can also use the Council’s wheelie bin app(external link) to help work out what should go in each of your three bins.’’

Tips for reducing your soft plastics use

  • Use beeswax food wraps instead of plastic cling film or snaplock bags.
  • For school or work lunches, take your lunch in a reusable container rather than in a plastic bag.
  • At the supermarket put your fresh produce directly into your shopping trolley and then straight into a reusable shopping bag at the checkout. If you really want to bag fresh produce, use paper bags or light-weight mesh cloth bags.
  • Consider carefully when you buy – look for items that have little or no plastic packaging.
  • Consider shopping from bulk bin stores that allow you to bring your own reusable containers.