This is one of the most difficult decisions of the triennium, with many competing factors.
We should be guided by the core issues – protecting our environment, offering our residents the most cost-effective rubbish and recycling services we can, reducing waste and preserving the lifespan or our landfill, which when it eventually is filled will cost many, many millions of dollars to replace.
Using the economies of scale of a city-wide contract, a rates-funded weekly or fortnightly collection can cut rubbish collection costs for our residents by up to half of what they currently pay. The other big dividend is that it ensures all of our residents, including Kainga Ora tenants and our less well-off families, have access to an affordable rubbish service. Logic says when they have an appropriately sized wheelie bin for their rubbish, there will be far less tendency for our recycling collection to be contaminated.
Personally, I’d prefer a fortnightly collection, to limit the number of collection trucks, to keep the cost down even further, and to look after those striving to generate less waste.
But too many people have told us they’re worried about rubbish smells in summer, and that if they miss a fortnightly collection, they could end up with a month’s worth of rubbish on their properties.
Options for 80, 120 or 240 litre bins give people opportunities to reduce the cost to them if they diligently recycle, or compost to reduce the amount of rubbish they put out. But even an 80-litre bin is too big for some households. Yes, they will be subsidising others as we push to protect the environment from windblown litter and move to a better recycling system.
Rubbish and recycling in many ways is as core a council service as roads and water and litter control, or libraries or swimming pools. We all collectively pay, even though some may use these services less than others.
I hope the contract our chief executive negotiates might leave scope for a move to PAYT a little later down the line, and those who generate less waste are rewarded for it.
Others have told us they like plastic bags. We are looking to build into our contract ways of looking after the elderly and disable who will find wheelie bins difficult. And for those up long drives, there are tow bar attachment devices or the option of leaving bins at the bottom of their properties. It may not be ideal in some circumstances, but it’s a compromise to look after the vast majority.
Not so long ago, there were plenty of people acting like the ban on single use plastic shopping bags would be the end of the world. We’ve adapted, and we can with our rubbish collection. I was very persuaded by the calculation that a 120l wheelie bin comprises 10gk of plastic and has a useful life of 15 years. Over that 15 year period, someone using equivalent capacity rubbish bags would go through 1,560 bags, putting 42 kilograms of plastic into our landfill.
The only downside of this change I find hard to justify is that all the price and environmental benefits of a city-wide contract mean some firms will miss out on business. I’m particularly gutted by the potential impact on Al’s Litter Bins, who by every account I’ve heard has striven to offer a sound personalised service. The harsh reality is, that when we can achieve savings averaging $100 or more for every one of the 39,000 households in the city, year after year, with all the other benefits, it’s a change we can’t ignore.*
*Footnote – It has been pointed out to me subsequent to last night’s meeting that this last sentence is incorrect. The savings of this level would not be for every household. Savings of around that level would be achieved by most people who currently contract private companies for wheelie bins. Lesser savings would be achieved by those who currently put out plastic bags, and – as I acknowledged – some low waste users who put out bins or bags far less frequently will be paying more, in some cases significantly more.