Coronavirus: Wellington's recycling service not returning anytime soon - Mayor

coronavirus 23/04/2020

Wellingtonians shouldn't expect to hear the sound of recycling trucks rumbling down the road any time soon, the city's Mayor says.

In response to the COVID-19 lockdown imposed by the Government last month, Wellington Council postponed its kerbside recycling collection service due to health and safety reasons. 

With only a limited staff roster, the council wanted to ensure contractors could focus on collecting rubbish. Recycling also requires a high level of hand-sorting by workers and as "COVID-19 virus can remain active for up to three days on some surfaces like plastic, metal and glass, workers are facing too great a risk", the council said prior to the lockdown.

While the lockdown will be lifting next week, Mayor Andy Foster says recycling will continue to be postponed through alert level 3 - and possibly level 2.

"It could be a little while away, and I know the advice given to people initially when we were in four weeks of lockdown was to wash it carefully, and you should always wash recycling so it is good for the collectors and for the people who sort it, and then store it," he told The AM Show.

"But as the amount being stored gets higher, some people are going to struggle with that. Myself, I am still making sure I am washing everything carefully and squashing it up, and you can store a lot, especially if you separate it."

Wellington Council's website says it no longer recommends stockpiling recyclables based off advice from the Ministry for the Environment. This is because they can become a health hazard over time if not washed thoroughly, people don't have the capacity to stockpile and once the alert levels go down, the recycling system may not be able to cope with the large amount of material. Residents can find out more information here.

While alert level 3 allows more businesses to open, these must operate with interaction with customers. People will still be instructed to remain at their residences unless they are heading out for essential needs. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand will stay at that phase for at least two weeks - meaning until May 11 - before a review is conducted.

As Foster told The AM Show, other cities have different systems, meaning some will be able to recycle. Auckland, for example, has been able to recycle throughout the lockdown.

"Every city has different ways of doing recycling and ours involves a lot of hand-sorting and that is our issue. Bottles are sorted by hand at the truck and then everything else goes on a conveyor belt, so we get the highest possible level of good recycling so it is not contaminated with broken glass. Problem is that means you have got a lot of people working side by side with each other," he said.

"Plants themselves, these are our contractors, aren't willing to operate at this stage because of the risk of infection."

He said he would work on trying to get the recycling service back up during level 2.

"We will keep working on that one. I would like to see us go out a bit earlier because our public would, but we have to make sure it is safe, and that is the fundamental thing."