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Waste recycling economy becoming increasingly fraught, says TDC

Aerial view showing Redruth recycling centre. The council has been grappling with changes to the recycling market, which are putting pressure on contractors.

John Bisset/STUFF

Aerial view showing Redruth recycling centre. The council has been grappling with changes to the recycling market, which are putting pressure on contractors.

Recycling markets are becoming increasingly fraught due to Chinese pressure, a Timaru District Council manager says.

At Tuesday’s infrastructure committee meeting, councillors received a report on the current progress of its work on its 15-year, $100 million contract for its waste management services.

The contract will likely be awarded in June next year. 

However, Council group manager for infrastructure Ashley Harper said China’s ‘National Sword’ policy had set “unachievable” targets for more than 25 different types of recyclables, which had created a “very difficult market”.

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While the council does not sell recyclable material, it provides the infrastructure for contractors to pick up the material through its kerbside collection system.

Currently, Waste Management has the contract for the sorting and sale of recyclable materials at the council’s Redruth Resource Recovery Centre. OG Fibre Solutions holds the contract for paper and cardboard waste. 

“The environment is changing almost daily. There is even talk of cardboard markets collapsing. Over the next few months, expect some changes in the recycling space,” Harper told councillors.

“There is absolutely no market for plastics three to seven. A lot of councils are saying don’t put them in the yellow bin.”

Harper said there had been some short term relief in the fact that countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have increased their capacity for recyclable material.

However,  this would be only a short term reprieve, as those countries are also considering tightening import standards.

Some products, particularly those made of glass, would always be difficult to recycle, Harper said.

Cr Paddy O’Reilly asked whether it was possible for council to create a furnace for its waste services which could generate power.

Harper replied the council did not have the capacity for such an idea, and there were also “a lot of arguments which suggest this would be the wrong thing to do environmentally”. 

He also said glass recycling had become increasingly complicated, particularly in regards to issues of potential contamination. 

Cr Richard Lyon asked whether glass could be recycled into material for roading. 

Harper said although it was feasible, “like all things, it comes down to cost-benefit”, and the material might not be suitable for Timaru’s roads.

On Tuesday, he told councillors that were at least seven organisations which had expressed some interest in the contract. The contract also proposes to give Mackenzie and Waimate District councils the option of using Timaru’s recycling and waste facilities.

Harper said Waimate District Council currently uses Timaru’s Redruth landfill for its waste, and paid commercial rates for the service. Waimate contributed only four per cent of the landfill’s total waste, Harper said.

The landfill has a lifespan of about 26 years under the current conditions, he told councillors. 

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