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Going beyond recycling: How to get started reducing and repurposing plastic

After China, the biggest buyer of plastic for recycling, closed its doors, some areas of NZ have growing stockpiles of plastic. Photo/Getty.

It’s World Clean Up Day this Saturday 15th September, a reminder that our ever-growing waste problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

While most Kiwis “do the right thing” and put rubbish in the bin, well-meaning efforts to recycle are now limited, especially as China has stopped buying NZ’s plastic recycling. So, some previously recyclable items are now going straight to landfill or adding to ever-expanding stockpiles.  

While the scale of the problem can seem overwhelming, start small with NOTED’s collection of practical tips on how to reduce plastic waste at your house.   

Plastic bottle planters.

Reduce and repurpose
It’s nearly impossible to avoid plastic because it’s an incredibly useful material but if you can, buy fewer things packaged in plastic or plastic items. BYO containers, coffee cups and water bottles. It could soon become the norm: for example, Farro supermarkets have just announced they will fill BYO resealable containers.

If you do end up with plastic containers, don’t put them in the recycling bin – repurpose them. For example, ice cream and margarine tubs can be used for storage for bits and bobs like nails or rubber bands. Turn plastic bottles into watering cans by punching holes in the lid, make funnels, fill them with water and turn them into weights - there are plenty of ideas if you do a Google search.

Join a toy library
If you have kids, try to reduce the amount of new plastic toys you buy by ‘checking out’ toys, just like a regular library, at your local toy library.

Donate and buy from op shops
Drop off good quality items at op shops and check out what they have on offer. Simple kitchen tools like spatulas, for example, can be found here as well as toys and bric-a-brac.

Use Community Recycling Centres
Lots of councils run centres which let you drop off unwanted items and materials that can be resold.

Join Neighbourly
Join Neighbourly to give away or sell things that your neighbours could use, and to see what they’re giving away or selling. Want to get rid of an old but functional vacuum cleaner? You could find a taker on this site.

Get it repaired
If you can’t use because it’s broken, check out a Repair Cafe. They’re held regularly around Auckland. 

Adopt a resource
EcoMatters rescues resources from businesses to stop them from going to landfill and offers it to anyone who wants it. You’ll find things like plastic drums, bubble wrap and more.

Use and support organisations who reduce and reuse
Support organisations who reuse materials to create plastic alternatives, for example, Boomerang Bags, which uses fabric waste to create shopping bags that you can borrow if you forget a bag, to return later.

Take ‘compostable’ packaging with a grain of salt
Note that some compostable packing will only break down in a commercial compost, so if you put it in your rubbish it will go to landfill where it will still take a long time to break down. If you live in Auckland, you can dispose of compostable packaging in public We Compost bins. They also do a weekly home collection service that also includes taking your food scraps and paper towels, and they set you up with a bin and a kitchen bin.