Inorganic Collections in Auckland – Trash or Treasure by Angela Caldin
Biennial Inorganic Rubbish on the Kerbside
It’s that time of year again: the householders of Auckland are disgorging vast quantities of unwanted items, and piles of cast-offs of varying descriptions are appearing on the kerbsides and grass verges around the city. Auckland is either blessed or cursed, depending on your point of view, with its latest two-yearly inorganic rubbish collection, when the council vans trundle round collecting the masses of rejected junk spewed out by households in varying degrees of magnitude. For a few days, before the council trucks arrive, the kerbside piles look like miniature recreations of the massive tips in third world countries, with people picking through them to see what items they might claim as their own.
These collections are rare overseas – in London you can take your household rubbish and rejects to the local council tip free of charge – but they have been running here for years and are popular with residents. Auckland Council plans to keep the collections for now, but says it wants to find a better system. It is working on a waste management and minimisation plan, which may be the death knell for the inorganic collections as we know them. The plan says that by 2015 all ratepayers will be offered one rates-funded on-site inorganic collection a year which must be booked through the council. Until then, areas will get at least one more collection when they can put their unwanted items out on the kerb.
Consequences of the Inorganic Collections
We have all seen people, especially after dark, creeping along to retrieve a fancied item from a neighbour’s pile. More alarming is the quantity of vans large and small which cruise around looking for saleable items, especially scrap metal from electrical goods. It is illegal to scavenge from inorganic piles if the result is litter or mess, or harms others. It is also an offence to collect with the intent to sell. The council has sought to minimise mess by shortening the timeframes for putting things out for collection and by threatening to monitor illegal dumping and commercial scavenging more rigorously. But there isn’t much sign of them doing this, judging by the vans cruising round in broad daylight.
The council leaflet makes clear that most of what is put out for the inorganic collection goes to landfill and asks residents to consider whether items could be recycled, given to charity or sold. One method that householders could consider is Freecyle, a website where items can be offered free for collection by people who could make use of them. In effect, large amounts of the inorganic rubbish that would be crushed by the council are recycled, either by local residents or the people with vans and trailers who descend on a suburb at inorganic time. The Scrap Metal Recycling Association of New Zealand says that if people provide a photo ID they can drive into a dealer with a load of metal and get paid cash on the spot, with mixed loads fetching a good price. In addition, many items of furniture could fetch more than a few dollars on Trade Me for those who have the energy to take them away and put them online, keeping them out of landfill. The other benefit is that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, so that toys, bicycles, pushchairs and similar items can be used by other families and then put out again at the next collection for use by others.
Illegal dumping and messy scavenging are the downsides to the inorganic rubbish collections. An orderly pile which was neat and tidy when the householder put out his or her rejects, can look like something from a slum in an underdeveloped country once the scavengers have finished foraging and looting for any saleable pieces, smashing electrical items, and leaving paper and polystyrene blowing in the wind. Added to which, the council claims it costs $1 million a year to clean up illegal dumping.
The Future for Inorganic Collections
For the future, the Council is considering recycling centres where people could take unwanted items which would then be dealt with systematically. Any good furniture would be sold on Trade Me or go to charity, electrical goods would be stripped down safely and the resulting metal sold for profit. In Waitakere, householders are now limited to the equivalent of two car boot-loads of rubbish a year; they book three weeks ahead and prepay $23 to be in their street’s annual clean-out. Street scavenging and mess are ended because discarded items are collected from inside the property. Quality reusable household items are taken for processing at the Waitakere Refuse and Recycling Centre and sold on Trade Me. The centre also recovers metal, timber and cardboard.
The figures speak for themselves: Waitakere’s inorganic collection was 4500 tonnes in 2007-08 before the change, and last year was 850 tonnes. The cost to ratepayers dropped from $639,000 to $160,000. Isn’t it time the quaint system of the kerbside inorganic collection was abolished in favour of encouraging people to take a more responsible and greener approach to recycling and reusing unwanted items?
For more information about Freecycle and local groups, go to http://www.freecycle.org