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Council takes next step to reduce recycling contamination

21 Mar 2022

Council will implement a traffic light system to audit contents placed Buller’s recycling bins from Monday 21 March 2022.

Council’s contractor Smart Environmental Ltd (SEL) will label recycling bins with a green, yellow, or red tag indicating if the recycling content meets Buller’s recycling guidelines.

Recycling bins will be regularly audited as part of the kerbside recycling collection. During the collection, Smart Environmental or Buller District Council staff will visually assess the recycling material.  Based on this evaluation employees will label the bin with a green, orange, or red tag.

A red tag means that the recycling bin contains items that are clearly rubbish which need to be deposited as refuse. Examples for items that are refuse but are regularly found in recycling bins are coffee cups, food waste, masks, clothing, nappies, vacuum cleaner bags, ash, plastic bags, crockery, broken glasses, ceramic, and soft plastic wrapping.

Bins will not be collected if they are tagged red. A recycling guide with information why the bin was rejected will be placed in the letterbox to assist residents to improve their recycling.

Buller District Council’s solid waste coordinator Juliana Ruiz says: “The main objective of the auditing system is to reduce the high level of non-recyclable items put in recycling bins by residents.

We wish to educate residents on the effects of recycling contamination; this affects the remainder of the downstream recycling product.  Throwing rubbish in the recycling bin is not ok.”

Red tag

Residents with a red tagged bin will need take out non-recyclable items and manage these as refuse. SEL will assess the bin at the next collection and determine if the content has improved and can now be collected again.    Red tag offenders will be recorded in the database.

Yellow tag

A yellow tag means that a few items in the recycling bin are not recyclable, and other items cannot be recycled because they do not meet the district’s recycling guidelines. The most common mistakes are plastics other than #1, #2 and #5, till receipts, shredded paper, bubble wrap, Styrofoam or items which are not clean rinsed, glass jars and plastic containers with lids on.

Yellow labelled bins will be emptied by SEL but residents will be notified to check the recycling guidelines and advised to follow them better. If a bin is twice yellow tagged, the bin will be red labeled and not be emptied.

Ms Ruiz says: “A big problem for us is that residents put some of the right things into the recycling but not in the right way. The consequence is that the recycling goes to landfill. Therefore we want to educate residents how to recycle right.”

Green tag

Green tagged bins mean that the material in the recycling bin is 100% recyclable and meets the local recycling guidelines perfectly.

“A green tag is a pat on the back encouraging good behaviour and acknowledging the effort. It is also important to have this tag to signal improvement from red or yellow.”

There will be bins that will not be labelled. That means there are a very few items that do not meet the recycling guidelines perfectly. Residents with not labelled bins are encouraged to keep check and adhering to the local recycling rules.

“We don’t want to distribute thousands of tags which are rubbish in itself, we want to use the tags sparingly and to bring about behaviour change.”

Around 32% of the items deposited in recycling bins by residents in Buller are not recyclable. This amounts to approximately nine tons a month of material that needs to be sent to landfill.

Ms Ruiz says: “This figure really needs improving. We are aiming for 20% by the end of 2022. To achieve this, we need our resident’s support.   Their needs to be a better understand of recycling standards and we need to see a change of attitude towards waste and recycling. The implementation of the auding system is a further step to educate and change residents’ behaviour.”

Reducing waste and following local recycling rules are the best way to contribute to minimize waste going to landfill.


Key aspects of the districts recycling guidelines are:


Only plastics #1, #2 and #5 can be deposited in the recycling bin as they are the only recyclable plastics that can be processed within New Zealand. Other types of plastics (#4, #6 and #7) used to be sent to China to be processed. However, since 2018, China banned the importation of recycling material from overseas. As a result, the New Zealand recycling providers were forced to recycle only plastics that can be processed inside the country. Residents need to check the numbers on the package to identify plastic #1, #2 and #5. Recyclable plastic and glass items must be rinsed, and lids removed.

Old recycling bin lids displaying that plastic #1 – #7 can be recycled. These are being changed gradually and new recycling bins come with a blank lid.

Paper and cardboard

Paper and cardboard must be clean, and without remains of food. This allows to store the cardboard for a long time before sent overseas for reprocessing. If cardboard is contaminated with food, it degrades and is unusable for reprocessing.

Cardboard needs to be bigger than an envelope so the staff at the Westport Transfer Station can bale the cardboard. Hence small items like till receipts or shredded paper cannot go in the recycling bin.

Cardboards needs to be flat to be processed efficiently and will take up less space in the recycling bin.


Glass must be rinsed. Only unbroken bottles or jars are accepted since they are the only glass items that can be reprocessed inside New Zealand. Glass items such as crockery, drinking glasses, plate glass, car windscreens, windows are not accepted by recycling companies in New Zealand.


Aluminum or tins are accepted if they are rinsed and cleaned. Rinsed and cleaned aluminum can be baled and compacted at the Westport Transfer Station ready for shipment to processing plants around the country.

See additional information in council website


Further information and contacts:
Solid waste coordinator
Juliana Ruiz