A recycling scheme in New Zealand modeled on rewards familiar to kindergarten children has seen tonnes of additional recycling head to the sorters every week, instead of landfill.
Following a COVID-19 lockdown in March and April, the Christchurch City Council saw recycling rates plummet, with material from only 48 percent of recycling trucks able to be processed in June due to frequent contamination issues, the result of poor sorting by residents.
Ross Trotter, the council’s manager for resource and recovery, said that his team introduced a public reward and shaming system to motivate people to recycle more carefully.
New Zealanders have low rates of recycling compared with other countries and the amount of waste sent to landfills is expected to double in the next 10 years in Auckland alone, according to Recycling New Zealand.
The Christchurch scheme involves placing a large gold star on the kerbside bins of successful recyclers and removes the bins of those who repeatedly fail to recycle properly. The percentage of recycling trucks heading to the sorters is now nearing 80 percent.
“We thought it was important that rather than being negative all the time and telling them what they can’t do, let’s give them some positive reinforcement and give them a gold sticker reward — something that other residents can see: ‘Hey, they’re a great recycler,’” Trotter said. “And it’s amazing the number of people that come to us and say: ‘How do I get one of those stickers?’”
For residents who fail to correctly sort the contents of their wheelie bin three times, warnings are issued in the form of notes left on the bin. If the problem is still not addressed, the council confiscates the bin.
This year nearly 1,500 warning letters have been sent, and Trotter said the threat of public shaming was usually enough for residents to address the problem.
“The contents of contaminated recycling bins have to go to landfill and it can infect the whole truckload of recycling, so it is a very frustrating issue. However the majority of people are trying to do the right thing,” he said.
Since the beginning of the year more than 155,000 bins have been spot-checked by compliance staff and 26 percent of those have received a gold star “for their excellent recycling.”
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