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Touring a Recycling Plant with my Friend Pip!

Touring a Recycling Plant with my Friend Pip!

Years ago, my friend Pip offered to take me on a tour of a Recycling Center in Palmerston North. Curious to educate myself further on best practices and ensure I was doing things correctly, I gladly accepted the opportunity.

So off I went to the centre, accompanied by a couple of other mothers. Within just over an hour, it became apparent to me that as a human race, we are either remarkably oblivious or excessively negligent.

Pip kicked off the presentation by explaining what could and couldn't be recycled. There was a board displaying various types of plastic: one side showed recyclable items, while the other listed those that were not recyclable. It was an instant eye-opener for me as I realised I had been recycling items that weren't recyclable.

We also learned about the journey of plastic after it's collected, and why preventing contamination (such as ensuring bottles are properly washed out) was crucial. I was truly astonished by how little I knew about the entire recycling process.

Leaving the education room, we followed Pip through the offices and geared up with hard hats and high-visibility vests. I had no clue what awaited us inside the recycling building, having always assumed it was a fully automated process. Passing through the doors, we traced the path where recycling trucks unloaded their cargo. It was an eye-opening sight. The sheer volume of plastic containers seemed endless, accompanied by an alarming level of contamination that was quite embarrassing.

Pip sifted through the recycling heap, displaying pairs of shoes, old kids' swings, bits of furniture, and clothing. It appeared that some people were treating the recycling bin like a Salvation Army donation bin, discarding anything they no longer wanted. Next, we ventured indoors to the sorting area. It became evident here that the recycling was manually sorted by workers with the aid of machinery. We went up the stairs to the first place where all of the recycling comes into the building from a conveyor belt outside. There were two people standing at the first sorting point. 

Pip demonstrated the magnet section, where metal cans were separated out. She also showed me the paper tumbler, where heavy items dropped through while the paper continued along another path. We observed workers manually sorting plastic containers and paper that could be recycled, as well as piles of contaminated waste that had been collected and could not be recycled.

As we stood by one of the sorting stations, we began to inspect the incoming items. It became apparent that every few seconds, some form of contamination passed by. I was truly taken aback. Over the next five minutes, we witnessed a significant amount of unsuitable items...


For example:

  • An assortment of fruit and vegetables (broccoli stalks, green potatoes, rotten silverbeet).
  • An egg carton full of eggs
  • Half full hummus containers – festering in the summer heat
  • Broken children’s toys
  • A bag with a few nuts left in it
  • Milk bottles and lots of other bottles full of liquids.
  • 9 used disposable nappies.

I did not feel like having lunch after seeing and smelling the rotten things that people have tried to recycle. 

All in all the tour was an eye opening experience and one I will never forget. If you have the opportunity to go for a tour through your local recycling centre and you are keen to learn about how you can recycle better, it is well worth it. Don’t have lunch before you go through! 

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