Many New Zealanders are already familiar with recycling soft plastics such as coffee stirrers, styrofoam containers and produce bags at supermarket drop off points. EPS or air pop, is an example of a hard plastic that can be recycled in the same way.
Northern Auckland residents can now recycle their EPS waste thanks to a collection point set up by finess interiors at Mangawhai ITM. It is taken to the Mitre 10 Expol insulation plant and turned into a range of products including Styrodrain.
Insulation is a key component of any home or commercial building, and there are many types on the market. Bulk insulation, such as glasswool, is one of the more common types used. It uses pockets of trapped air to resist heat flow, making it a cost-effective choice.
Polystyrene is a hard, clear plastic that is used for things like CD and DVD jewel cases and plastic forks. It’s also found in the outside housing of computers and TVs, and in toys such as surfboards and boogie boards. It’s also found in the protective packaging and squishy foam chips in some food containers, as well as in the soft white Styrofoam that’s sometimes used to cushion fragile items.
The material doesn’t contain ozone depleting chemicals, but it is produced from petroleum. Recycling it reduces the amount of oil that needs to be extracted, although some energy is required to transport and reprocess the material.
If you throw out a plastic bag, chip packet, yoghurt or baby food squeeze pouch and use disposable cutlery at a picnic or party, you could be contributing to soft plastic recycling at your local New World, Countdown or Pak n Save supermarket. Foil wrappers (like the ones around your chicken pie) and ice cream containers are also soft plastics and can be recycled at these locations too.
Polystyrene packaging, or EPS expanded polystyrene, is also recyclable. It can be crushed and compacted, reground and melted into products such as coat hangers and picture frames, to keep it out of landfill. This is a much better option than burning the material which releases noxious hydro chlorofluorocarbon gases that deplete the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. These gases are 1000 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. EPS is not accepted in the normal household waste bin collection so must be recycled at dedicated drop off points like the one set up by Expol outside Mangawhai ITM.
Aotearoa New Zealand is among the world’s highest generators of single-use plastic. This is why a ban on things like fruit labels, plastic bags and straws was adopted in 2019 to help reduce 13 million tonnes of waste a year.
Some containers have extra features that keep foods fresher longer, such as a drain-like piece that allows water covering lettuce and produce to flow down to the bottom. Others have lids that are attached to the container, which is ideal for busy kitchens because you don’t have to worry about misplacing a lid.
Mitre 10 has partnered with EXPOL to recycle expanded polystyrene (EPS). This is the stuff that looks like white boards made of little beads and can be found in appliance packaging. EXPOL repurposes this material into automotive products, household tools and utensils, varied containers and outdoor/garden tools. This helps reduce the burden on landfill and the carbon footprint of shipping contaminated waste to overseas markets.
Despite its many benefits, polystyrene (plastic ID code 6) is often landfilled. It is a lightweight and buoyant material, and it’s easy to blow away even when properly disposed of. In a windy country like Aotearoa this creates huge problems for the Environment. We’ve all seen images of our Beaches and Waterways strewn with floating plastic, or worse, dead Seabirds and Marine Life whose stomachs have been filled with these tiny white beads.
While it’s true that polystyrene recycling has a low recycling rate, it isn’t impossible to recycle. The technology is being developed, and companies are working on innovative solutions to make it easier for polystyrene to be recycled.
Polystyrene can’t be added to Council kerbside recycling bins, but you can take it to a number of drop off points in the Auckland region. Check here for details. Alternatively, you can recycle EPS through Expol who have drop off points around New Zealand.