Tag Archives: Recycling

Take away lessons about cups

Dr Matt Morris from UC’s Sustainability Office looks at the issue of compostable and recyclable cups and shares thoughts on some of our campus experiences.

Takeaway culture has meant that the volume of disposable packaging in our global waste stream has increased to staggering levels; estimates vary, but perhaps 500 billion disposable cups are thrown away annually across the globe (58 billion in the US, 2.5 billion in the UK, almost 1 billion in Australia). In Aotearoa New Zealand, 100-200 million disposable cups are used annually.

When we at UC were first told, back in 2013, that takeaway coffee cups would soon no longer be accepted by our recycler, we knew we had to do something. Takeaway cups had become a classic waste issue, and we were extremely unhappy about this retrogressive change. So ahead of the change, we introduced a trial to collect coffee cups and send them away for composting. Blue Bins specifically for coffee cups began to appear on our campus. Since then our small trial at UC has diverted around 50,000 cups from landfill.

For those who ask, “why can’t they all just be composted?” or, “why can’t we just only use compostable cups?” there is a long-winded answer.

There are many kinds of takeaway cups on the market. Each brand of cup may need a different treatment – and this is way beyond what anyone can manage locally. Generally, these have water-proofing lining in them. Sometimes this is wax or polyethylene. Sometimes it is a poly-lactic acid (PLA) plastic lining. ‘Compostable’ cups also have this PLA lining, which is derived from plant materials. This lining is partly what prevents cups being accepted now for recycling, because it needs to be stripped out before the paper can be made usable again. Practically no one can do this currently. And for compostable cups, that PLA is often derived from corn starch that has been made from genetically modified corn.

Then there is some important consumer education to do. Cups are notoriously contaminated: think milk foam and soggy marshmallows, or how they get used as mini-rubbish bins for apple cores, pie wrappers and god knows what else. And don’t get me started about lids. We really want to encourage our UC community to only put cups in the blue bins – with nothing else in them (please!). We have invested in signage that is as explicit as we can make it to limit contamination at the front end.

At the back end of our system we have someone sorting the cups so what we send away is clean – it is great if she does not have to sort through anything other than cups (another good reason to not contaminate the blue bins!) Our trial has been mostly focused on testing how people will use a separate collection point for coffee cups and what kind of resource would be required to maintain this system. So far, we think it has been a success.

So, what are we doing with these cups?
At UC we sell a mix of cups that claim to be recyclable or compostable (remember, these are very different). For the first loads, we sent mixed cups to two composting facilities Selwyn and Waimakiriri District Council facilities, and the results were good. We didn’t test for any chemical residue, but the composting part worked fine. However, that option came to an end, and we are now having the cups baled until a better option is developed. Luckily, that is in process.

Three composting trials of compostable coffee cups and other ‘service ware’ items have been undertaken in Christchurch this year, and the results are extremely promising. All of the trials were successful, in that the packaging all broke down sufficiently. This is great. For UC, this means we understand a lot more about which products we could require vendors to sell.

There are still challenges. For example, Living Earth cannot take all the compostable packaging: some has the PLA lining and, as a BioGro certified organic company, they cannot take product that is derived from GMO materials. The fact that it has been denatured and contains no genetic material is not the point; upstream production of the raw material is also taken into account.

It is an evolving process, and we need to remain responsive to opportunities as they arise, always keeping our eyes on the prize: finding new ways to send our waste to the earth as safely as possible.

Want to reduce waste further? It’s Plastic Free July

Connect with UC’s Sustainability office through Facebook or Instagram or email us: sustainability@canterbury.ac.nz

UC Bike gives new life to UC’s abandoned bikes

Earlier this year, in collaboration with UC Security and the UC Sustainability Office, UC Bike repaired, recycled and sold bikes that had been abandoned on campus. “The goal was recycling bikes and putting more people in the university community on bikes rather than making money off already cash strapped students”, Zac Porter from UC Bike explained.

In total UC Security donated 18 bikes that had been left unattended for between 1 and 3 years. Using the UC Sustainability Office’s Dr Bike tools, Olly, Zac, Ben and Brad repaired as many of these as they could. “Of these 18, we managed to get 14 running and gave them all a service, recycling what we could of the bikes that were too broken. We had quite a few franken-bikes by the end!” One of the bikes had been stolen and was re-united with its original owner.

The bikes were then sold to current and past students at a fraction of what they were worth. In total, UC Bike made over $1300, which will be spent on holding events such as Mechanics Nights to further benefit the cycling community at UC. “On Mechanics Nights we teach the basics of bike maintenance, such as how to tune a derailleur, fix flat tires, adjust brakes or anything else the attendees may want to learn.” The next one will be in Term Two with the date yet to be confirmed. Keep an eye out for the event notification on UC Bike’s Facebook page!

For this year all the recycled bikes have been sold but UC Bike plans to do this every year as an ongoing initiative.

This message was brought to you by the UC Sustainability Office. Connect with us through Facebook or Instagram. Or email us on sustainability@canterbury.ac.nz

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You can now recycle your soft plastics!

Photo credit: Soft Plastic Recycling

Crisp packets, rice bags, candy wrappers … you can now recycle them! Have you seen these bins in your local supermarket and wondered,  what can I put in it?

The Love NZ Soft Plastic Recycling Programme is a new industry-led recycling programme that diverts soft plastics from landfill and turns them into new products.

New Zealanders use around 1.6 billion plastic bags every year, that means that 4.3 million are thrown away each day! These soft plastic bags are not currently collected for recycling by councils because they can contaminate the recycling process.

What plastic do the bins take? It takes all soft plastic bags including bread bags, frozen food bags, toilet paper packaging, confectionery and biscuit wraps, chip bags, pasta and rice bags, courier envelopes, shopping bags, chocolate and muesli bar wrappers, sanitary hygiene packaging . Anything made of plastic that can be scrunched into a ball. Make sure the plastic is reasonably clean and dry.

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Photo credit: Soft Plastic Recycling

Where? You can find your closest store on the store locator. Currently the project is focused on supermarkets and retailers but this may extend to educational institutions (like UC!).

What happens after collection? The plastic is collected by Abilities Group, an organisation established to create meaningful employment for people with disabilities. The collected plastic is sent to Australia where it is transformed into robust plastic products like outdoor furniture, bollards and recycling bins.

What else can you do? Reducing plastic is still the best option. So think about:

– Shop in bulk or trash free: There is Bin Inn of course and shops like Piko Wholefoods Co-Operative and Harbour Co-op.

– Getting a string bag for your fruit and vege in addition to your cloth shopping bag. Check out these organic ones

– Reduce your food wrapping waste by getting (or making) a non-plastic one e.g. Honeywrap or Keep Leaf

This message was brought to you by the UC Sustainability Office. Connect with us through Facebook or Instagram. Or email us: sustainability@canterbury.ac.nz