Redemption of a serial one bagger

A serial 'one bagger'.

I am a potato peel pariah – one of Tauranga’s despised ‘one baggers’.

I put all of my domestic rubbish – paper, plastic, tins, bottles, in fact everything that won’t go down the waste disposal unit – in one $2.20 council-approved rubbish bag. And every Friday it just disappears from the kerb. Problem gone. It’s become someone else’s problem.

I’m also a significant contributor to the 70 per cent of Tauranga’s kerbside rubbish that could be, that should be, recycled or composted, but ends up in landfill.

“You are not alone,” reassures Tauranga rubbish guru Marty Hoffart. He’s trying to shame me because that 70 per cent suggests “ecological illiteracy” on a massive scale in this city.

“And if you haven’t learned in the last 20 years, if you haven’t changed your behaviours by now; then you aren’t going to, are you?” says Marty, a director of Waste Watchers, a company that works with business, industry, local government and schools on recycling programmes, waste minimisation schemes and the like.

He is shaming me. But I care about the environment.

If I walk down the street and see a discarded bottle or can, I don’t complain, I dispose.

I know about recycling and composting and landfills and greenhouse gases and inert rubbish. I do have a social conscience, I just don’t exercise it. I’m aware, but I haven’t learned.

And every Friday morning, under the cover of darkness – this environmental delinquent slinks out to the kerb and dumps his big black bag of bottles, plastic and all. By lunchtime it’s gone, over the Kaimai Range, out of sight and out of mind.

About 18 trucks a day, I am told by Marty, 18 trucks full of a city’s ‘don’t care’ attitude, off to a landfill in someone else’s backyard. So, what to do about me and the likes of me, of which there is obviously many.

So if we are aware and we know the consequences of our indifference, why aren’t we recycling? Why don’t we have a worm farm? And why aren’t we compositing the grass clippings?

“I don’t know, why you aren’t doing it,” says Marty. “Ask yourself.” Ask a recidivist environment wrecker he is suggesting.

I suppose the answer is because I don’t have to. It’s cheaper and easier not to. And a lot of people don’t and won’t. “But unless everyone is doing the same thing, at your house, at my house, at the neighbours’ place – unless we are all putting our organics in one place, our recycling in another and what’s left over in another, unless we are all doing that, the graph isn’t going to change.”

“A lot of people understand that 70 per cent figure won’t go away unless there is major change,” says Marty. The same people, like this reporter, are in a position to make it go away now, but we haven’t. And probably won’t unless we are made to. So Marty is suggesting ‘don’t care’ be made to care.

“Sometimes you have to be a benevolent dictator,” says Marty. “And you have to tell people that this is best for all of us.”

He says the Scandanavians and the Germans are the best recyclers in the world because they are more prescriptive than we are. “Kiwis don’t like to be told what we should be doing and we leave people with a lot of choice.”

So remove the choice for me, make it hard for us one baggers.

“Rates-funded three bins and a crate for glass,” says Marty. “One bin for organics, one for recycling, one for what’s left and the crate for the glass, because a lot of glass gets broken between the house and where it’s sorted and is lost.”

And before the howl of rates rises goes up, listen up.

“The council has surveyed a whole bunch of people and right now the average cost of rubbish disposal to a Tauranga household is $313 a year,” says Marty. “And the council says it could provide a better service, which would get that 70 per cent out of the equation and for less than the average household cost.” Better for less, more for less.

And while the plan would have to be built into rates demands, you could also say the council has eliminated the cost of getting rid of your rubbish. “Instead of paying invoice A, you would pay invoice B. “Your rates have gone up, but you could also say the council saved you $300.” So, says Marty, you’re at net zero.

Tauranga City Mayor Greg Brownless recycles and composts. He recommends personal responsibility.

“Quite a lot’s being done in Tauranga to encourage recycling – there could always be more,” he told SunLive. “But people have got to make the decision to recycle themselves.

“Big brother doesn’t need to tell you to recycle, you should know to do it.”

But that 70 per cent suggests a swathe of us non-practising believers may need the drive and direction of ‘big brother” to remind us: “This is best for all of us”.

On top of that there is a legal imperative – the council is bound by statute to demonstrate efficient and effective waste minimisation.

“But if the results are saying 70 per cent of what we are dumping doesn’t need to be dumped, then we need to take a good hard look at it and we may need to make some changes,” says Marty.

“And the best way may be not giving people a choice of doing what they have been doing for 20 years because they have shown us it’s not getting the recyclable and compostable stuff out of there.”

In the meantime the council is gathering more data during the next 12 months before coming up with a set of options, options that will not be free.

“The cleanest, tidiest towns that are free of rubbish are the towns that provide recycling and rubbish removal free from the kerbside,” said one post on social media.

“Free recycling, like most other councils, would help sort this,” said another. “The council doesn’t have a bottomless bank account where they can pay for eveyone’s recycling.”

And even this recalcitrant one-bagger wouldn’t mind stumping up with another $300 in his rates to help save the planet and salve his conscience. Hopefully, it’s not too late to change him and a lifetime of bad habits.

Subscribe to our weekly Newsletter