Household rubbish and recycling through the COVID-19 alert levels

Information for the public on dealing with household rubbish and recycling under COVID-19 Alert Levels 2, 3 and 4.

How to find out what is happening in your area

Check your local council or private collector website and social media platforms for regular updates on arrangements in your area.

Household rubbish

  • The collection of rubbish for households and essential businesses/services is important during all COVID-19 alert levels.
  • Households should continue to use their kerbside rubbish collection for rubbish disposal.

Municipal landfills and transfer stations

  • Alert Level 2: Transfer Stations and landfills (that allow direct access to the general public) are open where contactless payment, contact tracing and other health and safety measures are in place. Community Resource Recovery facilities can accept donations for reuse and/or recycling.
  • Alert Level 4: Transfer Stations and landfills (that allow direct access to the general public) are closed. Some transfer stations may provide a limited range of drop off services.
  • A decision on whether a transfer station is open will be determined by a range of factors including: the ability to offer contactless payment options, maintain physical distancing and managing contact tracing – all in line with government guidelines. If these factors cannot be satisfied the transfer station will not be able to open.

Household recycling and organic collections

  • Recycling is an essential service when it can be carried out safely.
  • Alert Level 2: Kerbside recycling collections return to normal operations. Please note some recyclables may continue to go to landfill where materials are heavily contaminated.
  • Alert Level 4: Some city-district kerbside collections are continuing under Alert Level 4, others are running partial or changed services, a few have temporarily ceased collections altogether.
  • Ministry for the Environment (MfE) officials are monitoring the situation and working with councils and recycling collection and recycling plant operators to keep recycling going wherever it is safe and practical to do so.

Reasons why councils may have different policies around recycling during the COVID-19 period

Recycling is an essential service, which means recycling collectors and recycling plant operators may continue their services, but worker safety is paramount. Some materials may not be able to be processed safely at different alert levels. This is depending on the systems and processing infrastructure in place. 

Some councils and facility operators have more automated recycling systems than others. This means they may be able to carry on collections and sorting processes. Other systems have more hand-sorting, so these workers may be at higher risk. 

The decision about whether a recycling materials recovery facility can open will be determined by the ability to maintain physical distancing and keep workers safe while undertaking the sorting operations - in line with Government guidelines. If these factors can’t be satisfied, the facility will not be able to open. 

During the COVID-19 period, some council services can recycle some items such as glass and cardboard but not others such as plastics. This is because when collected separately, glass and cardboard can bypass the closed material recovery facilities and additional handling requirements.

Rubbish handling and kerbside collection workers' personal safety

Rubbish handling and kerbside collection workers continue to work during all the COVID-19 alert levels. They have been provided with training and appropriate protection equipment by their employers to ensure their personal safely. 

Please do not approach workers engaged in rubbish handling or collection services.

What you should do if you see someone dumping rubbish

Please report it to your local council. Illegal dumping of rubbish can pose health and safety risks to people. For example, metal and glass can cause accidents and garden waste can create a fire risk. Also, illegal dumping can have negative impacts on the environment. For example, plastic rubbish can harm wildlife, especially in marine areas and harmful substances can leach into waterways.

Don’t burn rubbish or recycling

It is never safe to burn plastic rubbish or recycling due to the toxic fumes generated, which can be dangerous to those with asthma or other respiratory illnesses. 

Many councils have bylaws prohibiting the burning of rubbish. Paper and cardboard can be composted onsite. 

The New Zealand Fire Service has requested that households and rural businesses do not burn rubbish or recycling, as it is important to minimise the need for first responders and volunteer fire fighters to be called out during COVID-19 lockdown periods. 

See Hold off lighting outdoor fires during the COVID-19 Lockdown [Fire Emergency New Zealand website]

Types of rubbish and recycling you can and cannot bury

Food scraps and garden trimmings can be safely buried or composted, ideally in a rodent proof composter.

See How to rodent proof your compost bin [Predator Free NZ] 

Other types of rubbish and recycling should not be buried. Burying waste produces leachate. This is when water and other liquids pick up heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides or undesirable nutrients. This leachate can potentially affect local water supplies, aquatic life and/or farm stock.

What to do with it when you are done with it

What to do with used face masks

Place disposable face masks in the rubbish bin, or in a bag and throw it out. Do not put face masks (or face coverings) in the recycling, as they are not recyclable and may endanger recycling workers

How to wear a face covering safely | Unite against COVID-19 [covid19.govt.nz]

Reusable face masks can be washed and reused. 

What do to with infected household rubbish

If you have COVID-19 infected people in your ‘bubble’, contaminated rubbish items such as tissues and wet wipes from these households should be put into a separate bag and either tied or sealed before putting into the general household rubbish bin or bag. 

What to do with wet wipes

Place wet wipes in the rubbish bin or bag and throw it out. Do not flush wet wipes down the toilet as they can cause a blockage in our wastewater and sewage systems.

See our news item from April 2020 for more information. 

What to do with excess food - operation of fresh food rescue organisations

Food rescue organisations are classified as essential business and are operating during all COVID-19 alert levels.

Go to Love Food Hate Waste to find out what organisations are operating in your area, and the types of donations they are accepting.

How to reduce rubbish and recycling during the COVID-19 alert levels

Tips for reducing household rubbish and recycling

  • Choose paper or cardboard packaging as it can be composted at home.
  • Use dried food instead of canned food.
  • Use a reusable water bottle.
  • Switch to shampoo bars and soap bars.
  • Use powdered milk, and make your own bread, biscuits and snacks. 

Plastic Free July has ideas on how to reduce your use of plastic packaging. 

Love Food Hate Waste is full of great tips and tricks to help save households money and reduce food scraps at the same time.

The Compost Collective has tips on composting your food scraps and garden trimmings.  

What you can do at home to continue para kore (zero waste) during this lockdown

We encourage whānau to be active kaitiaki during the lockdown. Use this time to learn new skills like gardening, composting and cooking kai from scratch (eg, making your own bread).

While the rāhui is having a huge impact on how we live and what we do, let's look at how we can give back to Papatūānuku during this time. Composting - making nutrient rich soil - is a great example of giving back. Let’s focus on the systems in our home, reflect, readjust and create new habits - new tikanga that align with caring for the taiao.

For more information on how to live without waste go to facebook.com/para kore or parakore.maori.nz

We encourage you to be extra conscious when it comes to doing your shopping. Go for kai that comes with no plastic or excessive packaging.

While we may have time to potter around at home, this is not the time for a big spring clean and purge. We currently don't have the option to take things to second-hand shops, give things away to our wider whānau or to recycle. If you are spring cleaning, keep everything clean and sorted so it’s easy to deal with later.