One Question Quiz
Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyJune 27, 2023

Everything you need to know about Auckland’s new food scraps bins

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

In an effort to reduce organic waste going to landfill, Auckland Council is issuing every household in the supercity with a new bin, just for food scraps. Here’s why it’s needed, what you can put in there, and where it’ll all go.

When will I get my food scraps bin?

Bins have already been rolled out across West Auckland and are now being deployed in the North Shore. When The Spinoff speaks with Terry Coe, delivery manager for waste solutions from Auckland Council, he sounds excited. “We’re just tidying up the multi-unit dwellings on the North Shore and extending the trial area to Drury,” he says. “We’ve already delivered 145,000 bins and contamination rates [people putting the wrong thing in the wrong bin] are really low, which is great to see.” 

Each delivery comes with a 23-litre outdoor bin that will be collected kerbside once a week, at the same time as your rubbish and recycling bins, and a smaller “kitchen caddy” that can sit on a benchtop. The idea is you add scraps to the kitchen caddy as you cook and eat, emptying it into the outdoor bin as often as you like. That’s to “remove the ick factor”, Coe says – so you don’t have scraps sitting around getting manky in the kitchen. Also included are some compostable bin liners and, most thrilling of all, an informational brochure. Input your address to see when you’ll get a bin here

Aside from Papakura, which was the test model for the rest of the city and has had food waste collection since 2018, Auckland is somewhat behind the trend in terms of collecting organic waste – Christchurch has had green bins for food and garden waste for years, Hamilton, Tauranga, New Plymouth and Palmerston North collect food scraps, Wellington has trialled it and Dunedin is starting to collect food scraps from next year. 

How much will it cost me? 

The programme isn’t currently covered through the council’s general operating budget so it’s being funded through a targeted rate that every homeowner has to pay; currently $71.28 per residential property. 

a hand holding some greens abovea compost bin with a green bin
If you already compost, keep it up – but you’ll still have to pay the targeted rate (Photo: Getty Images)

What if I already compost? 

You still have to pay it. “We know there are a lot of people out there who don’t have the means to compost,” says Coe. Community Facebook groups have been running hot with comments from Aucklanders not happy about the charge, and Coe says that as the units have been rolled out, the council has had regular complaints that there’s no opt-out option. “It’s like a library – everyone pays so that those who need it can use the service.”

According to a Ministry for the Environment survey from 2021, 55% of New Zealanders say they compost at home; people with large gardens, lifestyle blocks and living outside urban centres were much more likely to say that they composted. There are also community composting hubs and initiatives like ShareWaste. However, many people’s home compost systems can’t deal with things like meat bones, dairy, bread crusts or citrus, so they still end up throwing some food waste into the rubbish bin. For those people, the council collection is designed to work alongside their existing compost system.

What can I put in this bin? 

Eggshells, shellfish shells, nut shells; flowers, compostable bin liners, tissues, bread and all the usual fruit and vegetable peels and scraps. See the full list here

This information is for Auckland’s bins specifically, as it is determined by what the food processor the scraps are being sent to (more on that below) can handle. It’s different elsewhere – the green bins in Christchurch, for example, can also take a range of garden waste.

three red yellow and green bins from christchurch
Christchurch’s green bins are beloved (Photo: Alex Casey)

What happens to the waste? 

The food scraps are collected manually, by a person grabbing the bins and tipping them into the truck rather than a mechanical claw; Coe emphasises that to make this more efficient, the bins should be separate from other bins, and grouped together if you have a shared driveway. 

The food scraps are gathered at central facilities across Auckland then taken to the Ecogas plant in Reporoa, near Rotorua. The facility, New Zealand’s largest, can process up to 75,000 tonnes of food scraps a year in an anaerobic digester – basically big sealed vats where bacteria can process waste without oxygen present. 

After being processed, the food scraps become solid digestate, which is spread on nearby dairy farms, and biogas, a mix of CO2 and methane. The gas helps to heat greenhouses which are nearby the facility – the carbon dioxide can help ripen tomatoes, for example – and extra gas can be fed into the natural gas grid nearby. 

a rubbish truck with a red sign reading "rethink your waste" on it
A classic Auckland Council rubbish truck (Photo: Our Auckland)

That sounds good – is everyone pleased?

Some composting advocates aren’t huge fans of anaerobic digestion or the fact the food scraps have to travel hundreds of kilometres to get to the facility, but others say it shouldn’t be a case of pitting one against the other. Whatever you think, it’s certainly a better outcome than food waste ending up in landfills, where it’s estimated to make up 25% by weight of all the rubbish there.

Remind me – what’s so bad about food waste going to landfill? 

When food scraps are taken to landfill, they get mixed in with other rubbish and buried. As the scraps rot without air, they release carbon dioxide and methane, exacerbating global heating. 

“More than that, though, it [food waste] has lots of energy,” says Coe. “If we’re able to use that and put it back, then it’s the start of a circular system.” Household food scraps collection is part of the country’s broader waste strategy, which aims to get councils across New Zealand collecting food scraps by 2030. 

Why don’t I just put it all down my Insinkerator? 

Organic material that goes through a waste disposal unit like an Insinkerator goes into the wastewater system. Sometimes, that material gets anaerobically digested, like food scraps will – it depends where you live and what kinds of waste your local facilities process. ”From the council’s point of view, we can’t guarantee that what goes down the waste disposal unit doesn’t end up in landfill,” Coe says. 

Waste disposal units – which have been banned in some parts of the world – have been criticised for being wasteful of the energy and nutrients in food scraps, as well as being difficult to clean. 

What about compostable packaging? 

Compostable bin liners can go in the food scraps collection – the council provides three rolls of 20 pink liners with your bin, and new rolls can be purchased at various retailers for $2.80. You can use any other brand of compostable liner, however, there are currently no labelling standards around what can be called “biodegradable” or “compostable” in New Zealand, so not all of these products will be able to be processed by the new system. You can also use paper towels, newspaper or paper bags to line your bin.

What’s the council hoping for out of all this? 

At the moment, Auckland sends 100,000 tonnes of food waste to landfill. Coe says that by 2024, they’re hoping for that to be reduced to 45,000 to 50,000 tonnes. “As we educate people and the programme continues, we expect to be able to capture more waste,” he says. 

For people who already have their bins – especially those who don’t already have a composting system in place – Coe is encouraging. “Just use it! Even if you’re only putting a few things in. Every little bit counts.” 

Keep going!