Christchurch City Council is one of only a small number of councils around New Zealand that have a kerbside organics (food and green waste) wheelie bin collection for its customers, with the contents being recycled into compost.

Biodegradable vs compostable

Compostable items are not the same as biodegradable items. 

If a product is proven to be compostable in a commercial facility it will break down and decay, providing nutrient rich material that can return to land as a compost/fertiliser.

If a product is biodegradable it can degrade over time in certain conditions but won't provide any benefit to land. A plastic cup may be biodegradable, it may just take hundreds or thousands of years. 

Why it matters

The Council aims to reduce contamination of organics (food and green waste) wheelie bins to preserve the integrity of the compost, and to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. Currently recorded as 50,000 to 60,000 tons diverted per year.

The contents of the green organics wheelie bin goes to the Council’s organics processing plant in Bromley, where it is turned into compost. If a truckload is considered too contaminated by non-compostable items such as cups, then the whole load may have to go to landfill, which means it can’t be recycled into compost. 

Takeaway cups

All takeaway cups and lids must be disposed of in the red wheelie bin, which goes to landfill regardless of the marketing material printed on the outside of the cups.

take away coffee cups There are currently no coffee/takeaway cups/lids that are acceptable for disposal in the green organics kerbside wheelie bins in Christchurch.

A number of companies, both locally and nationally, have branded their cups as either biodegradable or compostable.

There is currently no standardised labelling for packaging products in New Zealand, or regulatory framework to check the accuracy of claims. 

Compostable bags

The only bags that can be accepted in the green organics wheelie bin are paper bags.

Person holding plastic bagA kerbside collection driver, when checking for contamination on his screen in the truck as the wheelie bin is emptied, cannot tell the difference between a regular plastic bag and a plant-plastic bag (bio-plastic). No plastic/plant-plastic bags are therefore accepted. 

Most compostable bags are made from genetically modified corn starch. Whilst they may be able to be home composted between six and twelve months, they are not compostable at the Council’s processing plant and do not break down within the twelve-week processing time frame.

The Council screens out about 10 million plastic and bio-plastic bags from its organics waste every year in Christchurch, which then have to go to landfill.

New Zealand standards for compost

The compost made at the Council plant is required to meet NZS 4454:2005, the New Zealand Standard for Composts, soil conditioners and mulches.

NZS 4454:2005 prescribes compositional requirements, compliance requirements, sampling and testing methods for composts, soil conditioners and mulches. It is important to ensure that the products produced under this standard do not present a hazard to the environment or to public health.

The testing for contaminants ensures the product is free of material other than compost.  The most common contaminants are plastics, which originate from the input materials.

The physical, chemical and biological make-up and any contaminants in the final product must meet certain criteria. One of those criteria is plastics contamination.

The Council’s kerbside collection truck drivers watch the contents of the wheelie bins being emptied and sticker the bins where they see contamination. 

Read full details of our Waste Management Bylaw 2009 and kerbside collection and waste collection points terms and conditions and the Council's position on compostable items. [PDF, 64 KB] 

Trialling compostable food packaging at events

During the 2016/17 summer season, the Council trialled the use of compostable food packaging at three selected events.

man holding up compostable packaging This initial Composting Food Packaging at Events (CFPE) trial saw more than 190,000 attendees at the three events divert more than 12 tonnes of waste from landfill to recycling and composting waste streams (61 per cent of the total waste). 

With strong support for the initiative among the general public, the first trial was considered a huge success for the city and moved the Council closer to a goal of diverting 80 per cent of waste from landfill at our events.

Following the success of the first trial, the Council is planning a second trial so the initiative can be developed into a working model. It is hoped other Councils from around the country will follow suit and join us in delivering more sustainable events.

Please note that currently only events participating in the CFPE Trial 2.0 can commercially compost their event waste (food and packaging) in Christchurch. 

Contact regarding the CFPE Trial 2.0 or with any questions.

For any further queries about your organics kerbside collection service, please contact our Customer Service Centre on (03) 941 8999.