Ōpōtiki Mayor, Lyn Riesterer, acknowledged the petition calling for better rubbish bins presented at the Council meeting last week and thanked the author, Kaysea Cronin, for the work that went into it.
"I recognise that many in the community are struggling with our waste systems and processes at the moment and I understand where they are coming from. This petition is a great example of making sure the community concerns are heard and people have a change to have their say.
"There are a few separate issues that I think are coming together in the current unhappiness and so I think it is worth reminding people on some of the history and how we go to this point. Like most complex problems, there are no easy or simple solutions. At its crux, this is about reducing our impact on the world and finding a fair and equitable way forward and ways that council can tweak the existing system," Mayor Riesterer said.
Two years ago, Ōpōtiki District Council undertook a full consultation process to work with the community to find a solution to the issues associated with the previous 'black bag' rubbish bins and recycling.
"People might remember that we had black plastic rubbish bags and we constantly had issues with dog strike and the bags themselves were very small – smaller than the current rubbish bins. We just had the one recycling bin and it usually overflowed and was blown down the street as well. We knew we couldn't carry on with that system and we needed to find an alternative," Mayor Riesterer said.
But there were a number of key restrictions on any solutions on the table. One of the big ones was that if council moved to a larger-sized rubbish bin, it couldn't be collected by hand for health and safety reasons because it would weigh too much. Which would mean moving to a truck-based lift system which would require the investment in a specialist truck which would only be used one day a week with huge implications for cost, employment and infrastructure.
"We worked through this process and considered a number of options. We spoke at length with the community and heard feedback on a range of options. The solution we settled on was a rubbish bin that was larger than the bags, more robust, could still be collected by hand and rolled rather than needing to be carried up to the kerb.
"Equity was also a big part of it. We couldn't have a system that benefitted the really large families, but was subsidised by the single pensioner on a fixed income. We had to find a middle point and this was it.
"And I am quite proud to say that for a year or so it was working. There was a settling in period, and then the households on the rubbish collection circuit settled in to the new system.
"Until COVID. During the lockdown we really relaxed our standards because residents couldn't go to the RRCs and we wanted to reduce handling by our staff. So we picked up anything and everything and we let standards drop a long way.
"And then we started the process of getting back to where we were. And I need to apologise that we didn't give people a heads up that we planned to get stricter with our standards. We should have done so and I think that would have lessened the impact for people had we done so," Mayor Riesterer said.
In terms of next steps, the Mayor said that there were no quick fixes, but that council was working on a number of ways forward.
"We have agreed to start a review of our rubbish processes sooner than we otherwise would. But there will be no magic bullet – we have a contract in place for the current system and we want to make sure that any changes we implement are better than the status quo, are fair for all households and that won't cost ratepayers thousands more each year. We can tweak what is there while looking at what else we can do.
"One of the things I am keen to review is the possibility of people who want more capacity being able to get it – like previously people could buy additional council rubbish bags. I would like to see some consideration of how businesses pay for their rubbish because I think should be treated as a business cost that residential ratepayers shouldn't need to subsidise.
"So there are things we can do as part of this review, and I ask ratepayers for patience as we work through the process.
"Thanks again for the petition and the thought that went into it. Continue to do what you can for the town and the environment. Doing all those things that we know reduce our waste even when we are shopping, is important. Treading lightly on our whenua and taking care of our environment is how we work on the rubbish problems in Ōpōtiki," Mayor Riesterer said.