Kopu Re-cycling Works!
Wednesday, September 2, 2015 at 10:04AM
Bill Barclay

Despite some early skepticism, the advent of Grahame Christian's Smart Environmental Ltd. control of the entire solid waste collection and re-cycling operation for the three Eastern Waikato councils has probably worked out well beyond expectations at the outset.

It seems clear that Grahame's vision, apparently fully adopted by TCDC, followed by Hauraki and Matamata Piako with a ten-year contract, has resulted in an amazing improvement in the overall efficiency of rubbish collection throughout the area based principally on the introduction of the 240 litre bins, and ten sophisticated collection vehicles. But not just in this area; his vision and achievement has resulted in him subsequently securing the contracts for the Franklin and Rodney areas of Auckland City, Waipa, Manawatu, Rangatiki, Tasman, West Coast and Queenstown-Wanaka. Grahame has pushed in all these areas for similar cross-border arrangements in order to maximise the benefits of scale. 

Smart is now one of the 'big-three' including Waste Management and  Envirowaste. These three at least appear to be in brisk competition to secure council contracts throughout the country, and do not hesitate to poach territories when renewals come up for tender. 

Grahame's luck was enhanced with the serendipitous partial closure of the substantial Carter Holt Kopu wood products site (wallboard production proceeds on the same site having been sold to another company). The remainder of the site was almost custom made for housing the huge sorter, and all the ancillary storage of bottles, cardboard and paper, and various iterations of plastic, including farm derived wrap. The whole operation at Kopu involves a $9m or thereabouts capital investment, including $3m on the wheeely bins alone by Grahame - not a bad gamble!

Security at the site is tight, but a small group of which I was one was were given a full tour of the operation yesterday by Operations Manager Sean Hayes.

The facility handles the entire re-cycling needs for TCDC, HDC, MPDC together with Waipa, Franklin and Rodney, and probably has unused capacity. The entire SEL operation employs over 200 people with about 30 locally on and off the Kopu site. SEL in addition has the TCDC  contract for Parks maintenance including mowing etc. - a not inconsiderable operation.

For the record, and contrary to rumour, all glass is colour sorted at the roadside and proceeds through storage at the site, and transport to the glass factory in Auckland where it ends up as partial  stock for further bottle production. only a small (2%) of colour overlap is permitted to ensure true colour requirements are met for the various end users. The plastics and cardboard/paper are baled for export in containers to China for processing.

I was surprised at the level of cross contamination that appears to be tolerated in the latter - something that Sean indicated could vary depending on the whim of Chinese buyers who clearly believe that they are in a powerful position as the only processors  capable of handing vast quantities of similarly sorted material from all over the World. A recent Washington Post article indicated that with the downturn, there has been an immediate tightening by the Chinese in the level of contamination tolerated, to the consternation of US accumulators. See my earlier Post on this very matter dated 23 June. 

The giant processing machine that sorts the waste, with several handlers assisting at various stages is a sight to behold. The nasal assault was musty rather than pungent but Sean assured us that it was the opposite in summer, and dust is a problem as well. The influx of holidaying residents results in a marked alteration in the mix of product received - for example, the percentage of green bottles over brown (normally 60%) goes up markedly - read what you like into that. The noise was not remarkable, but the vibrating tables between the belts set up an insistent shake, rattle and roll that sorted the heavy from the light, and the plastic from the cardboard after dropping the paper down the shute.   

Regardless of the season, the amount of cross contamination with non-recyclable rubbish (including used nappies!) that ends up in wheely bins is a constant irritant, and one that those less responsible members of society should be required to observe "on the line." The stinking mess that appears on the conveyor belts of this and other 'rubbish' regularly is almost beyond belief, and no amount of publicity seems to alter this abomination as people seek to save on blue-bag use, or is it just plain laziness! The speed of pick-up clearly obviates the effectiveness of the streetside video examination of bin contents, and sanctions appear ineffective. 

Altogether, the whole operation is a credit to those who devised the system three years ago, and that includes the people who willingly undertake the actual work both on the road-side and in the Kopu facility. TCDC was prominent at the planning stage - dare I say it, under Ben Day's direction. If you ever get a similar opportunity to have a look at it, don't hesitate. But don't bother 'rocking-up' - casual visits are not welcome, and I suspect they keep a tight very reign on organised visits - health and safety being a major concern, let alone keeping compeditors at bay!


Update on Friday, September 4, 2015 at 9:28PM by Registered CommenterBill Barclay

It has been pointed out to me, correctly, that John Whittle chaired the Eastern Waikato Solid Waste Committee from the outset in 2008, and that it was this cabal of bureaucrats that devised the stucture of the operation that went to tender in 2011. This culminated with Smart Environmental taking over the entire contract in 2012. The contract commenced in 2013 and Grahame Christian made it work.

It is always preferable to get the facts right in the first place, but at least I am happy to give credit wherer credit is due. It was a great plan John, and your Committee deserve that credit - it is just a pity that you were not around to see it to fruition, and that others enjoyed the limelight that resulted from your hard work.




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