Public complaints about waste disposal increased over the 1960s. For the first time pollution registered as a national political issue. Some 3.5% of those polled before the 1972 general election thought pollution was the most important problem facing the country.
Recycling was a top priority for environmental action groups in the early 1970s. In Auckland these groups engaged in public education on reducing and reusing waste. They successfully lobbied Devonport Borough Council to begin New Zealand's first municipal recycling scheme in 1976. In 1978–79 voluntary recycling and lobbying also resulted in Christchurch trialling a recycling scheme.
A 1982 survey found 14 councils doing regular kerbside collections of recyclables, 52 operating recycling depots, and six composting at tip sites. However, the great majority of councils were doing nothing. In 1990 North Shore City became the first city to institute a full kerbside recycling scheme. Over the 1990s more councils introduced kerbside recycling and in some cases green-waste removal.
Unlike most other cities, Wellington had a back-door rubbish collection, despite its hilly topography: ‘By the 1960s, the “dusties” had become a Wellington institution as they scaled flights of steps in search of backdoor rubbish bins, a canvas sack over their shoulder. … All dusties dreaded the “wet bin”, where filthy water accompanied the rubbish that was emptied from bin to sack. Dogs and broken glass were other hazards.’1
Getting serious about waste reduction
By 2006 almost three-quarters of New Zealanders had kerbside recycling. More recycling had stabilised, but not significantly reduced, total annual waste tonnages.
The waste item of most concern in the 1970s and 1980s was beverage packaging. At first the emphasis was on collecting glass bottles for reuse, then on the environmental impact of non-reusable bottles. Finally the environmental impact and disposal costs of non-reusable and non-recyclable plastic and cardboard composite packaging were recognised as a major issue. In 2008 a Green Party private members’ bill on waste minimisation gained government support and became law. It gave New Zealand a strong national policy on reducing non-reusable, non-recyclable waste, superseding the voluntary Packaging Accord of 2004. However, consumerism, excessive packaging and planned obsolescence of products meant that waste volumes remained high.