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  • Every New Zealander generates about 735 kilograms of waste per year – an amount that has increased approximately 20% over the last 3 years. Most waste produced in New Zealand is buried in landfill sites, and this produces 5% of New Zealand’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. The sad thing is that about 75% of that waste can be recycled. It all starts with you and me. Let’s recycle right!

    Rights: WasteMINZ

    Household waste

    A truck dumping waste at the resource depot. Unless rubbish is separated into different categories for recycling (paper, plastics and glass), waste is put into landfill – simply burying all the waste in a large hole in the ground.

    What do we mean by recycling?

    Recycling is the process that turns used materials into a new product that can be used for either the same purpose or a new one. The resources on our planet are limited, so it’s important to conserve, recycle and reuse whenever possible. A closed-loop recycling system means resources are reused over and over again and are not lost by going into a landfill.

    Waste as a resource

    Diverting waste from landfills to recycling centres is turning waste into a resource. Much of the waste generated by households can be separated and reused, recycled or turned into compost. Recycling reduces the demand for the production of new products.

    Learning how to recycle effectively is an important factor in reducing the amount of waste going to landfill and looking after the safety of people who work in the recycling industry. Everyone can play a part in reducing waste by thinking about buying choices – purchasing goods made with or wrapped in recycled materials is key to creating a closed-loop recycling system. This all helps New Zealand become a more sustainable society.

    Resources for levels 1–4 of the New Zealand Curriculum

    Below are some resources produced by Visy to help our younger New Zealanders understand how to recycle right by exploring the recycling process and the properties of materials.

    Recycle right – it all starts with you and me!

    Students will:

    • explore and discuss kerbside recycling – its purpose and our responsibilities
    • identify the materials that cannot be recycled
    • discuss why recycling right is good for the safety of workers and the efficiency of the process
    • understand that they can become ambassadors for great recycling practices.

    Download resources: Recycle right and It all starts with you and me!

    Auckland recycling – learning opportunity 1

    Auckland City is growing and so is its waste. This video shows how to get it right when recycling in Auckland.

    Sorting technology – learning opportunity 2

    Take a look inside the materials recovery facility (MRF) to see how glass, paper and cardboard, aluminium, steel and plastics are sorted into their different types.

    The recycling process

    Students will:

    • look at the way materials are sorted at the recycling plant
    • discover how different plastics are identified and different colours of glass sorted
    • understand that this is the first step in the recycling journey.

    Download resources: The recycling process and Step by step.

    What can we recycle? – learning opportunity 2

    What can we recycle in New Zealand? This video looks at all the things we can recycle.

    Related content

    Plastic is an amazing material. This article explores the history and properties of plastic.

    Watch the video Flight Plastics recycling plant in action for a more detailed explanation of the plastic recycling process.

    Science and literacy – making connections is a recorded webinar that explores the connections between science and literacy learning and how they can be integrated.

    Find out more about the structure of landfills in New Zealand.

    We have curated information from the Building Science Concepts Book 60 Rubbish: How Do We Deal with It? for use in the early to middle primary years.

    The Seagull Centre in Thames is a community initiative to divert items from the landfill.

    Download Kuputaka Māori mo para – te reo Māori words associated with rubbish and recycling.

    Activity ideas

    Want to find out what a landfill looks like? Try this online interactive or paper-based labelling activity.

    Use the activity Looking at modern landfill systems to deepen understanding regarding the history and science of landfills and how students can take action to reduce what goes into landfills.

    Thinking about landfills is a ready-to-use cross-curricular student worksheet for NZC levels 4–5. It does not require internet access – making it suitable for students working away from a school setting.

    The Hub activity DIY plastic recycling plant uses a Flight Plastics video and written resources to design and operate a PET plastic wash and recycling plant, loosely based on the Flight Plastics process. It is suitable for middle and upper primary students.

    Determining the properties of plastic and glass has activities that are adaptable for young students to explore similarities and differences in properties of recycling materials.

    Useful links

    Read this Stuff news story From billies to bottles to unbreakables: milk through the decades.

    Is going back to glass bottles a good thing? Read the pros and cons here.

    What is it like to pick up kerbside recycling? Read one perspective in this Stuff article. (Remember to rinse your recycling!)

    Want to know more about what can be recycled? Have a look at this video from Visy.

    The Building Science Concepts Book 61 Recycling: New Uses for Rubbish supports the understanding that materials can be classified by their properties.


    These downloadable resources have been produced by Cognition Education for Visy Industries and Auckland Council.

      Published 9 November 2018, Updated 8 March 2022 Referencing Hub articles
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