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Almost half of what we throw out is food waste

Tuesday 15 August, 2023

Every week, 42.8 per cent of what we throw away in our kerbside rubbish is food waste.

That adds up to a whopping 37.4 tonnes every week of uneaten food that we then pay to truck out of town to a landfill.

We know this because back in May a team of waste auditors came to Gisborne to analyse our community’s rubbish.

Between 15 and 17 May, 300 rubbish bags were chosen at random from across the city on their kerbside collection days.

In batches of ten bags, they were weighed at the start and then pulled open so the contents could be separated into 12 primary categories and 11 secondary categories by a team of four.

The separate categories were weighed again at the end to show what each category weighed.

The work isn’t as smelly as one might think, and the team who sort through the waste have an interesting time.

Some of their finds that week included unopened chocolate bars, salmon steaks still in the packaging, a dead mouse, some marijuana, and a bong, and one of the weirdest finds was what looked to be a dog poo covered in glitter.

While the thought of someone going through your rubbish, item by item, might be your worst nightmare, the data that falls out from these waste audits is invaluable.

Solid Waste Manager Phil Nickerson says this data helps Council plan where to aim funding in the future and where education programmes might help.

“It’s called a SWAP Audit – Solid Waste Analysis Protocol and was developed for the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) to produce waste data that is consistent across the country.

“The largest category of rubbish that was thrown away that week was “organics” which comprised 51.6 per cent of the total.”

This was broken down into:

  • Food waste 42.8 per cent
  • Greenwaste 5.5 per cent
  • Other organics 3.3 per cent

In second and third place was sanitary paper at 13.3 per cent, and plastics at 13 per cent.

“Council has a requirement to review and update its Waste Minimisation Management Plan (WMMP) every six years and ours is due to begin review.

“The last time data was collected in our region was 2017 for the last WMMP”, says Mr Nickerson.

“This WMMP looks at how we can manage our waste across the rohe and includes moving to a wheelie bin system for kerbside collection in Gisborne.

“This would include a bin for organic food matter to be separated into. We also run education programs through the Tairāwhiti Environment Centre to encourage people to shop wisely and look at composting options for their homes.”

Leading the waste audit in May were Waste Watchers Director Marty Moffat and Waste Not Consultants Director Bruce Middleton.

They’ve both been in the business for around 20 years and visit all 67 Councils in New Zealand.

Mr Moffat says this data gets people to start thinking about food waste.

“And it gives councils a really good indication of what to focus on in the future.

“What we do in Gizzy is what we do all over New Zealand, same procedures and same analysis.”

Mr Middleton says as a result of the work they do, councils know what has been going to landfills for the past 20 years.

Waste Audit chart 2023

Above are the percentages of what was thrown away kerbside in May.

Below is a link to alternative ways to dispose of some items, other than chucking them in your bin.

What to do with unwanted items | Gisborne District Council (

Waste Audit with Charlotte, Phil and Marty 2023

In front from left are Council Waste Minimisation Lead Charlotte Phelps, Waste Watchers Director Marty Moffat and Solid Waste Manager Phil Nickerson.

Behind them is the team of four who sorted through the contents of 300 rubbish bags and separated the contents into 12 primary categories and 11 secondary categories. The data that falls out of these audits helps Councils plan how to tackle the issue of waste.

Waste audit team 2023

Waste audit whole food thrown out 2023

Above: A selection of the uneaten food found thrown away in one rubbish bag in Gisborne during a week in May.