Common Interest

Thumbs Up to a unified nationwide waste and recycling strategy

Niamh Peren

Niamh Peren for Common Interest - Issue No. 01

Thumbs Up New Zealand (Tino Pai Aotearoa) is an exciting movement working to progress the creation of a unified nationwide waste and recycling strategy so that Aotearoa can be empowered to transition out of our waste crisis. We believe that together, we can make for positive change to this smelly situation. 

According to the World Bank, our precious Aotearoa stinks. In 2018, we were named one of the most wasteful countries per capita in the world. This is frightening, especially considering our nation’s industries rely on the health of our ecosystems. We need to do more to protect our communities, our environment, and our wildlife, and we can with Thumbs Up New Zealand. 

Thumbs Up New Zealand is a positive, inclusive, and solution-focused movement with a very strong sense of community. The petitions received 46,175 signatories, alongside letters of support from 47 out of 67 Mayors, who asked government to specifically action and implement our kaupapa. This was important as local governments are our biggest stakeholders in this space, and these 47 Mayors represent approximately 2.8 million of our population’s waste and recycling. 

Aotearoa currently operates a patchwork of waste and recycling programmes, which in their differences to one another, cause inefficiency and unaccountability. All 67 of our district and city councils have different recycling rules, meaning that what’s recyclable down one street is not necessarily recyclable down the other.

So, do you intimately know the resin identification code for plastics from 1-7, including the tiers in between? Do you know that the green recycling triangle is misleading? It just means that somewhere someplace in the world something can be recycled but not necessarily here? Do you know what your local government can and cannot specifically recycle? Lids on or lids off? What about paper, cardboard, cans, and glass?

Wishcycling, is the term for recycling an item without knowing if it is actually recyclable, resulting in contamination. Unfortunately, we are chronic wishcyclers, and that’s not something we should be proud of. However, it’s very difficult under the current scheme not to be. While we do recommend searching your council’s website to learn the ins and outs of recycling rules in your neighbourhood, we also think that these confusing systems are unjust. A unified nationwide waste and recycling strategy would empower us to reduce our waste, reduce our contamination, and optimise our systems.

Waste for the most part is out-of-sight out-of-mind for most, and so we need to keep it simple in order to create a mass movement, and we need a mass movement if we are going to make any real difference to the growing problem. It ought to be easy for both businesses and consumers to do the right thing; that’s what Thumbs Up New Zealand provides. Thumbs Up New Zealand has collected surveys from 66/67 local governments (as of October 2020) learning their waste and recycling capabilities so that we can create the unified nationwide waste and recycling strategy we propose for Aotearoa.

So please, never put your green waste, a dirty nappy, or an animal carcass into your recycling bin; it simply does not belong there.


Niamh Peren is the Founder of Tino Pai Aotearoa – Thumbs Up New Zealand. She recently won the esteemed President’s Scholarship to attend The New School, Parsons, in New York City to study a Master of Science in Strategic Design and Management based on her environmental kaupapa and mahi. She believes that together we can make positive change and transi-tion Aotearoa out of this smelly waste crisis.

Auckland, New Zealand