Reducing Your Recycling Stockpile while in COVID-19 Lockdown

Reducing Your Recycling Stockpile while in COVID-19 Lockdown

Wellington City Council has postponed recycling collections during the COVID-19 lockdown and will only be offering rubbish collections.** For people living in Wellington City (and other areas where recycling collections are temporarily on pause), who still want to reduce waste to landfill during this time, this post offers you some tips and tricks for reducing your recycling, as well as your rubbish, while in lockdown. Everything we suggest are all measures we will personally be taking ourselves! Note that there are still unknowns about how things will pan out so please bear with us as we provide this advice – we may need to be updating things.

**Please note that not all Councils across NZ have paused recycling collections. For example, Palmerston North City Council and Auckland Council, have confirmed recycling collections will continue. The best thing to do is check your local council website to find out how you will be affected.

But first! We recognise that this is a totally whacky time for everyone.

A big part of successful waste reduction is routine and habits – all of which have just gone out the window! Some of you will be feeling stressed and anxious, others distressed. You may not have the bandwidth to think about reducing your waste, let alone your recycling, right now. That is OK. Just do what you need to do right now to look after yourself. Nobody is judging you. The most important thing is that you comply with the strict self-isolation requirements.

For other people though, being able to reduce our personal waste and recycling (or simply to maintain zero waste practices we’ve already established) is one way of maintaining a semblance of control amidst the unravelling going on around us. For others, having a go at cutting back waste and recycling right now could even be a welcome (and fun) distraction.

So, we have produced this list of tips on reducing recyclables (in addition to standard rubbish) to help people who want this info right now. To reiterate, we’re not putting this info out to make anyone feel guilty or more stressed. We must all be kind to each other <3

With all that said, if you’re up for it, read on!


We and anyone else who already implements waste reducing practices will find it harder to do so now as many businesses that offer low-waste solutions to common purchases are temporarily closing. Those that are still open may not be accepting BYO bags/containers for now. So we ALL have to adapt, even if we were already doing well at waste reduction.

Zero Waste Principles Help to Reduce Recycling

Zero waste is all about following the zero waste hierarchy. From a zero waste perspective, recycling is a last resort. The zero waste lifestyle can help you to reduce the recycling (as well as the waste) you produce. We have been living by zero waste principles for over 5 years. In that time, along with producing only 7.6kg of waste between the two of us, we restricted our recycling to 7 crates of glass and 2 wheelie bins of paper and cardboard (with about 10 cans included in those). We know that it is possible to reduce recycling as well as waste.

Liam highlighting the waste hierarchy and how low down the priority list “Recycle” is. Photo Credit: Tonia Kraakman


This may feel all very overwhelming, but it’s also an amazing opportunity to be creative and try new things you’ve always wanted to try. One thing we hear so often on The Rubbish Trip is that people would love to reduce their waste but they feel they don’t have time to do so, or to learn the new things required to make waste reduction easy. This is the moment! You’ll save money and you’ll learn stuff that can carry over into the post-lockdown world. If you have any specific questions or concerns, remember that our virtual door is always open. Send us a message. We’re here for you 🙂 <3


If you have space at home, consider stockpiling what recycling you have that you cannot reduce. Recycling systems will reopen after lockdown. Wellington City Council has actually asked that residents do what they can to hold on to recyclables because putting them in the rubbish could overwhelm rubbish collection services. If you succeed in cutting back your recycling, you may find you don’t have much to stockpile at all. 

Be a space-saving ninja with some savvy problem-solving: Minimise the space taken up by your glorious recycling stockpile with some smart purchasing decisions. For example, can you replace items in packaging that is bulkier to stockpile with items in packaging that takes up less room—like choosing drinks in aluminium cans rather than bottles. However, rather than crushing your cans (flat cans are difficult for recyclers to sort), have a can stacking Me Party to pass the time while optimising your elaborate stockpiling Tetris. How high can you stack the cans?

Think of this a little bit like camping or tramping: When you go camping or tramping and it’s pack-in, pack-out, think about the things you do to reduce the waste and recycling that you have to carry out with you. Some of these things may be useful in this time, except now it’s not about what you have to carry out of a national park with you and more about what you have to live with in your lounge, corridor or garage for at least 4 weeks.


Wellington City has two packaging-free grocery stores where you can get essentials without all the packaging—Hopper and GoodFor. The latest news is that Hopper has closed for the lockdown period, but will be back with a vengeance once lockdown is lifted! GoodFor is still open and they can also do home delivery in brown paper bags. There are other zero waste stores further afield that will be running delivery in brown paper bags too (such as Be Free Grocer and Honest Wholefood Co). We would recommend supporting your local options first. If local options get overwhelmed, look further afield. Be Kind. Please don’t panic buy!

Lots of other businesses offer zero waste grocery options across Wellington. You can find them all on our Regional Zero Waste Shopping Guide. HOWEVER, note that many/most of these businesses will be closed over the lockdown. Others that are open might have bulk bins or refill BYO bag/container systems in normal circumstances, but we don’t have info on if and how they’ll manage these systems during lockdown—they may be temporarily suspended. Just play things by ear, remembering that you will have to be flexible.

Please, call ahead to check what a particular business’ approach is to their bulk and refill systems—don’t even think about visiting places in-person to do a reccie. You need to keep in isolation. Use the power of your phone and Google 🙂


Beverage containers

Beverage containers are one of the main items in kerbside recycling streams. Here are some things you can do to reduce how many you amass:

  • Refuse/Reduce: when we started living zero waste, we stopped drinking virtually all purchased fizzy drinks, flavoured drinks, juices and so on. We drink tap water if we are thirsty. This not only dramatically reduces your waste and recycling, it’s far cheaper too.
  • Replace: try homemade versions of fizzy and flavoured drinks – lockdown is the perfect time to get a ginger beer bug started, or to revitalise your kombucha! We’ve even made delicious fizzy drinks on the counter-top over a couple of days with things like feijoa peels – get creative! Check out this recipe for Feijoa Fizz from EarthSavvy, for inspiration.
  • Replace: it’s much easier to stockpile aluminium cans (they are light and small) than bottles. So, if you are finding it hard to refuse and reduce your purchased beverages and your glass and plastic bottle stockpile is getting a bit alarming, go for your favourite drinks in cans instead.


We’re giving milk its own sub-category here because it’s one heaps of families go through. Stockpiling plastic milk bottles is probably not a reality for most people and is liable to get smelly fast. Here are some options:

  • Replace: can you use milk powder (which comes in a plastic bag, yes, but much less volume overall for the litres of milk you get) instead of milk in plastic bottles some or all of the time?
  • Replace: can you use DIY mylk alternatives some or all of the time to reduce how much cow’s milk you need? Here are recipes for alternatives.
  • Replace: ditch the one-way plastic milk bottles and sign up for home delivery of milk in reusable glass bottles from Eketahuna Country Meats.

Tin cans

Tinned food is the typical apocalypse go-to item, but no one was prepared for the recycling system to stop. Whoopsies! If you can stockpile your empty cans for recycling after lockdown, that’s awesome – just make sure you wash them thoroughly so your house doesn’t become stinkytown.

If you can’t stockpile, here are some things you can do to reduce how many cans you go through:

  • Replace: use fresh fruit and veg instead of canned food. Supermarkets will still be open throughout the lockdown so you don’t need to worry about not being able to get fresh fruit and veg. You can also sign up to a veggie box scheme – some may not be running during the lockdown, but others will. For local options, check KaiCycle and Wairarapa Eco Farm.
  • Replace: use dried food instead of canned food. Lentils, beans, legumes etc. You can get all manner of these from the zero waste stores/deliveries mentioned above. You just need to remember to soak them the night before so they cook quickly. If you have a pressure cooker, now might be a good time to dust that off as they work well for people who forget to pre-soak dried legumes 😉
  • Replace: get into sprouting dried legumes rather than relying on cans. We are always sprouting and it’s also our pro zero waste camping and tramping hack! Just make it a habit to have legumes constantly sprouting on your kitchen bench. You don’t need an elaborate set-up. If you don’t have a sprouting lid, just put sprouts in one of your reusable produce bags and rinse them in that and then hang it up to drain. Or keep the soaked and rinsed legumes in a sieve over a big bowl! Sprouting is awesome because the sprouted legumes are ready to eat raw, or can be thrown into a meal and ready to eat just as fast as canned legumes. However, the great thing is that you don’t have to eat them straight away if you decide that you don’t want lentils for tea tonight after all – they’ll just happily continue sprouting away – just keep rinsing them. Google “sprouting” to find out more.

Paper and cardboard

For those of you who have been to one of our talks, you’ll know that in ordinary circumstances we avoid paper and cardboard as much as possible. When we go to zero waste shops, we avoid brown paper bags and use our own reusable bags and containers as it’s more in line with zero waste principles. However, in these circumstances you just have to go with the flow because many zero waste stores will be switching to paper bags only, temporarily. Or you may be in the supermarket having to choose between something packaged in paper and something in plastic. In those situations, we’ll be choosing paper.

HOWEVER, if you do wind up with some paper and cardboard, do whatever is in your power to avoid putting any of this in the rubbish. Paper and cardboard produces a lot of methane in landfill’s anaerobic conditions (i.e. no oxygen) so we want to keep it out of landfill as much as possible. Aside from stockpiling the paper and cardboard, here are some things we recommend:

  • Refuse and Replace: Consider cancelling newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Instead, listen to the radio, go online, or turn on your TV to get news. For magazine-like content, listen to podcasts or go online. Or read a book!
  • Refuse: Sign-up for an Ecomailbox sticker to deter junk mail.
  • Reuse: If you are getting brown paper bags from zero waste stores and deliveries, empty them out as soon as you get home to keep them in good condition so that you can reuse them later when we get out of lockdown. OR in a couple of weeks, Hannah will show you how you can upcycle brown paper bags (as well as office paper that’s Good On One Side) into beautiful notebooks!
  • Rot: If you don’t want to store paper bags and cardboard that others have touched (fair enough), shred them up and put them in your home compost or worm farm rather your recycling stockpile. If you don’t have a compost or worm farm, now could be a great time to set one up. Look online for tips. If you have limited space then you may want to look into a bokashi bin, but note that you cannot put paper or cardboard into a bokashi bin.

Other Plastic Food Containers

We’re talking plastic containers for things like hummus and dips, spreads, margarine, yoghurt etc. etc.

  • Replace: Many things that come in plastic jars/containers can be found in glass instead. That doesn’t necessarily solve the recycling problem (nor your stockpiling problem). However, glass jars are much better for reuse for things like storing bulk goods, but also preserving, which we may all be doing lots of now given the extra time on our hands! However, there’s a limit to how many spare containers you can use and how much marmalade you can make.
  • Reduce: If you can, buy the biggest containers/jars you can to reduce packaging overall. Avoid single-serve yoghurt pottles and suckies, for example. Apart from producing more waste overall, these single-serve items are also harder to reuse then the bigger, sturdier containers.
  • Replace: DIY dips and spreads, from hummus to marmite alternatives. Find some recipes on our website, but note that the internet is your friend!
  • Replace: Yoghurt – DIY/homemade. Look up recipes; it’s not as hard as you think and now is the perfect time to give it a go. Hannah has already made a batch of oat milk yoghurt using Raglan Coconut yoghurt as the starter.
  • Replace: plastic trays for biscuits and crackers – replace with homemade alternatives. You can find recipes on our website or simply Google. Baking is a great way to while away the time in isolation 😀
  • Reuse: Margarine – if you can’t go without, then keep these containers as they are useful for freezer storage, which reduces your need to buy new plastic cling wrap and resealable bags for the freezer. These containers are also easy to stack so don’t take up much room.
  • Reuse: choose butter in waxed paper, which you can keep and reuse like baking paper.


  • Refuse: Now is NOT the time to forgo soap and hand sanitiser, but are there some toiletries that we possibly could go without buying? Do we really need foot scrubs, body gel, and 15 different types of moisturisers?
  • Replace: Switch over to bars of your favourite toiletries instead of getting them in liquid form that requires plastic bottles. You can get shampoo bars, conditioner bars, deodorant bars, shaving bars etc. (find where these are stocked on our shopping guide). These can sometimes involve some trial and error to find the brand and bar type that work best for your body, particularly for hair. This period of self-isolation is a GREAT time to do these trials because nobody needs to see what you look like 😉
  • Replace: DIY toiletries. Just like switching to shampoo bars, now could be a good time to transition over to DIY deodorant or that no shampoo lifestyle. By the time we’re all out of lockdown, your armpits will have happily acclimatised to your baking soda blend, and your scalp will have weaned itself off shampoo and no longer be over-producing the grease and oil that makes you temporarily look like Professor Snape. Praise the Lord, there is a benefit to lockdown! Check our toiletries recipes for ideas.

That’s all for now, folks!

But remember, drop us a line if you have any questions, suggestions, or even just want to chat. We’re here 🙂

2 thoughts on “Reducing Your Recycling Stockpile while in COVID-19 Lockdown”

  • Hi Liam & Hannah, Thanks for this great advice – very pleased to see a photo from Alexandra to illustrate the article too! Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes District Council have both suspended recycling collection AND Wastebusters is closed so we’ll all be stockpiling here! Aroha to you both

  • Re used plastic containers from fresh milk, I suggest another approach; when making a cuppa tea or coffee (which we’re doing a lot while stuck at home) any kettle generally has to have a a minimum amount of water that is more than you need for the cuppa. So the energy that goes into boiling that extra water usually goes to waste – it slowly dissipates as the kettle cools. This happens however you heat the water.

    When you have an empty milk container and don’t have any other use for it, pour some of the residual hot water into it, give it a good swirl around, and empty it out – you an achieve two things at once; rinse out the container so it will not stink in your recycling, and soften the plastic so you can re-shape it. While it’s soft you can work out any frustrations you have by twisting it in your hands, as hard as you like, or you can stomp on it – either way it will take a lot less space in your recycling.

    Just remember, if your children are having a go just make sure the hot water has cooled a bit – no-one wants to have to go to an emergency doctor just now, with burns from the heat.

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