NZ's plastic problem: Staggering number of recyclable plastic containers sent to landfill every year

When it comes to New Zealand's plastic problem - it's time to face the facts. 

In a world-first study involving the rubbish and recycling bins of 867 households nationwide, it has been found that Kiwis throw out 1.76 billion plastic containers each year.

"It paints a poor picture, but it shows there's a lot of opportunity for improvement," says Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.

Researchers trawled through our trash for four months, discovering that out of the almost 2 billion plastic containers disposed of annually, a third of which will end up in the landfill.

"The end game is we want to use less and less packaging - it's not about recycling more, it's about using less. That's the ultimate end game," audit director and researcher Sunshine Yates told Newshub.

In the meantime, WasteMINZ says the priority must be better labelling. 

The audit found that every year, Kiwis throw out 181 million plastic containers with no label stating whether or not they can be recycled, leaving consumers to play a guessing game.

"The labelling has to be clear enough that you can rinse and look at the bottom of the product and know very quickly what bin it's going into," WasteMINZ chief executive Janine Brinsdon says.

Plastic numbers one, two and five are easily recyclable, but three, four, six and seven are not. If they get mixed, it contaminates the entire collection.

"We need to make it simple, we need to have products and packaging that's maybe three types, no more than that," WasteMINZ Territorial Authorities' Officers Forum (TAO) chair Parul Sood says.

"Why confuse it, in terms of going is this a one, or a two, or a five or a six. Let's just have it in a couple of types."

The Government says it's considering that as an option - but the immediate challenge is getting consumers to recycle at all.

Every year in New Zealand, 750 million plastic containers are sent to landfill when they should have been recycled. For the average Kiwi household, that's the equivalent of two bins filled with plastic waste. 

It comes down to either incorrect recycling - or putting their plastic in the 'too hard' basket.