Christchurch businessman says 'endless' council bureaucracy stalling use of compostable coffee cups

Dennis McGrath says he's spent two years trying to get Christchurch City Council approval.
Dennis McGrath says he's spent two years trying to get Christchurch City Council approval. Photo credit: File / Getty

By Anan Zaki of RNZ

The importer of a compostable coffee cup says it has spent two years trying to get Christchurch City Council approval.

The plastic-free cup, sold by Christchurch company Ashbec, was the first of its kind to hit New Zealand shores in 2019.

Several South Island councils have accepted their use at events but Christchurch says it still needs more documentation.

Food truck operator Dennis McGrath is keen to use the cups but said an "endless" number of forms had already been filled in and efforts to be sustainable were being paralysed by bureaucracy.

The Tīmaru-based vendor takes his truck, The Food Den, all over the South Island.

Two years ago, he wanted to use new compostable products, which are free of polylactic acid, also known as PLA, at events.

Councils across the South Island welcomed the move, except Christchurch.

Ever since McGrath said it had been a constant battle with the city council despite the product being approved by Christchurch's own composting plant Living Earth.

"This has specifically been the problem that we've had for years. The council have always been the hold-up and then they said it was Living Earth," he said.

"Now we have Living Earth on board and they've approved the product for composting, and they will accept it. And we're back to the council who haven't got around to it."

McGrath said other councils, such as Tīmaru, Queenstown Lakes and Southland have had no issues about the PLA free, compostable products.

Christchurch City Council declined an interview request.

In a statement, it said Ashbec's products were in the approval process but the council was waiting for more documentation.

The council stressed it was not concerned by the product or material in it.

However, Ashbec general manager Chris Thomson said everything had been handed over repeatedly and he was getting tired of the bureaucracy.

"They have asked for documentation that proves that the product can actually be accepted into composting which we've done," he said.

"We've provided all the information that the composting requires, along with just everything that they've asked for. All the documentation, seriously, there is just lists that goes on, done it multiple times."

McGrath felt the same way.

"I just wonder how short-term their memory is because they ask the same questions. They get the same answers and yet they come back and say, 'we don't have the right documentation'," he said.

McGrath said businesses like his were trying to respond to Christchurch's pleas for better sustainability, but incidents like these were hampering their effort.

"We can't guarantee the rubbish ends up in the right place. But what we can do is know that if our packaging were to blow under a tree somewhere, it would break down and compost, there would be no bad products left over."