The Australasian Recycling Label Consumer Insights Report has revealed two thirds of Australians want more information about how to recycle correctly, while three quarters want the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) to be on all packaging. Read more
As the premier business event for the waste, recycling and resource recovery sector, AWRE returns to the ICC Sydney this 24 – 25 August. AWRE provides a platform for the best to come together and join forces for a world of solutions towards a cleaner, more sustainable future. Read more
Celebrating National Recycling Week last week, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) is leading a big change in how soft plastics will be recycled in the food and grocery manufacturing industry, via the National Plastics Recycling Scheme (NPRS). Read more
South Australian Independent Retailers (SAIR) have committed to becoming part of a more circular economy for South Australia, launching the Food Waste and Recycling Strategy for Foodland and IGA Supermarkets 2021-2025. Read more
Recycling and environmental sustainability are at the forefront of an international partnership that is making trade news headlines. The newly formed partnership between Bonfiglioli and French start-up, GreenBig, draws on Bonfiglioli’s vast experience of the recycling sector to develop an innovative, tailored solution. Read more
Snack and confectionary maker Mars Wrigley has revealed a new, two-year partnership with Danimer Scientific that aims to apply sustainable packaging across Mars Wrigleys products while testing the viability of home compostable packaging.
Construction is underway on a recycling facility in Albury-Wodonga that will see the equivalent of around 1 billion PET plastic bottles recycled each year.
While conscious living has continued to be an important factor in Aussies lives, a quarter (26 per cent) of the nation has admitted to having limited knowledge on recycling and soft plastics recycling.
Australia’s food and grocery manufacturers, represented by peak body the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), will develop Australia’s largest industry-led plastic recycling scheme, which aims to collect and recycle nearly 190,000 tonnes of plastic packaging per annum by 2025.
The Australian Government has announced the AFGC will develop the National Plastics Recycling Scheme (NPRS), supported by funding from the Government’s National Product Stewardship Investment Fund (PSIF).
The scheme will initially focus on increasing the diversion of soft plastics such as bread, cereal and frozen vegetable bags, confectionery wrappers and toilet paper wrap from landfill and it will move on to support the increased recycling of other plastics that are currently difficult to collect and/ or recycle. As an industry-led and funded scheme, the NPRS will coordinate and focus the efforts of well-known food and grocery brands to increase the recycling and reuse of plastic packaging.
This will build on existing soft plastics recycling initiatives including the industry funded REDcycle program and the soft plastic kerbside collection trial run by Nestlé, as well as projects and research by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation.
Read More: Nestlé and IQ renew soft plastic recycling trial
“Over many years, brand owners have invested in packaging innovations that reduce food waste and have moved to using lighter-weight plastics that have a lower carbon footprint. Continuing the focus on packaging sustainability, the NPRS will increase the recycling rates of identified plastics and reduce the amount of virgin plastic used in packaging, helping to meet Australia’s National Packaging Targets,” AFGC CEO Tanya Barden said.
The National Packaging Targets include a goal of recycling or composting 70 percent plastic packaging and incorporating an average of 50 percent recycled content across all packaging by 2025.
“We commend the Australian Government’s leadership on waste reduction and recycling matters, including their support for the NPRS.
“We’re excited about developing a circular economy in collaboration with our members, who comprise nearly 80 percent of packaged food and grocery sales, as well as governments, retailers, plastics and packaging companies, and the resource recovery industry,” said Barden
For food and drink businesses, the circular economy is not only a way to design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.
It’s also a way to encourage a new generation of talent to develop an interest in food manufacturing – an industry typically not perceived as cutting edge or super attractive by graduates.
Rich Clothier, managing director of cheesemaker Wyke Farms, says having a circular economy vision has made it easier to attract young people as new employees.
“Before, it was very difficult to get people to work in food manufacturing,” said Clothier.
“But now that we have an environmental edge, we are often able to engage with them early when they’re at college and university, and they become interested in what we’re trying to do.”
“We’ve collected some really good people that way.”
It might be time to look at your food manufacturing operation through a circular economy lens. This means you might like to adapt the skills you need from employees, their working practices, and your working culture.
Although new types of jobs might be needed for this transition, it’s much more likely to be about lifting the soft skills and knowledge of your business.
Here are five ways you can start embracing the circular economy in your business:
- Adopt systems thinking
Your team should understand what the circular economy is about and why it’s important to your business.
Many people still think the circular economy is simply about recycling food waste, whereas it’s much more about the entire lifecycle – how to design, develop, manufacture, and distribute a product.
- Place more emphasis on collaboration
Whether it’s pre-competitive research, sharing knowledge through industry forums or forging long-term collaborations with supply chain partners, the circular economy requires cooperation at every turn.
It’ll mean your business will have to undertake different, less transactional relationships that can develop into new ways of thinking and working.
- Move away from a linear culture
As your business moves away from a linear to a circular economy, you may also need to move away from a linear culture that silos departments such as marketing, procurement, procurement.
Having your business siloed like this can put up a real barrier to innovation and development.
Instead, think about organising departments around processes, products and inputs.
- Set incentives
If your business is serious about the circular economy, you should look at rewarding staff who put long-term resilience above short-term targets. Otherwise, they will be happy to keep ‘business as usual’.
This may necessitate the use of internal targets, incentives and bonus schemes. In the workplace, implement an incentive structure around increasing efficiency to get people thinking differently.
- Set up a separate project team
You may feel it worthwhile to create a separate team to work on circular economy initiatives, governed with different targets and incentives.
But be careful with this approach – if you employ someone focused on sustainability who is not senior, they might find it difficult to get their agenda across and sustainability up the agenda.
In the end, you need senior management support to get the best talent to lift your circular economy strategy.
Discover how software from Sage can help you adapt to the circular economy and achieve a competitive advantage in the food and beverage industry.
The amount of plastic waste flowing into the ocean could triple by 2040 as part of the estimated 1.3 billion tons predicted to choke our already strained ecosystem, killing marine life and polluting the land. A recent UK investigation found that microscopic, potentially dangerous plastic particles have become “part of the air we breathe”. But companies and governments can reduce plastic production in time, a new study indicates.
W-Cycle, an Israeli foodTech startup has developed SupraPulp, plastic-free packaging made of sugarcane waste that is compostable, safe, and yet durable enough to be used for greasy, wet, or hot food. Packaged food with SupraPulp can be frozen and heated with either an oven, convection oven, steam cooker or microwave.
SupraPulp is patented, field-tested, and an ideal replacement for plastic, aluminium, or foam containers. It is made from 100 per cent renewable sugarcane fibers, called bagasse, the dry, pulpy fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane or sorghum stalks are crushed to extract their juice.
SupraPulp is compostable, non-coated, toxin and metal free. The containers have unique characteristics compared to standard bagasse containers that make them the ideal alternative to plastic trays for food products, especially fresh, frozen, or prepared consumer packaged meals. While standard pulp products cannot sustain liquids and oils, SupraPulp containers are oil – and water-resistant and avoid any absorption or leakage. CPET plastic trays are typically used in for ready-meal packaging.
SupraPulp, just like CPET, is ideal for ready meals since it is suitable for freezer-to-oven/microwave convenience. Fresh meat, poultry & sea food are also commonly packed in plastic (PE, PET, Styrofoam) due to their juice runoff. SupraPulp is a great replacement as it will not absorb them, leak or soften. Following years of R&D efforts, W-Cycle’s new SupraPulp material is able to be frozen to -40°C and reheated to 270°C, inviting a comprehensive range of food applications. After use, the package can be disposed of as organic waste.
“Dispose SupraPulp packages the same way as you would your salad,” says Lior Itai, CEO and co-founder of W-Cycle. “This food-grade, compostable packaging is a one-to-one replacement for its plastic counterpart. There are other compostable solutions on the market, but SupraPulp has game-changing functionality consumers need when they want to heat, freeze, or microwave convenience food products. Plus, SupraPulp trays have a luxury look and feel compared to plastic, aluminum, or bioplastic containers.”
An independent national audit of recycling information on consumer products and packaging has revealed a situation that is confusing for consumers and does not support better recycling, according to the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).
The audit –conducted by sustainability consultancy Equilibrium –across supermarkets, take-away outlets, and convenience stores in two capital cities -found 88 per cent of the packaging components sampled were recyclable through either kerbside recycling or a supermarket-based return program, but that only 40 per cent of these products had a recycling claim present on them.
Additional findings are:
- 55 per cent of imported products and 64 per cent of Australian products sampled displayed a recyclability claim of any kind;
- 23 per cent of products had the Australian Recycling Label (ARL) promoted by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation;
- 29 per cent of products had the “Mobius Loop” recycling symbol;
- 29 per cent of plastic products had a resin code symbol which is often mistaken for a recyclability symbol;
- The Tidyman logo appeared on 15 per cent of products sampled, including both recyclable and non-recyclable products; and
- There was no consistent style, placement, or sizing of recyclable labels.
“The audit shows a dog’s breakfast of consumer information about what products and packaging components are or aren’t recyclable. It’s little wonder that the community regularly says that, while it strongly supports recycling, there’s confusion because of inconsistent, unclear and even misleading logos and claims on the products they buy,” Pete Shmigel, ACOR CEO, said. “The dog’s breakfast undoubtedly leads to some material going to the wrong place such as recyclables to garbage bins and non-recyclables torecycling bins. That means recycling rates that aren’t as high as they could be, contamination that is too high, and it’s harder to achieve national targets such as 70 per cent plastics recycling (from our current 12 per cent).
As the peak body for recycling, Shmigel said ACOR fsupports the report’s recommendations, including:
- Labels need to be specific about the management methods of allcomponents, and also include instructions to avoid contamination;
There needs to be a clear, concise and evidenced-based label placed on everyproduct and packaging type sold into the Australian market;
The preferred label should be made mandatory and be flexible enough to incorporate new technologies and systems as they come online to recycle more products;
The “Mobius Loop” could cause consumer confusion, and a short cut to achieving greater clarity and consistency is to remove these and plastic resin codes from packaging; and
There is a role for authorities such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in driving and ensuring clarity and consistency in environmental claims and labels pertaining to recycling.
“To make sure that every product that can be recycled is recycled, ACOR believes there needs to be a uniform labelling approach and that there should be a label placed on every product and packaging type sold into the Australian market. If we have such arrangements for nutrition, we can have them for consumer recycling. ACOR will make that case to the Commonwealth Minister for Environment,” Shmigel said. “Consumers can also be making the direct case to the manufacturers of the products they buy and actively ask company consumer hotlines: what is your approach to recycling labelling?“And, those companies who specify products and packaging must also step up to correctly label their products while the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission should ensure accuracy in environmental claims and labels. To that end, ACOR will formally refer the audit report to the ACCC for its consideration and follow up.”
“As the leading proponent for better environmental labelling in Australia, APCO welcomes robust discussion and feedback on the progress of labelling in Australia,” Brooke Donnelly, CEO, APCO said. “The report has identified something that APCO and our partners at Planet Ark and PREP Design have long recognised: that Australia needs a clear, concise and evidenced based label placed on every product and packaging type sold into the Australian market. It’s fantastic to see key sectors within the packaging supply chain recognising the importance of the labelling issue and we welcome their engagement and participation in the ARL Program moving forward. The ARL Program is the only evidence-based labelling system on the market and we look forward to seeing the ARL on every packaging format as the Program grows over the coming years.”
“After less than two years in market, we are excited to see the leadership and hard work of Australian industry being recognised, with the ARL featuring on approximately a quarter of all products on shelves. This is an incredible achievement within a short time frame. The ARL Program is continuing to grow rapidly and tracking well compared to similar programs being implemented globally. There has never been a better time to be part of the Program. If you would like to find out more, please get in touch with the APCO team today.”
“After many years working to develop the Australasian Recycling Label, Planet Ark is impressed with the level of uptake after launching the program with APCO and PREP Design just 2 years ago,” said Paul Klymenko, CEO, Planet Ark. “The uptake has been significantly faster than comparable international labels, and the Australasian Recycling Label has been recognised by international bodies like the United Nations Environment Program as best practice when it comes to informing consumers how to best dispose of their packaging.”
A new recycling plant will increase the amount of recycled PET plastic produced in Australia each year from local waste.
The decision to build the facility in Albury/Wodonga was confirmed yesterday after Pact Group Holdings, Cleanaway Waste Management and Asahi Beverages entered a joint venture to deliver the project.
It will create dozens of direct jobs when construction starts in coming months. It is anticipated the facility will recycle the equivalent of around one billion 600ml PET plastic bottles each year. The bottles will be used as a raw material to produce new bottles plus food and beverage packaging in Australia to help close the loop on recycling.
This will see the amount of locally sourced and recycled PET produced in Australia increase by two thirds – from around 30,000 tonnes currently to over 50,000 tonnes per annum according to Pact Group. Other major environmental benefits it will deliver include reducing Australia’s reliance on virgin plastic, the amount of plastic waste sent overseas and the amount of recycled plastic Australia imports.
Solar energy will power part of the facility. The $45 million facility will be located at the Nexus Precinct, 10km north of Albury/Wodonga’s CBD in NSW and will be among the first businesses located at the new industrial precinct.
Over the course of the build, the project is expected to create over 300 direct and indirect jobs, with tradespeople, engineers and technicians among the roles that need to be filled.
Announcements will follow regarding the hiring of these roles. Construction will start towards the end of the year, pending approval from Albury Council, and is expected to be fully operational by December 2021. The plant will draw on the expertise of each member of the joint venture, which will trade as Circular Plastics Australia (PET).
Cleanaway will provide the plastic to be recycled through its collection and sorting network, Pact will provide technical and packaging expertise while Asahi Beverages and Pact will buy the recycled plastic from the facility to use in their packaging.
The announcement follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the joint venture members earlier this year. The project was supported with nearly $5 million from the Environmental Trust as part of the NSW Government’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative funded from the waste levy. The project was also made possible through the support of the Department of Regional NSW.
Even during the COVID-19, 70 per cent of Australians are continuing to rank taking care of the planet and making sustainable choices as important to them, according to research revealed by Woolworths Group for World Environment Day.
Woolworths has introduced a number of initiatives to further reduce plastic across a range of fruit and vegetables, including bananas, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, broccolini, sweet potatoes and organic apples.
By moving out of plastic clamshell and into adhesive tape for bananas, replacing rigid plastic trays with pulp fibre on tomatoes, moving to a paper tag on broccolini and reducing plastic film by 30 per cent in weight on carrots and potatoes, Woolworths has removed 237 tonnes of plastic packaging in the past year.
The tray Woolworths uses for its sweet potatoes and organic apples is now made of recycled cardboard, rather than plastic.
Woolworths has also commenced a trial of where it will switch plastic packaging in its Fresh Food Kids range of apples, pears and bananas to easy-to-recycle cardboard boxes.
Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said; “Something that was very surprising during COVID was the continued relevance of the environment, with 70 per cent of Australians saying that taking care of the planet and making sustainable choices remained important to them, even at the height of the crisis.
“While we’ve made pleasing progress in reducing the amount of plastic in our stores, supported recycling labelling initiatives, and made improvements in energy efficiency, sustainable sourcing and reducing food waste, we know there is still much more to be done to meet our customers and our own aspirations.” said Banducci.
Since Woolworths removed single-use plastic bags in 2018, more than 6 billion bags have been taken out of circulation. Earlier this week, W oolworths also started to offer paper shopping bags, made out of 70 per cent recycled paper, for customers to purchase to carry their shopping home in.
In the past year, approx 10,600 shopping trolleys worth of soft plastics have been recycled through its in-store RedCycle program. Woolworths also removed a total of 890 tonnes of plastic from its fruit, vegetables and bakery ranges over the past two years.
This means that all Woolworths stores now have food waste diversion partners in place and in the last year alone, the supermarket has diverted over 33,000 tonnes of food waste from landfill to our food relief partners or donated to farmers as feed stock.
Martogg is a family-owned business founded in 1975. It has grown to employ hundreds of people and is a company that specialises in resins and recycled products for the plastics industry. With its head office in Melbourne, and branches around Australia, it is truly a national company that offers solutions for companies that require commodity resins, engineering materials, colours and additives and recycled products.
According to product manager Ben McCulloch, what makes the company stand out from many of its competitors is its all-encompassing business model and diversity that covers off on many aspects of the plastics industry.
“Martogg is made up of five companies that operate under the Martogg umbrella,” said McCulloch. “We are a trader of commodity resins as well as a producer of polymer compounds, masterbatch products/additives and recycled resins, serving the Australian and the regional plastics industry for over 45 years”.
One of the company’s main areas of expertise is recycling, especially of PET. Martogg realises that recycling PET is not only good for the environment, but it makes good business sense, too. They knew four years ago that the recycling of PET was going to become important, so started down that road back then.
“When we talk recycled food grade PET, we bought into the technology and first started producing and marketing it back in 2016, which was a bit ahead of its time,” he said. “Back then, the market certainly wasn’t where it is today. In the past couple of years we’ve really seen it develop and transition off the back of the China Sword policy that came into effect in February 2018. We as a country could no longer ship bales of poorly sorted waste offshore, we must invest in infrastructure to manage this waste and make use of the valuable resource”.
Being experts in plastics compounding and recycling helped because the company was able to take its know-how, spanning over 45 years, to understand and produce recycled PET that is recognised globally for its quality.
“What we are talking about is post-consumer waste plastic streams in the form of PET and converting back into pelletised resin suitable for the same application in which it originated from (e.g. bottle to bottle) McCulloch said.
“Take bottled water for example, I’m sure many consumers today wouldn’t realise that the bottle they are drinking from is made up of 100 per cent recycled PET plastic, the quality is that good. You’re actually rebuilding the PET polymer in the recycling process. marPET is being used today into beverages, meat packaging, cosmetics and household cleaning products to name a few applications. The applications are expanding as brands look to incorporate recycled content into their products”.
McCulloch said that many of its clients are starting to use recycled PET, even though it comes at an increased cost to virgin resin. This may seem a strange decision from a purely business stance, but there is much more to an outcome that just the bottom line – not only do brands see the environmental benefit of recycling, but the brands customers are also demanding it.
“We are talking to and working with businesses and brands in the FMCG space and they clearly want to be doing the right thing for the environment and from a sustainability perspective,” McCulloch said. “But their customer base is also driving and pushing it.”
McCulloch sees it is a win-win situation. Where it has been tough over the past few years, he said, is that it really getting into the brand owners – to understand that the material is available, but it is more costly than virgin material, but it is still worthwhile using it.
“In using recycled PET in pace of virgin PET, brands are going to save significant amounts of CO2 output and greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
“Many studies have been completed across the globe that show, over the entire lifecycle of rPET, in comparison to virgin PET, you are saving up to 80 per cent CO2 output/greenhouse gas emissions. The findings are staggering. You have to place value on waste material otherwise people just discard it and it means nothing to them. Then we see our landfills filling at a significant rate when we have a valuable resource that can be recycled and reused.”
So, how does it work? What is the process that Martogg instigates to enabled used PET to be reused in the food and beverage industry?
The raw material used for making food grade marPET is hot wash PET flake. Hot wash flake comes from PET bottles that have been placed in a recycling bin or container deposit system e.g. Return and Earn by the consumer, and which then get collected and baled into waste. This waste is then sorted, shredded and hot washed to remove residual foods, liquids, glues and labels and other contaminants.
“In order for the PET to be separated from other plastic contaminants, such as high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene etc, PET – given its density – will sink in this floatation sorting process,” said McCulloch.
“The PET sinks, while the polyolefin floats, which allows you to separate PET from other plastics. And with that process you are able to get the PET into a relatively clean state, but it is still not ready to be used back into FMCG packaging applications that demand food grade.”
To remedy this, the flakes are put through the company’s Vacurema lines, which is a high-heat, high-vacuum process. The high vacuum extracts moisture and volatiles from the PET feedstock and converts the flake into pelletised resin.
“We then send it back out in the form of food grade recycled PET resin – small pellets – where it can be used straight back into many of these applications,” said McCulloch.
Martogg works with businesses and brands to help them achieve their own sustainability objectives. Plastic has a fairly negative image in the market; however, this is largely due to our poor recycling habits and not the function of plastic which offers many benefits.
“The reality is, plastic is a wonderful material, it’s just how we dispose of it and recycle it that is the issue,” said McCulloch.
“If the average consumer understands the process, then we as a country could be much better off than we are. The reality is, for many years we have been used to packaging up poorly sorted bales of waste plastic and shipping it offshore and making it someone else’s problem. Now we are in a position to do something about it.”
He said that the battle all along has been convincing brands that they need to go down that path of rPET and drive the circular economy whereby the packaging materials they use can be re-used time and time again, rather than the traditional linear approach – making it, using it and then disposing of it either in landfills or shipping it offshore, with neither option acceptable anymore.
One of the things that separates Martogg from other players in the market is that it can offer recycled PET – or marPET as it is branded – as a 100 per cent standalone product, or at nominated blends with virgin PET.
It is a truly circular material that can be used in FMCG products that require food contact approval.
“For companies that are part of the APCO – companies that want to put recycled content in their product, we can supply them marPET blends, for example a 30-70 blend, which means 30 per cent being recycled and 70 per cent being virgin,” said McCulloch. “This way they can do the right thing and meet the APCO recycled content targets because their packaging includes recycled material and can be recycled again at the end of its first life; you can see how its circular.”
“The main thing for us is that we have been doing this for a while. It’s not new. As global demand for recycled content has increased, we have continued to invest in production capacity to support the market.
Our commitment to marPET is unwavering and by Q3 2020, we will have a third Vacurema line in our Melbourne rPET plant with combined annual production capacity of over 23,000 tonnes. The era of make, use, dispose is over.”
Nestlé and Australian recycler iQ Renew have announced a trial which aims to see soft plastics collected from over 100,000 homes through kerbside recycling and diverted from landfill.
With increasing consumer demand for improved recycling, the trial aims to find a way to collect, sort and process soft plastics that can be broadly adopted.
iQ Renew CEO Danial Gallagher said there is an opportunity in turning soft plastic from a waste to a resource. Soft plastics not only make up 20% of the volume of Australian household landfill bins, but are also frequently found incorrectly placed in recycling bins.
“Most Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) can’t separate soft plastic from other items in household recycling, so while soft plastic can be recycled, what we lack is a robust, scalable system to collect and process it using existing kerbside collection,” Gallagher said.
“We’ve designed the trial so that at the front end, it will support householders to pre-sort their soft plastic and get it into a recycling stream, while behind the scenes, we’ll test using the sorted soft plastic as a resource in a range of different manufacturing processes,” he said.
Nestlé Australia CEO, Sandra Martinez, said Nestlé wanted to find sustainable paths to recycle packaging.
“While we are working to make all our packaging recyclable, we know that soft plastics is an area that needs greater focus and collaboration. We need to find ways to drive more recycling here,” Martinez said.
“As Nestlé plans to reduce our virgin plastic use and increase the amount of food grade recycled plastic packaging we use, we need plastic to be collected. Given the low amount of soft plastic collected from consumers today, we hope this trial can unlock the significant potential for soft plastic packaging to become a resource.”
Martinez said Nestlé also wanted to help people to recycle effectively.
“Australians are enthusiastic recyclers and want better recycling systems that take plastic packaging out of landfill. This trial will uncover how households understand soft plastics collection and answer critical questions about how it affects their in-home recycling behaviour. We have a vision for Australia to have a waste free future.”
The project will commence with a pilot of 2000 households, then plans to expand to over 100,000 households later in the year, processing around 750 tonnes of soft plastic that would otherwise be sent to landfill. Locations for the trial are currently under consideration.
Plastic is an incredible material. It can be airtight and watertight, moulded to any shape, clear or coloured, shock-resistant, lightweight, and is chemically stable. Unfortunately, these last two features also mean plastic pollution poses a huge environmental problem.
In theory, plastic is highly recyclable. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), typically used in drink bottles, can be recycled back into new drink bottles, or even upcycled into raincoats or clothing.
But for this to happen, the plastic waste must be clean and separated by single plastic type, which is challenging when a typical drink bottle consists of multiple plastics – the bottle cap, the label, and the bottle itself. This mixing or co-mingling of plastic means that more often than not, “recycling” becomes “downcycling”, whereby the co-mingled plastic is actually turned into a lower-value product (for example, soft plastic bags returned to a supermarket are often turned into park benches or fence posts).
This is, of course, is still a much better result than it ending up in our waterways or oceans, but given the low material grade of the downcycled product, the end result is an object ultimately destined for landfill due to its inability to be recycled further.
Another obstacle for recycling is that virgin plastic is made from oil, which means its price moves with the oil price, and when oil becomes cheap, the economics of recycling are less attractive. A volatile oil price over the past few years has made the business case for investing in recycling infrastructure and operations particularly challenging.
In landfill, plastic is relatively innocuous on a generational timeframe. On a geological timeline, however, everything underground is eventually churned to the surface, so burying it isn’t a sustainable solution for the planet.
Once plastic gets out into the biosphere, ultraviolet rays from the sun break it down into small, lightweight pieces that clog the ecological systems we depend on for clean air, water and food.
The most publicised challenge is the great mass of plastics accumulating in waterways and the oceans. These micro pieces are eaten by the diverse range of creatures that form the base of the global food chain, clogging their stomachs and effectively starving them on a full belly. Plastic has now become so ubiquitous in the food chain that it’s found in the most remote corners of the globe – in 90 per cent of sea bird stomachs, and in increasing concentrations in our bodies.
Just over half of this ocean plastic is thought to be leakage from land, with the balance coming from contamination directly into the ocean by way of littering, fishing nets, lost cargo from ships etc.
With their huge catchment areas, the Amazon and Niger basins are significant contributors to ocean plastic pollution. Asia, though, with 15 of the world’s 20 most polluting rivers, is the plastic pollution epicentre. This is partly due to municipal waste mismanagement.
However, given the Western world has been shipping its contaminated, mixed plastic waste streams to Asia for decades with the expectation that Asia would magically make the problem go away, we’ve all contributed to this pollution. Last year, China declared it would no longer be the global plastic dumping ground, providing the rest of the world with a plastic reality check.
Rather than just looking for a new country in which to dump our waste, we need to rethink the services plastics provide, and how we can create systems to maintain the value of these finite materials as they move through the economy. The Victorian government is aiming to stimulate this change through the ban on the lightweight plastic shopping bags, due to come into force on 1 November.
India taking action
India, meanwhile, is taking its plastic action much further. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced his government is aiming to limit the consumption of single-use plastic – including bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets – with expected restrictions on its manufacture and importation. His stated goal is to eliminate it by 2022.
The reality is that with its population density and management practices, plastic pollution isn’t just a global environmental issue; it has a direct impact on the quality of life across the country. As one of the two most populated nations on Earth, and a significant contributor to global plastic pollution, this commitment will hopefully deliver meaningful environmental benefits.
These types of bans help raise awareness of the issues and prompt individuals to rethink daily habits to reduce single-use plastic waste. Significant reductions have been measured in countries that already have “plastic bans” in place, including Ireland and China.
However, it wasn’t the ban on ozone-depleting substances alone that saved the ozone layer – it was the development of economically attractive alternatives that transformed the market.
Single-use plastics provide incredibly useful services. Storing and transporting basic needs such as food and beverages, they’ve become such a fundamental part of modern life that if we’re going to replace them, we need to find convenient and economically attractive alternatives. Further to this, if you’re a mobile food vendor, cheap and disposable packaging in which to sell your product can be fundamental to your livelihood.
Enter the circular economy, where products and material are maintained at their highest value, ideally in perpetuity. Biological materials (such as timber, food and soil) are managed in a regenerative cycle, where food waste is processed back into soil conditioner to sustain the system. Finite materials such as plastics and metals are designed for reuse, repair and, ultimately, economical recycling, maintaining the materials in a closed loop.
Solving the plastic challenge begins with rethinking the “job” we’re asking plastic to do, and how we can do it in a way that creates and retains value. For example, filing a reusable drink bottle with pristine Melbourne drinking water eliminates the energy and material value lost when we throw away single-use plastic bottles. Similarly, dining in with friends on reusable crockery is infinitely more valuable to our wellbeing than eating out of a disposal plastic container on the fly, or at your desk.
In the case of India, bringing products such as bowls and cutlery into the market that retain value after use will enable meaningful secondary markets to form – for example, collecting, cleaning and reselling those products.
As important as individual choices are, global challenges require political leadership to reshape our economic systems to enhance the human experience while protecting and regenerating the biosphere we all depend on for our quality of life and ultimate survival.
This will be explored in an upcoming Lens article, but in the meantime, political leadership is unlikely to self-emerge, especially in the current climate – it’ll be driven by individuals and communities calling for action and walking the talk.
So, although your reusable shopping bags and drink bottle aren’t going to solve the problem on their own, if enough of us show the way, the system will follow.
Unilever has announced that by 2025 it will eliminate more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic packaging and collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells.
The company, owner of brands including Lipton, Ben & Jerry’s and Walls Ice Cream, has announced new commitments to reduce its plastic waste and help create a circular economy for plastics
Unilever has confirmed that by 2025 it will:
- Halve its use of virgin plastic, by reducing its absolute use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerating its use of recycled plastic.
- Help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells
This commitment makes Unilever the first major global consumer goods company to commit to an absolute plastics reduction across its portfolio.
Unilever is already on track to achieve its existing commitments to ensure all of its plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and to use at least 25 per cent recycled plastic in its packaging, also by 2025.
“Plastic has its place, but that place is not in the environment. We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking radical action at all points in the plastic cycle,” said company CEO Alan Jope.
“Our starting point has to be design, reducing the amount of plastic we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources. We are also committed to ensuring all our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable.
“This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products. It requires us to introduce new and innovative packaging materials and scale up new business models, like re-use and re-fill formats, at an unprecedented speed and intensity.”
Unilever’s commitment will require the business to help collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually by 2025. This will be delivered through investment and partnerships which improve waste management infrastructure in many of the countries in which Unilever operates.
READ MORE: Preventing a global recycling armageddon
“Our vision is a world in which everyone works together to ensure that plastic stays in the economy and out of the environment. Our plastic is our responsibility and so we are committed to collecting back more than we sell, as part of our drive towards a circular economy. This is a daunting but exciting task which will help drive global demand for recycled plastic,” said Jope.
Since 2017, Unilever has been transforming its approach to plastic packaging through its ‘Less, Better, No’ plastic framework.
Through Less Plastic Unilever has explored new ways of packaging and delivering products – including concentrates, such as its new Cif Eco-refill which eliminates 75 per cent of plastic, and new refill stations for shampoo and laundry detergent rolled out across shops, universities and mobile vending in South East Asia.
Better plastic has led to pioneering innovations such as the new detectable pigment being used by Axe (Lynx) and TRESemmé , which makes black plastic recyclable, as it can now be seen and sorted by recycling plant scanners, and the Lipton ‘festival bottle’ which is made of 100% recycled plastic and is collected using a deposit scheme.
As part of No plastic, Unilever has brought to the market innovations including shampoo bars, refillable toothpaste tablets, cardboard deodorant sticks and bamboo toothbrushes. It has also signed up to the Loop platform, which is exploring new ways of delivering and collecting reusable products from consumers’ homes.
Shoppers recycled enough pieces of plastic to go around the world one and half times at Coles last year, representing a 32 per cent increase on the previous year.
Revealed in Coles’ Sustainability Report, Coles customers recycled 905 tonnes or 226 million pieces of soft plastics – including packaging such as biscuit packets, lolly bags, frozen food bags and bread, rice and pasta bags which cannot be recycled through most kerbside recycling services.
Coles became the first major Australian supermarket to roll out REDcycle bins in all supermarkets last year.
Customers can place plastic bags and soft plastic packaging in REDcycle bins at the front of Coles stores so they can then be recycled for a range of uses such as furniture, playground equipment and materials for walkways in parks, roads and bollards.
Locals in Hornsby in New South Wales, Yarraville in Victoria, Kenmore in Queensland, St Agnes in South Australia, Kingston in Tasmania, Jamison in ACT and Inglewood in Western Australia are among the most dedicated soft plastic recyclers in the country, with these stores diverting the most plastic from landfill.
READ MORE: The future of soft plastics to be discussed
Coles chief property and export officer Thinus Keeve said customers should be commended for remembering to bring their soft-plastics back to store.
“The increase in use of REDcycle bins shows just how significant the issue of reducing waste has become for customers,” he said. “We know that recycling is important to our customers, and we are seeing many people changing their habits to reduce waste that ends up in landfill.”
“Since we partnered with REDcycle in 2011, our customers have recycled enough pieces of plastic to go around the world five times which is just fantastic. We want to become Australia’s most sustainable retailer, so we are looking at ways to divert even more waste from landfill and reduce packaging.”
The soft plastic collected in REDcycle bins at Coles supermarkets is used as a raw material by Australian manufacturers, Replas and Plastic Forests. It is converted into a range of uses, including playground benches, garden edging, wheel stops, walkways in parks, bollards and the customer seats used in Coles supermarkets. REDcycle has also partnered with Close the Loop and Downer EDI to provide soft plastic for road base.
RED Group director of development Elizabeth Kasell is proud that consumers have jumped on board to support soft-plastic recycling. This is helping retailers, distributors and manufacturers work together for a better outcome for materials that were previously going to landfill.
“The beauty of this program is its simplicity. We’re not asking people to change their routines – it’s just a matter of remembering to take their plastic packaging with them next time they visit their local Coles supermarket. And we were delighted to roll out our bins to Coles supermarkets across the country, it’s made a huge difference,” Kasell said.
As a consumer, you might have heard about the “Waste Hierarchy” and the 5Rs. From a consumer perspective they are:
• Refuse – do not purchase unwanted items.
• Reduce – eliminate single-use packaging wherever possible. This means declining plastic coffee cups, shopping bags, straws and buying products that are sustainable.
• Reuse products more than once. Purchase reusable water bottles, keep-a-cups, and recyclable shopping bags
• Recycle – ensure that you place your products in the recycling bins and purchase products that are recyclable. Look for products that are using the new Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) to better understand the true recyclability of the materials.
• Repurpose – purchase products that are made from recycled materials – consciously purchase bags, shoes, furniture, jewellery that you know is made from recycled content.
Mindsets have shifted over the last few years, and globally consumers are actively driving brands and their packaging departments to supplement sustainable packaging design to incorporate the 5Rs and to redesign with environmental impacts in mind.
Packaging technologists are being asked to reconsider the outcomes of their packaging design all the way across the supply chain from manufacturing to recycling, and also consider a closed-loop and more circular approach. Packaging design can no longer be linear.
When discussing the waste hierarchy from a packaging design perspective, reduce, reuse and recycle are the three most important areas for long-term changes as they are the preventative measures with the highest level of impact.
Achievable steps for packaging technologists can include redesigning the shape and size of a product, reducing thickness and weight of materials, shifting to recyclable materials, and developing a closed-loop system for products. However, any adaptations to the packaging design, structure and form must not compromise the ultimate purpose of packaging, which is maintain the ability to protect, preserve, contain, communicate and transport a product to the consumer. First and foremost, packaging must remain fit-for-purpose before any structural changes are made to a pack. The AIP encourages all packaging teams to undertake a lifecycle assessment where possible before any pack is altered. A redesign feature of packaging that consumers are embracing is reuse whereby a customer can refill their products using the same packaging. It is important to note that reusable containers have less impact on the environment than one that is single use. Packaging technologists need to re-imagine their packaging for continued use and the ability to have multiple uses for the consumer.
Consumers are also driving the focus to what is really happening with packaging and the end of life. Packaging technologists are now being asked to stop and review their packaging and find out whether it is actually being recycled or landfilled in the country it is sold in. The availability of the APCO PREP tool enables this decision making. In addition, if the material is capable of being recycled in the country in which it is sold, then consumer waste and greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced across the lifespan of the product.
This in turn achieves the 2025 National Packaging Targets that all brands are working towards.
If the material is unable to be recycled, then look at the possibility of moving to a recycled content, and even the use of renewable resource raw materials. Once again, the AIP urges consumers to undertake a full lifecycle assessment if possible, before moving to recycled content to determine if this is in fact the best decision for a product.
A recent example of the reuse, refill and recycle concept that has considered the product all the way through the supply chain is Cif ecorefill. Unilever announced on its global website the launch of Cif ecorefill, the new at-home technology that allows consumers to refill and reuse their Cif spray bottles for life. Cif has worked to create a no-mess solution, becoming the first household cleaning brand to do so with this pioneering twist and click refill design. Made with 75 per cent less plastic, Cif ecorefill attaches to the current Cif Power & Shine bottles. Through its technology, it seamlessly releases the super-concentrated product into the bottle, which is filled with water at home. The ecorefills are 100 per cent recyclable once the plastic sleeves are removed and, by the end of 2020, the ambition is for all Cif ecorefills and spray bottles to be made from 100 per cent recycled plastic. Going smaller is certainly better – the ecorefills are lightweight and save on storage space. Diluting the product at home means 97 per cent less water is being transported,
fewer trucks on the road and less greenhouse gas emissions.
Every day, more companies are announcing refillable packaging solutions including cosmetics and beauty, toiletries such as shampoo and soaps, cleaning products and beverages. The journey to sustainable packaging has only just begun and it is exciting to see what innovative designs packaging technologists are working on that address reduce, reuse, refill and recycle.