In an Australian first, a group of companies have collaborated to produce Australia’s first soft plastic food wrapper made with recycled content.
Food grade recycled soft plastic packaging is a key missing link in Australia’s bid to improve waste management and build a circular economy, with a lack of both collection and processing infrastructure making it difficult to keep waste out of landfill and impossible to meet demands for packaging with recycled content.
The prototype KitKat wrapper, which represents Australia’s opportunity to close the loop on recycling soft plastics, has been created by a coalition of companies with a shared vision.
Between them, Nestlé, CurbCycle, iQ Renew, Licella, Viva Energy Australia, LyondellBasell, REDcycle, Taghleef Industries and Amcor brought their individual expertise together to collect and process waste soft plastic, turn it back into oil, and create the prototype wrapper.
Turning soft plastic back into oil is the only path plastic waste can take if it is to be transformed into a food safe wrapper: innovative Australian technology that is ready for commercial roll-out in Australia.
The initiative emerged from a trial underway on the NSW Central Coast, where Australian Recycler iQ Renew and Nestlé are working together on a trial of kerbside collection of soft plastics.
These collected plastics, together with plastics collected via the REDcycle supermarket soft plastic collection, formed the starting point for the project.
Sandra Martinez, CEO of Nestlé Australia, said the project had been driven by a shared determination to resolve the soft plastics challenge – and an enormous amount of good will.
“Between us, we have shown that there’s a pathway to solve the soft plastics problem.
To build this at scale, across all states and territories, across hundreds of councils, is going to take a huge effort from government at all levels, from industry and from consumers, but I think it can be done.
“Manufacturers like Nestlé will have a key role in driving demand for food grade recycled soft plastic packaging, and creating market conditions that will ensure all stakeholders throughout the value chain view soft plastics as a resource and not waste,” Martinez said.
To date, soft plastics collected in Australia have been made into products like outdoor furniture, added to road base or used in waste to energy.
Viva Energy’s Geelong Refinery is going to play a crucial part in the pilot program which has the potential to create new life for soft plastics, such as the packets commonly used for bread, biscuits, lollies and snack foods.
The Plasticrude has been fed into Viva Energy’s Geelong Refinery where it was processed in the Residual Catalytic Cracking Unit (RCCU) to turn it into the basis of the polymer products created by another Australian manufacturer, LyondellBasell.
The food-grade propylene created by LyondellBassell was used by Taghleef Industries to create a metallised film, which was used by Australian packaging giant Amcor to create the prototype KitKat wrapper, before delivery to Nestlé which wrapped and distributed the much-loved chocolate delicacy we all know so well.
Danial Gallagher, CEO of iQ Renew, said that to improve the recycling rate of soft plastics, kerbside collection is an important point of convenience.
“In the trial, soft plastics are collected from kerbside recycling bins in a dedicated bright yellow bag, then sorted from the recycling stream at our MRF,” he said.
“To create the KitKat wrapper with 30 per cent recycled content, the soft plastics were processed, then sent to Licella for conversion back into oil using the Cat-HTR advanced recycling technology. This oil was then used to produce new food grade soft plastics,” Gallagher said.
Tanya Barden, CEO of the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), said learnings from the Central Coast trial will be informative as the AFGC works to develop an extended producer responsibility scheme for hard to recycle plastics, such as soft plastic packaging.
The AFGC received funding from a National Product Stewardship Investment Fund grant to develop the scheme arrangements, which will then be implemented and funded by industry.
“Among other things, we’ll be looking at how this model can be scaled up, ensuring there is healthy demand for packaging with recycled content and helping bring to life local industries that can unlock billions of dollars of value that’s currently lost to landfill,” Barden said.
On the 19th of March, Nestlé will host leaders from across the plastic packaging value chain for a roundtable event, The Wrap on Soft Plastics, exploring the opportunities and hurdles for soft plastics recycling.
“At the event, we will share the lessons learned so far from the Central Coast trial and begin to unpack the next steps on the road to reducing soft plastic waste,” Martinez said.