Recycling plastic the natural way: Natures Organics

Natures Organics explains its journey to producing products made from 100 per cent recycled plastic.

It’s been a steep learning curve since personal care manufacturer Natures Organics launched in 1981.

With a focus on plant-based ingredients and pioneering environmentally responsible formulations, Natures Organics has had to make tough decisions in its manufacturing of products such as laundry liquids, floor and surface cleaners and body wash.

With recycled plastic pellets expensive and difficult to source, the company began using recycled plastics around 10 years ago. The bold move was no easy decision, as Natures Organics found it difficult to swap out virgin plastic stock for recycled plastic pellets.

Over the past decade, technical modifications allowed it to produce 100 per cent recycled PET in its products and the company has since led the way in maintaining this structure.

As an Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation member within the co-regulatory body’s membership of more than 1400 members, Natures Organics has already matched and exceeded the voluntary 2025 National Packaging Targets.

It is now encouraging more businesses to use its resources and networks to meet the targets.

In recent years, Natures Organics has been able to match the sustainability of its packaging in line with its original environmental goals.

For many brands, changing the look of a product is usually a marketing strategy. However, when Natures Organics redesigned the bottles of its Organic Care range in early 2019, the purpose was environmental.

Natures Organics uses pellets of Australian recycled plastics to mould and blow all of the bottles for its nine brands of liquid products. Nowadays nearly all of the 43 million bottles the company produces a year, across a range of 130 products, are made from 100 per cent recycled plastic. Likewise, every plastic is 100 per cent recyclable.

“We call it bottles from bottles – which is very important in a sector that still relies heavily on bottles and containers made from virgin plastic derived from petroleum,” says Nancy Clay, Commercial Manager of Natures Organics.

Natures Organics is well aware that the relationship between consumers and plastic is souring. In saying that, the company acknowledges the challenges of finding a practical alternative for liquid products as they are generally advantageous over glass and metal across price, flexibility, weight and durability.

“I think the push from Australian consumers is that they don’t want plastic at all, especially after seeing the War on Waste. Many consumers want plastic free options,” Nancy says.

“Unfortunately in our space that is not easy or practical to implement.”

The Melbourne-based manufacturer recently found a solution to coloured, dark or black plastics in their plant-based hair and skin products that were difficult for materials recovery facilities to detect. In response, the company stripped out pigments and moved to clear bottles allowing them to be passed through the recycling stream.

Nancy says the latest modification is just another step along a sometimes unpredictable road to more sustainable packaging. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for Natures Organics with the company encountering difficulties in some areas of its packaged products.

New technical challenges arose when Nature Organics produced large bottles requiring handles for their laundry liquids made from 100 per cent HDPE. The bottles split, deformed or failed. The company discovered that some virgin HDPE plastic was still required and for this reason now use a 50:50 mix in HDPE bottles.

Then there was the challenges of price and supply. It was not until 2016, Nancy says, that a steady supply of recycled pellets was available in Australia. Yet that came at an additional cost of about 15 per cent more than virgin plastics.

More recently, the rapid emergence of compostable bioplastics on the Australian and global market seemed like an attractive alternative to petroleum-based plastics.

As a company that distinguishes itself in the market as a plant-based range of brands and products, these corn-based plastics appeared compatible with the company’s environmental ethos.

It was an option worth pursuing, Nancy says. However, the company’s first compostable plant-based containers immediately hit two hurdles.

First, the current generation of bioplastics must be composted in industrial facilities at temperature of at least 60° C and high humidity, which were not available in Australia. And, second, if they were mixed in with conventional waste plastics, they were not benign. Compostable bioplastics could contaminate entire batches of potentially recyclable plastics, creating an unintended negative environmental impact.

“It’s hard to distinguish between the bioplastic waste bottles and conventional waste plastics. I think both consumers and recyclers were confused,” she says.

So, bioplastics were shelved for the time being and Natures Organics went back to recycled plastic pellets.

While consideration is being given towards plastic-free packaging, Nancy says that ultimately it’s the circular economy model that currently offers the best solutions.

Today, the company buys only pellets of recycled plastic waste that have been processed onshore.

Natures Organics uses its own labels to identify its bottles as made from recycled plastics. The upcoming extension of APCO’s Australasian Recycling Label to include the recycled content of packaging will also align with its business model.

However, without greater demand for recycled plastic pellets, there won’t be more investment in the recycling infrastructure that’s needed to boost resource recovery in Australia. Nancy says that companies therefore need to help drive demand for recycled materials every step of the way.

And, while plastics are not infinitely recyclable, the environmental returns are considerable.

Every used bottle that makes its way into the recycling stream can be reprocessed 10 times, avoiding the production of ten virgin plastic bottles.

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Packaging progress: ALDI

Daniel Baker, ALDI Australia’s Corporate Responsibility Director, explains the company’s new packaging commitments and the complexities of the grocery supply chain.

When ALDI entered the Australian market in 2001, the concept of not offering single-use plastic bags was novel. By 2019, Coles, Woolworths and IGA had all followed suit.

Daniel Baker, ALDI Australia Corporate Responsibility Director, says over 18 years of not providing single-use plastic bags has diverted 40,000 tonnes of plastic from the environment. He adds that this is one of many effective choices in the company’s history of sustainability and waste reduction.

In 2013, ALDI became the first supermarket to offer a national battery recycling scheme and, to date, has recycled 356 tonnes of battery waste. Additionally, in 2018 the company banned all products containing microbeads from their stores.

Progressing ALDI’s history of waste reduction and recycling was a driving force behind the company’s recent commitment to a range of ambitious packaging targets, the cornerstone of which is a 25 per cent reduction in packaging by 2025.

The issue of supermarkets and unnecessary plastic packaging is a familiar one, and while the rise is often attributed to demand for grab and go options, public opinion appears to favour cutting back.

According to Daniel, reducing the use of plastic packaging therefore makes environmental and economic sense.

“We are committed to operating responsibly and providing value, without cutting corners or compromising the way we do business,” Daniel says.

“We have a responsibility to our customers, employees, business partners and local community to develop best practice and uphold responsible business practices. We are also a privately-held company, which means there is internal drive to make smart, long-term decisions.”

In addition to a quarter reduction in packaging by 2025, ALDI has committed to phasing out unnecessary single-use plastics by 2020, in line with the National Packaging Targets.

Similarly, Daniel says ALDI will ensure 100 per cent of their exclusive range is reformulated to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by the end
of 2025.

“We’ve also made positive changes to packaging solutions implemented in our stores, including introducing 100 per cent recycled and recyclable packaging for our Green Action Laundry Liquid and Wool Wash, removing over 11 million single-use plastic forks from our noodles bowls and cups and reformulating our zucchini packaging to use 87 per cent less plastic,” Daniel says.

Progression towards these targets will be publicly reported against from 2020.

“This will allow us to track and measure progress, identify what is working and what isn’t and, most importantly, reporting will keep ALDI and its partners on track to progress sustainable solutions,” Daniel explains.

“We recognise our commitments cannot be achieved without building true partnerships with all stakeholders to ensure the necessary changes are made that lead our business into a more sustainable future.”

Making sweeping changes to packaging rates is significant for a supermarket, as it requires multiple businesses to alter their products and practices. Daniel says ALDI will therefore work to achieve these goals in close collaboration with suppliers, which will ensure they have the necessary means to make appropriate changes within their own supply chains.

“When it comes to packaging changes, we’re working collaboratively with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation to tackle the challenges of packaging in a holistic manner,” Daniel says.

“Having been through the process to set our own commitments, we understand the complexity of the modern groceries supply chain and the need to develop a circular economy in Australia.”

Daniel says despite wanting to remove plastics immediately, the process cannot happen overnight.

He says commitments have been made in consideration of ALDI’s responsibility towards the environments of their end-to-end supply chain.

“We understand meeting the commitments may require re-working how we have previously done things and we appreciate our suppliers will be integral to our collective progress towards our commitments.”

According to Daniel, ALDI intends to approach implementation through a three-step process.

“ALDI will first look to reduce packaging, before considering what can be reused and finally, how to ensure necessary packaging can be recycled easily,” he explains.

“To do this, we aim to reduce our reliance on plastic and stimulate the development of a circular economy, with a focus on sourcing recycled content.”

ALDI will aim to stimulate the Australian recycling sector by including 30 per cent recycled materials in all their plastic packaging by the end of 2025. The company will also transition to using the Australasian Recycling Label on all ALDI-branded products by the end of 2022.

ALDI has also committed to reduce packaging in their fresh produce range, while providing no increase in food waste.

Furthermore, Daniel says by the end of 2020, all paper and pulp-based packaging in ALDI’s everyday range will be either Forest Stewardship Council certified, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest certified or 70 per cent recycled.

“When it comes to problematic materials, such as black plastics, ALDI’s priority is to reduce the use of these materials and find more sustainable alternatives – we’ve already implemented this in our produce range,” Daniel says.

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High Temperature Incineration: Ace Waste

Waste Management Review talks to Metro North Hospital’s Waste Manager Gregg Butler about clinical waste regulations and the benefits of high temperature incineration.

Becoming one of the healthiest communities in the world by 2026 is the official vision of the Queensland Health Department.

To achieve this outcome, the department is committed to ensuring available resources are used efficiently for future generations, according to the department’s 2018-20 Waste Reduction and Recycling Plan.

To attain desired sustainability, the department has repurposed the waste hierarchy to highlight the importance of waste reduction and recycling within hospitals.

Brisbane’s Metro North Hospital and Health Services Environment and Waste Manager Gregg Butler, who has worked in the health sector for over 40 years, is at the forefront of rethinking waste in the industry.

“Over the years, Metro North have worked to install all sorts of waste management initiatives throughout our facilities,” Gregg says.

Metro North initiatives include the “Know Which Bin To Throw It In” campaign, which educates staff on correct waste segregation and the tube terminator, a machine that destroys lightbulbs to reduce the impact of mercury in landfill.

“The money we save through recycling and waste reduction initiatives allows us to buy new equipment such as hospital beds, which is beneficial for the community,” Gregg says.

While the waste hierarchy privileges avoidance and reduction, hospitals by their very nature generate a significant amount of waste that cannot be recycled.

“Recycling what we can is important, but a lot of hospital waste is hazardous and needs to be disposed of responsibly, namely clinical waste,” Gregg says.

Clinical waste is an unavoidable waste stream with limited diversion and processing methods. It is generally defined as any waste with the potential to cause disease, including discarded sharps, human tissue and laboratory waste.

Standard Australian destruction practices fall largely into two camps, autoclave and incineration.

“I don’t like treating clinical waste though autoclave because as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get rid of the pathogens and some of the needle and blood products,” Gregg says.

“Ace Waste are the only ones with incinerators in Queensland, and in my personal opinion, incineration is the way to go.”

To process its clinical waste, Metro North work closely with family owned medical waste disposal company Ace Waste.

Ace Waste was founded in 1987 in response to the need for a professional clinical waste collection and disposal service. The company provides hospitals, healthcare facilities and other businesses with safe waste collection, storage and disposal services.

Additionally, Ace Waste offers secure transportation and high temperature incineration at their Brisbane treatment facility, located at Willawong.

“Metro North have had a relationship with Ace Waste since they were established in the late 80s,” Gregg says.

“We choose to work with Ace Waste specifically because they incinerate, which I consider the most appropriate disposal method for clinical and related toxic waste.”

According to Gregg, when medical waste regulations came into effect in 1994, Ace Waste were already compliant.

As per the Queensland Government’s clinical and related waste policy, hospital waste must be handled, stored, and transported appropriately to minimise the potential for contact. Additionally, prior to disposal at landfill, all clinical waste must be treated.

While incineration renders the waste unrecognisable, the bi- product in the form of residual ash still requires disposal at a regulated waste disposal facility, which Ace Waste facilitates.

“They can handle anything clinically related as far as regulations go, blood products, cytotoxic waste, chemical waste,” Gregg says.

“They take roughly 80 to 90,000 kilograms from Metro North every month, which is substantial, and they have the know how and capacity to dispose of it safely and efficiently.”

The Ace Waste incineration process involves loading waste into a primary chamber and incinerating it at temperatures between 1000 °C and 1150 °C. The exhaust gas from the secondary chamber is then cooled, before being passed through the air pollution control plant.

The process guarantees the complete destruction of infectious waste materials and ensures pathogens and toxic disease are unable to be released into the ground or atmosphere.

“At those temperatures there is no residue what so ever, which means contaminants won’t turn up in landfill,” Gregg says.

“Additionally, high temperature Incineration converts plastic into energy and is a great substitute for fossil fuels.”

According to Gregg, thermal degradation is a gasification process in essence.

“Not only are volatile plastics used as alternate fuel, the resultant heat destroys pathogens and pharmaceuticals and converts it into carbon dioxide and water,” he says.

Queensland regulations also require clinical waste to be effectively segregated into categories such as chemical waste, human tissue waste and pharmaceutical waste.

“Ace Waste provide appropriate storage bins, which lets staff easily sort waste at the point of disposal,” Gregg says.

“The service has always been A plus with Ace Waste, hence the contracts being renewed over and over again.”

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Food for soil

By introducing food waste recycling and a dedicated sustainability portfolio, the Melbourne Cricket Ground is hitting more than 75 per cent landfill diversion.

Known simply as the “G”, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) attracts more than three million people each year.

With a capacity bigger than most regional towns, the seven-day-a-week stadium is often filled to the brim, hosting major AFL matches, cricket, concerts and Australian and international soccer.

But its ability to manage its waste in a smarter way is largely a hidden success story, reducing total waste produced by 259 tonnes, despite increasing its patron numbers by 197,214 in 2018.

Such was its commitment to waste management that it pragmatically invested in three compactors to prevent waste going to landfill.

Vince Macolino, the MCG’s Environmental Sustainability Specialist, says that in one isolated occurrence, the stadium was advised through its contractor KS Environmental that its recycler was no longer operating from midday on a Saturday and were closed on Sunday.

“As an events-based business, we operate Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our biggest days are Saturday and Sunday and we can have 90,000 people on Saturday that generate waste that needs to be recycled,” Vince explains.

“The only option was to send it to landfill but for us at the Melbourne Cricket Club that’s not an option – we’re not taking steps backward, we’re going forward. So in discussions with KS, we realised that if we buy new compactors, we could store the waste and send it to Dandenong to be stored until the facility opened on Monday.”

Its merely a small aspect of the MCG’s achievements – a stadium that set itself a key performance indicator of 75 per cent landfill diversion and surpassed it in 2018.

Since joining the MCG at the end of 2013, Vince has helped raise the bar with support from the team, lifting its diversion rate by 15 per cent from what was just 20 to 30 per cent a decade ago.

Eliminating plastic straws, recycling organic waste onsite and spreading the subsequent compost on the surrounding lawn are just a few of the recent achievements of the MCG. The MCG has about 26 different waste streams that are separated and processed.

Most recently, it demonstrated its commitment to sustainability by creating a dedicated sustainability portfolio, as Vince moved on from his role as venue presentation coordinator.

He says that one of the MCG’s proud achievements was the installation of a food dehydrator. After taking the initiative in 2016 to audit the stadium’s waste management processes, Vince took a tour of major food waste recycling sites, including the Melbourne Zoo, Melbourne University and Degraves Street.

“We found out that the Gaia unit would be best for the waste we’re generating out of our operations. Due to the amount of organic waste we were processing, it was a three-year payback period.”

Since then, the MCG has implemented a “zero waste to landfill” approach at its corporate suites, collecting all organics waste and processing it via the dehydrator.

Introducing Method recycling bins to promote good source separation, the MCG went from sending 120 80-litre organics bins to landfill per event to nothing on its corporate suite level. The dehydrator unit produces a compost known as SoilFood which is spread on the MCG’s surrounding parkland – Yarra Park.

“By blending SoilFood with sand to create a good ratio and spreading it through the park, we no longer need to transport the majority of our organic waste to compost facilities. We’ve potentially freed up space at those facilities for other users and closed the loop, while applying a highly nutritional soil food to the park lands,” Vince says.

From Boxing Day 2018, the MCG phased out plastic straws in partnership with Epicure. It has also begun trialling chemical-free sprays that ISS Facilities Services have implemented which reduced the amount of chemicals required to clean the stadium.

A bin washing water unit was also installed that saves more than 1000 litres per day. Rather than just establishing soft plastics collection through the Redcycle program, the MCG has taken it a step further to purchase bollards for Yarra Park made from the material through Replas.

Vince says the MCG will continue to improve its processes and reduce contamination into the future, as he attended this year’s Waste 2019 conference to discover some of the industry’s latest innovations.

He says that the MCG is now working with Epicure to put on sustainable ambassadors at event days that would inspect bins and engage and educate staff to reduce contamination.

The stadium is now looking at a range of options for compostable packaging. Vince remains optimistic that big changes are on their way. While the MCG hit 83 per cent diversion in 2018, Vince hopes to one day reach 90 per cent. This may include looking at new areas such as compostable bins, further engaging with patrons and spreading environmental messaging by tackling what Vince says are the little “one per cents”.

“Moving into the role of environmental and sustainability specialist has given me the opportunity to look at the strategy of the MCG for the next three to five years and put together more policies and governance in this space.”

“Looking at it from a procurement point of view and getting our environmental management system up and running will set some clear direction and targets and a vision to drive us into the future.”

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Officeworks takes charge

Officeworks’ Ryan Swenson highlights the company’s smart approach to back-of-house and customer recycling.

As a major supplier of office products and solutions for homes, businesses and schools, Officeworks’ customer footprint is by no means small. Its 168 stores buttress more than 8000 team members, in addition to three distribution centres and two support centres.

Developing an overarching sustainability plan therefore necessitated smarter thinking about how it manages its waste internally, using concrete data and drawing on waste industry experts to identify environmentally friendly solutions.

In 2015, Officeworks launched its first Positive Difference Plan, which set a five-year strategy and targets issues most pertinent to their stakeholders. The plan outlined goals to reduce the company’s environmental impact, sourcing products in sustainable and responsible ways and supporting the aspirations of its team and communities.

Four years into the 2020 plan, Officeworks has made significant progress against the targets, including reducing carbon emissions by 15 per cent.

As part of this, it is also working towards ensuring all paper products are either Forest Stewardship Council certified or made from 100 per cent recycled materials by December 2020.

The company follows the principles of the waste hierarchy, avoiding or reducing the amount of waste that is generated in the first place. From FY17 to FY18, it reduced its total waste generated from 6975 tonnes to 5764 tonnes. Of that, waste to landfill decreased from 2513 to 1405 tonnes.

Officeworks has also increased recycling rates from 64 per cent in FY17 to 81 per cent this financial year to date and is working towards a target to recycle 85 per cent by 30 June this year.

Ryan Swenson, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Officeworks, tells Waste Management Review that reducing the company’s environmental impact is a priority for the business, its team members and other stakeholders.

“Setting a long-term target to send zero waste to landfill, with milestones each year, enables us to establish a roadmap that demonstrates continuous improvement and to monitor our progress along the way,” he says.

To support its ambitious targets, Officeworks partnered with Cleanaway in 2017. The partnership allows Officeworks to provide detailed data and reporting to help its teams understand their progress against the targets.

Ryan says that Officeworks then looked at three areas where it could have the most influence: service schedules, infrastructure and behaviour change.

“By analysing the data, we made changes to the general waste collection schedules across selected stores from weekly to fortnightly.

“This drove an immediate change in behaviour as our teams needed to ensure they had enough room in their general waste bin to last the fortnight,” he says.

He says that Officeworks looked at its infrastructure to ensure its stores had the right bins in the right places based on their waste streams.

“Thirdly, we put some of our team members through a waste and recycling workshop to help drive behaviour change at their stores,” Ryan says.

Over the past six months, team members from selected stores have conducted their own waste audits by spending a day offsite sorting through their own general waste bin, and then completing a cause and effect workshop to understand how recyclable waste entered the general waste bin and how to avoid it in the future.

Ryan says that this has been critical to imbedding a culture of zero waste to landfill and demonstrate that individual actions add up to make a big difference.

“Some stores have now moved their general waste collection to an on-call service since they are generating such little waste.”

Throughout March, more than 70 of its sites recycled at least 85 per cent of their waste, with many passing the 90 per cent mark – a testament to what is possible with the right initiatives and leadership.

To increase recycling rates at its support office, Officeworks has over the years implemented new recycling streams such as coffee cup recycling, organic waste collection and soft plastics recycling.

Ryan says that one of the highlights of the Positive Difference Plan is seeing how passionate its team members are to make a positive difference in their workplace.

As with any waste strategy, some challenges have sprung up.

Ryan says that Officeworks has a number of stores that have ongoing issues with illegal dumping.

To help address this, stores have moved their general waste bins to smaller bins that can be more easily moved into their receiving area each night.

With secondary packaging being a key input, Officeworks is focused on reducing the material used by optimising packaging sizes. It is moving to reusable solutions where possible, such as transit pallets, and working with suppliers to ensure all packaging is easily recyclable by removing materials from its supply chain such as polystyrene.

Officeworks takes a holistic approach when considering the environmental impact of the products it sells, which includes how they are disposed of at their end of life.

Throughout FY18, the company collected almost 700 tonnes of e-waste from its customers, which included ink and toner cartridges, computers and accessories, printers and mobile phones.

It also this year launched its largest ever recycling station at its Mentone Store in Melbourne that comprises recycling options for batteries, pens and markers.

To help its customers recycle, Officeworks developed the Australasian Recycling Label with Planet Ark in 2015 and it now features on over 3000 ownlabel products.

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