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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Industry, government and community tackle plastic waste

Industry giants, community groups and government bodies came together to tackle the issue of plastic packaging waste in Australia.

Consumer goods manufacturers Coca Cola, Danone, Unilever and Kellogg’s, tech companies Fuji Xerox and Dell, supermarkets Coles and Aldi and senior figures from the NSW Environment Protection Authority met with local community groups to discuss the future of plastic packaging in consumer goods.

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The event was hosted by the Boomerang Alliance with the support of Bloomberg Australia, and examined the infrastructure holes that need to be filled in order to improve Australia’s capacity for waste collection, processing and recycling.

Representatives from Clean Up Australia, Responsible Cafes, Bye Bye Plastic, Planet Ark, Close the Loop and the local Sydney councils of Randwick, Waverly and Inner West Councils also added to the discussion.

A guest panel of speakers shared their expertise and included Australian Packaging Covenant CEO Brooke Donnelly, Waste Management Association Australia CEO Gayle Sloan, Founder of BioPak Richard Fine, and Nature’s Organics CEO Jo Taranto.

Ms Sloan said every council’s waste management has the same definition in their contracts regarding what’s recyclable.

“We have conveyors and depending on the money and infrastructure available, they’ll use infrareds to split out the different types of plastics,” she said.

Most material recovery facilities do this but at a cost and we don’t have enough people buying back [the recycled material]. That’s the problem.”

Mr Fine said it is important that companies are marketing their products as compostable get certified to a recognised standard.

“There’s a lot of greenwashing out there providing vague claims of ‘biodegradable’ which is confusing the consumer and damaging the industry as a lot of these products will simply break down and fragment into small pieces,” he said.

Pictured left to right: Richard Fine, Brooke Donnelly, Justin Dowel, Jo Toranto, Gayle Sloan, Jayne Paramor.

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