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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Coca-Cola and Veolia to establish Australian plastic recycling plant

Coca-Cola Amatil and Veolia are considering opportunities to establish a recycled plastic processing plant in Australia.

The potential recycling plant will focus on PET plastic, which is used to manufacture plastic bottles.

Coca-Cola Amatil’s Group Managing Director Alison Watkins said a joint project team has been established by the two companies, which will consider the plant’s economic feasibility, size, scale and location, end-to-end requirements and potential integration into each company’s value chains.

Ms Watkins said the joint project team will leverage each company’s expertise and experience in respective parts of the production and recycling process.

Veolia Australia and New Zealand CEO and Managing Director Danny Conlon said the project team will make recommendations to their respective companies in the short-to-medium term.

“We’re delighted to be working with our Amatil colleagues on this important initiative,” Mr Conlon said.

“It comes at a critical time for Australia where we need to be doing more to resolve ongoing issues around plastics and their potential to be recycled. I look forward to future announcements on circular economy solutions.”

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Applied Machinery’s plastic washing systems

Applied Machinery’s plastic washing systems are designed for high performance recovery of rigid or flexible plastics derived from a variety of sources.

The modular systems tackle HDPE bottles, PE films, PP woven bags and PET bottles.

Depending on the application, the plants may comprise a bale breaker, infeed conveyor belt, pre-shredder for wet or dry size reduction, pre-washer to remove sands and dirt and screw washer.

Other features may include a hot washing tank with alkaline (caustic) soda to remove glues and oils, a sink float separation tank to remove non-contaminants and granulator for wet granulation and washing. For high speed washing or material scrubbing, a horizontal friction washer can be applied. In addition, centrifugal dryers, screw presses, thermal drying systems, zig zag classifiers and bag stations are also plant features.

The correct combination, sizing and equipment configuration of the equipment results in a reliable, efficient plastic recycling system producing high-quality materials ideal for sale.

Typical designs cover a PE washing system for recycling materials to high purity and low moisture, such as post-consumer HDPE bottles (with labels), drums and containers and LDPE and LLDPE products.

A PP woven bag recycling line offers a system that minimises the quantities of fines created and keeps material loss to a minimum.

The PET bottle washing system recovers labels and caps from soft drinks and water bottles and produces a clean, uniform-sized PET flake with low moisture levels.

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TOMRA and CEMAC technologies partner

Sophisticated sensor technologies are helping Australian material recovery facilities improve their sorting capacities beyond what is possible with manual sorting. 

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Recycled plastics lower energy consumption: study

A new study by the North American Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), based in Washington, has found significant reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions linked to using recycled plastics in manufacturing new products.

Industry research consultants Franklin Associates, a division of ERG, Lexington, Massachusetts, prepared the report, “Life cycle impacts for postconsumer recycled resins: PET, HDPE and PP.”

The report examines recycling processes for three of the most common types of plastics recycled today: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP).

According to the report, using recycled plastic reduced total energy consumption by 79 percent for PET, by 88 percent for HDPE and by eight percent for PP. Using recycled plastics also limited emissions by 67 percent for PET, by 71 percent for HDPE and by 71 percent for PP.

Franklin Associates analysed the energy requirements and environmental impacts of postconsumer recycled plastics as compared with virgin plastics.

The analysis is an update and expansion of a recycled resin study the company completed in 2011 for the APR quantifying the total energy requirements, energy sources, atmospheric pollutants, waterborne pollutants and solid waste that result from producing recycled PET and HDPE from post-consumer plastic.

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Steve Alexander, APR president, said the study shows a win-win for companies who incorporate recycled plastic resin into their new products.

“They can improve the environmental sustainability of their products and processes and reduce their energy costs.

“It demonstrates the importance and effectiveness of the full recycling chain for plastic goods – a chain that starts with companies manufacturing recyclable products and ends with consumers buying products made from recycled materials,” he said.

 

“This report clearly demonstrates the benefits of a renewed commitment to plastic recycling,” said Jamie Camara, CEO of Mexico-based PetStar and chair of The APR board of directors.

“It is critical that North America continues to invest in our recycling infrastructure so that we can expand the material that is collected, sorted and processed for second use. Recycling and using recycled materials are good for manufacturers, consumers and the planet.”

Sustainable snacks: Campbell Arnott’s Australia

Campbell Arnott’s Australia’s Liza Vernalls explains how the organisation is working to boost the uptake of difficult-to-recycle materials such as soft plastics and PET, while also making it easier for consumers to recycle.

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Compelling proposition

A shift in business practices would support a significant increase in procurement of recyclables, writes Matt Genever, Director Resource Recovery at Sustainability Victoria.

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Nestlé pledges to improve recycled content in EU packaging

Nestlé has pledged to increase the amount of recycled plastics the company uses in some of its packaging in the European Union by 2025.

The company aims to include 25 to 50 per cent recycled materials in PET layer in laminates, caps on glass jars and tines, trays for meat products and shrink films for display trays.

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It follows Nestlé’s pledge in April to make all of its packaging recyclable or re-useable by 2025.

The announcement is part of the voluntary pledging exercise on recycled content by the European Commission. Nestlé CEO for Zone Europe, Middle East and North Africa Marco Settembri delivered the pledge in person to the European Commission.

Mr Settembri said the company is taking the first concrete steps to achieve its packaging ambitions.

“Nestlé supports the Plastics Strategy of the European Union. We share the vision that no plastic packaging ends up in the environment. Recyclable packaging, good recycling infrastructure and more use of recycled material will help us close the loop,” he said.

Scrunching the issue of soft plastics

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has compiled a comprehensive gap analysis on the market barriers to recovering soft plastics. Waste Management Review sat down with APCO’s Brooke Donnelly to discuss how it fits into the broader plastics issue.

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