Locals are leaders in reusing soft plastic

In an Australian premiere, Wyong company iQ Renew is part of a group of companies that have worked together to create soft plastic food packaging from recycled content.

Between them, iQ Renew, Nestle, CurbCycle, Licella, Viva Energy Australia, LyondellBasell, REDcycle, Taghleef Industries and Amcor have brought together their individual know-how to collect and process old plastic waste, convert it back into oil and a prototype of a KitKat casing to create.

Recycled food grade soft plastic packaging is a key missing link in Australia’s drive to improve waste management and build a circular economy. In the absence of collection and processing infrastructure, it is difficult to keep waste out of landfills and it is impossible to meet packaging requirements for recycled content.

Converting soft plastic to oil is the only path that plastic waste can take if it is to be converted into food-safe packaging. This is an innovative Australian technology ready for commercial rollout.

The initiative emerged from a test by the Central Coast Council in which Wyong recycler iQ Renew and Nestle worked together to collect soft plastics from the roadside.

These collected plastics, together with plastics that were collected via the soft plastic collection of the REDcycle supermarket, formed the starting point for the project.

Sandra Martinez, CEO of Nestle Australia, said the project was driven by a shared determination to solve the soft plastics challenge and a tremendous amount of goodwill.

“Between us we showed that there is a way to solve the soft plastics problem,” she said.

“To build this on a large scale in all states and territories, in hundreds of councils, governments at all levels, industry and consumers must go to great lengths, but I think it can be done.

“Manufacturers like Nestle will play a key role in driving demand for recycled, food-grade soft plastic packaging and creating market conditions that ensure that all stakeholders across the value chain view soft plastics as a resource rather than a waste,” said Martinez.

So far, soft plastics collected in Australia have been made into products such as patio furniture, added to the road base or used as waste for energy generation.

Danial Gallagher, CEO of iQ Renew, said roadside collection is a key convenience item to improve the soft plastic recycling rate.

“In the study, soft plastics are collected from recycling bins on the roadside in a special light yellow bag and then sorted from the recycling stream in our material recycling facility in Wyong.

“To make the KitKat case with 30 percent recycled content, the soft plastics were processed and then sent to Licella to turn it back into oil using advanced recycling technology.

“This oil was then used to make new, food-grade soft plastics,” said Gallagher.

Tanya Barden, CEO of the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), said the findings from the Central Coast process will be informative as AFGC works to develop an expanded system of producer responsibility for hard-to-recycle plastics such as soft plastic packaging.

“Among other things, we will look at how this model can be scaled up to ensure that there is good demand for packaging with recycled content and to bring to life local industries that can unlock billions of dollars of value that are currently in landfill is lost, “said Bard.

In March, Nestle hosted executives from across the plastic packaging value chain for a roundtable event, The Wrap on Soft Plastics, which examined the opportunities and hurdles for recycling soft plastics.

“At the event, we shared the lessons of the Central Coast Process and will begin unpacking the next steps on the path to reducing soft plastic waste,” said Sandra Martinez, CEO of Nestle.

Sue Murray

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