Fri, Jan 20, 2023 9:11 AM

Soft plastic recycling returns



By Jo Kent

Soft plastic recycling is set to return in just four months thanks to New Zealand company Future Post opening a new processing plant in Blenheim.

The company makes fence posts out of soft plastic, so collection points for the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme are expected to be re-established across the Top of the South once it opens in May.

The recycling scheme takes all soft plastic, including bread bags, frozen food bags, toilet paper packaging, confectionery and biscuit wrap, chip bags, pasta and rice bags, courier envelopes, shopping bags, sanitary hygiene packaging ­- basically anything made of plastic which can be scrunched into a ball.

It first launched in 2015 but stopped in December 2018 when offshore plants processing New Zealand's plastic no longer wanted it.

Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme manager Lyn Mayes says that’s when they started a supply agreement with Future Post.

“They were just setting up production in Auckland, so we resumed collections on a limited basis in Auckland mid-2019.”

Now none of the country’s soft plastic is exported – it’s all recycled in New Zealand.

“We pay our processors to recycle the soft plastic to incentivise the market. This is different to the usual recycling process where a processor ‘buys’ bales of plastic. We effectively sell our bales of soft plastic.”

Despite local collection points vanishing four years ago, people in Christchurch, Akaroa, Oamaru, and Rangiora have been able to continue recycling.

Lyn says the reason why our collection points vanished was because the logistics of transporting the soft plastics back to Auckland were too difficult.

“Partnerships with members – Goodman Fielder and Cottonsoft have allowed us to start collections in Canterbury and Otago, but not Nelson and surrounds.

“Goodman Fielder organise transport via their network back up to Auckland. We don’t use airport freight but road, rail and sea.”

The scheme collected 500 tonnes of plastic last year, which is around double what was collected in 2021 (260 tonnes). In 2023 they expect to double the volume again to 1000 tonnes of soft plastic.

From a scheme perspective, Lyn says it makes sense to wait until there is a local circular economy for soft plastics where the materials collected in the region can be processed there.

Future Post's new factory will not only increase collection efficiency in the South Island, but it will also reduce transport limitations and allow for several new collection points to be put in place.

Future Post managing director Jerome Wenzlick says the company has built their own machinery and figured out how to use all the different types of waste plastic that no one else can use.

“Our fence posts need to be the same or better than wood, which is what we're up against."

He says each fence post uses around 8000 pieces of soft plastic.

The company has strong demand for its products, particularly from wineries in the Top of the South.

Jerome says the cost of freighting posts from Auckland across the Cook Strait was significant and given the demand in the viticulture industry, it made sense to establish a second factory in Blenheim.

"We can actually show that plastic straight off the vineyard is made into a post and back to the vineyard, you can't get much more circular than that."

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