As the Australian Government seeks to deal with the nation’s waste onshore as a result of the Chinese ‘ban’, our greenlife industry is leading the way by closing the loop on polypropylene (PP5).
In 2018 China’s “National Sword” policy banned the import of most plastics and other materials headed for that nation’s recycling processors. Australia needed to act quickly to find alternative pathways for our country’s waste. The Australian Government revised the National Waste Policy, incorporating the principles of a circular economy to better support repeated use of resources. It then established the ambitious 2025 National Packaging Targets, aiming for 100% of packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable; 70% of plastic packaging recycled or composted; 50% average recycled content across all packaging; and the phase out of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging, all by 2025. The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) is the agency leading the delivery of the targets and works on the ground with a range of sectors – including the greenlife industry – to help address their specific waste and recycling challenges.
Problems with plastic
“We originally started with the 30% recycled content target, which having done some work over the last 12 months has been increased up to 50% because we are doing pretty well in that space in some materials. However, this early success has highlighted problems around plastic,” says Jayne Paramor, APCO’s Sustainability Manager.
“With plastic packaging, we are seeing a recycling rate of 16% and an average recycled content rate of 2% across all plastic packaging. So that is an area that has been highlighted as really needing some focus,” says Jayne. A study commissioned by APCO last year found for example that only 8% of polypropylene (PP5) packaging on the market was being recovered for recycling (~12,000 from 164,000 tonnes). This is despite polypropylene being relatively easy to mould and work with. “From a recyclability perspective, polypropylene has pretty much an infinite lifecycle being able to be put around the system a very large number of times with minimal degradation. So, in that respect it's a very desirable polymer,” says Jayne.
Waste export ban
With the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) announcing a waste export ban on waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres to be implemented over the next five years, APCO is now working hard to help various industry sectors move to a circular economy. Members of the greenlife industry are already leading the way, namely by closing the loop on polypropylene.
The greenlife industry is a large user of polypropylene products, namely pots, labels, stakes, trays, and tubs. Garden City Plastics (GCP) currently use over 7 million kilograms of recycled polypropylene annually to manufacture pots and containers for these customers. Matthew Mills, GCP’s National Sales & Marketing Manager, says they aim to increase that amount to 10 or 11 million kilograms by the end of 2021. However, Matthew says that better collection and sorting of polypropylene ‘waste’ is being established to help meet this goal.
Closing the loop
Matthew explained that improved sorting and collection processes now means that GCP will be able to make coloured plant pots for the first time from fully post-consumer recycled polypropylene, e.g. yogurt lids, takeaway containers, rather than virgin material.
Previously polypropylene collected through household kerbside recycling systems is not separated out at MRFs (Materials Recycling Facilities). It ends up in mixed plastic bales for downgraded uses such as road base or waste to energy applications. Black polypropylene packaging is sent directly to landfill as a MRF’s infrared technology that cannot currently recognize carbon black, ‘seeing’ that shape as a void and sending it to landfill.
GCP is providing a commitment to its recycled material suppliers who collect, sort and wash both post-industrial and post-consumer polypropylene at dedicated facilities that they will buy it and reuse it, thus closing the loop on that material. Within the greenlife industry, GCP is helping to set up specific collection areas at wholesale and retail nurseries to help them sort their pots more efficiently and with less contamination.
Working with recycling partners Astron Sustainability and Polymer Processors, GCP is setting up trial sites across 32 locations in all states excluding ACT and the Northern Territory. Flower Power, Plant Mark, Andreasen's, Westland, Waratah and Daltons are some of those on board. GCP has also formed a partnership with Norwood Industries to educate the broader community about the benefits of capturing polypropylene in a closed loop and how our Green Life Industries are taking their part. Stay tuned for the launch of their new website www.pp5.com.au (currently under construction).
Where to from here?
Jayne and Matthew are creating an ongoing working group with a view to developing a voluntary framework for standardizing the use of sustainable and recyclable plastics in the greenlife industry. Starting with polypropylene, Jayne intends that the scope of this group will expand to address other packaging materials, e.g. expanded polystyrene (EPS), soft plastics and compostable packaging. The first meeting of this working group will be held in June.