Sustainability in Action

Positive Outcomes for Soft Plastic Recycling in Australia

Recent news further enforces the need for large scale recycling of post-consumer soft plastics in Australia, and the development of more tangible end-markets. There is a severe lack of information and transparency to consumers about what happens with the soft plastic recycling that is taking place in Australia, what happens to products after collection, and the complexities of soft plastics that make them difficult to reuse at end of life.

How Close the Loop use Post-Consumer Soft Plastic Waste

In Australia, Close the Loop Group are the largest user of the post-consumer soft plastics that have been collected through the RedCycle program, in addition to using mixed plastic packaging from other sources. We have worked with Redcycle for a number of years, taking huge volumes of this highly-contaminated, post- consumer material that form a main ingredient in our asphalt improvement product- TonerPlas®, as well as our recycled plastic injection-molding resin rFlex®.

We believe we are the only company that has been able to process 100% of the material received from RedCycle, in-line with our Zero Waste to Landfill brand promise. These materials have been combined with recycled toner powder and other key ingredients to manufacture the TonerPlas® product, which is then supplied to companies for inclusion into their asphalt mix. TonerPlas® improves the longevity of roads, and has been used in resurfacing projects across Australia including the Monash and M80 freeway upgrades in Victoria.

Despite using the material at scale at our plant, the volumes of material recovered by RedCycle appear to exceed the capacity of any sole business to recycle.

The use of these materials by Close the Loop is possible due to the novel IP that the business has developed, in order to process the mixed, post-consumer soft plastic waste from sources such as RedCycle that would otherwise be difficult to reuse for new applications. Other products using post-consumer soft plastic waste can only use the materials at small percentages due to the poor quality of the feedstock, in addition to a vital lack of end-market buy-back for these type of recycled content items.

While we are currently upgrading our TonerPlas® line, we will be back in full production by the end of 2023 and will require large volumes of soft plastic material to meet demands for both TonerPlas® and rFlex® products.

Why are soft plastics hard to recycle?

In order to protect products from deterioration, soft plastic packaging typically contains multiple different types of plastic joined together in very thin layers. This creates issues at end of life as these materials cannot be separated, and hence provide a low grade of recycling feedstock with limited use. Post-consumer soft plastic waste cannot be reused for food-grade applications, due to contamination from the various material types, in addition to the presence of organic food matter and bacteria that is difficult to clean and process.

The advancement of technology and the simplification of soft plastic materials to remove multiple polymer types will help in the space, and the industry has already begun switching packaging structures in a move towards mono-polymer (single plastic) packaging specifications. However the yields for high quality recycled soft plastic may still only reach 40-50%- we still require solutions to the rest of this waste material, to ensure it doesn’t go to landfill or waste to energy.

The Importance of Mechanical Recycling

It is clear that products like TonerPlas® are imperative for recycling soft plastic waste, providing a greater product yield for the complex material stream that cannot be fully met by other recycled content products, or by future chemical /advanced recycling initiatives.

While there is a lot of talk towards the function of chemical recycling in relation to the recycling of soft plastic waste, on-shore processing of this type will not be ready until around 2030 and will still require a higher quality of feedstock than the materials collected at present. Additional commercial barriers for chemical recycling include cost, product yields, and carbon footprint, which is where the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of these recycling plants will be key.

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