Flight Plastics, the New Zealand plastic packaging manufacturer, has opened the first plant in Australasia able to recycle local polyethylene terephthalate (PET) drink bottles into food-grade packaging.
The privately owned Lower Hutt-based company today opened its new PET wash plant as part of a $12 million technology investment at its local production facility, which allows it to produce recycled PET (RPET) packaging made from New Zealand waste bottles which have been washed, shredded, turned into RPET flakes, made into RPET sheet and thermoformed into new RPET food containers, it said in a statement.
Options for sending recycling overseas are narrowing as countries such as China move to ban the importation of waste and recyclables from other countries. That's forcing countries such as New Zealand to find their own recycling solutions, and with the new plant Flight Plastics is able to recycle 6,000 tonnes of the 8,000 tonnes of PET plastic collected for recycling in New Zealand each year, with the ability to expand as recycling volumes increase. The facility is also expected to reduce demand for imported PET, which currently stands at about 20,000 tonnes each year and growing as PET is more widely used in food trays to replace non-recyclable materials.
"Every PET bottle or container recycled at Flight is given a new life, saving the import of materials and reducing waste to landfill," Flight Plastics chief executive Keith Smith said in comments prepared for the plant opening. "The environmental benefits from managing our own plastic PET waste in New Zealand are obvious but there are huge economic benefits too. Resource recovery is vital to New Zealand's economy."
The RPET containers made at the Flight factory are themselves recyclable so the company can continue to reprocess them.
"Research tells us that people will recycle more if they know it is not sent offshore," Smith said. "New Zealanders want to see their recycling efforts arriving back on their supermarket shelves where we can all be part of a genuine circular economy."
The Flight Plastics investment benefited from a $4 million grant from the government's Waste Minimisation Fund which provides financial support to projects that reduce environmental harm and provide social, economic and cultural benefits. Introduced by the National-led government in 2009, it is funded from a levy on waste disposed of at landfills. More than $80 million has been awarded to more than 130 projects to date.
Environment Minister Nick Smith and Associate Minister Scott Simpson officially opened the facility, saying it was an important part of the government's programme of building New Zealand's recycling infrastructure.
"As a country, we need to be thinking smarter about ways to reduce our waste, and this facility will provide a fundamental change in the way plastic waste is managed," Simpson said.