From metal to plastic: recycling soft plastic in NZ

1 September 2015

In a guest post, Colin Merritt from Wellington-based street and park furniture manufacturer, Metal Art, reveals how the company has begun the first steps towards what seemed to be an impossible dream: recycling soft plastic in New Zealand.

Metal Art’s involvement with plastic is, to say the least, complicated but in a nutshell here’s how the relationship developed: Metal Art, which creates furniture from steel and timber or traditional materials for parks and public spaces, was introduced to Replas, a soft plastic recycling company based in Australia, and acquired the licence to sell Replas products (also outdoor furniture and utilities for public spaces) in New Zealand.

This all came about because of one simple truth: New Zealand has a rather unhealthy appetite for supermarket plastic bags. That’s not to mention the plastic packaging that adorns everything from frozen peas to the multiple bags within bags of chips found in supermarket snacks aisles, and just about everything else that goes into our weekly shop.

We have a huge waste plastic problem, we’re addicted to plastic. According to the Public Place Recycling Scheme, New Zealanders use more than 1.6 billion plastic bags in their home every year. Soft plastics aren’t able to be recycled at the kerbside as it clogs up the machinery we’re told, and there have been very few places where the public could seriously consider recycling it, until now.

Recently the Minister for the Environment, Hon Dr Nick Smith, announced that joint funding for a waste plastic recycling scheme between Government and industry would go ahead with both parties contributing 50 per cent of the funds.

The scheme, called the RedCycle programme, has been a huge success in Australia. It’s been going for over five years and takes waste plastics to Replas Recycled Plastic products where it’s recycled into useful and attractive products such as: fitness sites, seating, dog agility parks and beach access-ways (just to name just a few), which are then distributed throughout the community by the RedCycle programme’s stakeholders.

The plastic bag collection scheme, based on the Australian initiative, and inspired by Metal Art, provides shoppers with the option of returning their plastic bags and wrappers to their local supermarkets. The initiative will begin as an Auckland-only scheme with a view to quickly expanding to the rest of the country.

Collection points will be at New World, Pak ‘N’ Save and The Warehouse, followed by Countdown in Hamilton, then the rest of the country within the three years of the trial.

Once the plastic has been collected at the collection points it’s shipped to the Abilities Group, a Glenfield based organisation that specialises in employing people with disabilities, who collect, store and package the soft plastics into bales at the Group’s e-waste facility.

Once a container load of bales has been gathered the plastic is shipped to the Replas factory in Australia where it’s pelletised and moulded into plastic profiles, used in the construction of furniture, or custom moulded into seating and other installations.

Major retailers and manufacturers such as Kimberley Clark, Birds Eye, Goodman Fielder, Nestle, New Zealand Post, Pams and SunRice will all bring their support to promotions to help familiarise shoppers with this new type of recycling.

Colin Merritt, Metal Art

Sources: The Retailer and the Public Place Recycling Scheme, Auckland Council Website