Flight Plastics is a New Zealand company that has ‘closed the loop’ for recycling PET plastic in New Zealand. Director Derek Landers explains how Flight Plastics has helped to move PET plastic from the linear economy to a circular economy.
The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Professor Juliet Gerrard then outlines the next issues to deal with in regards to plastics and PET plastic.
Here at Flight Plastics, we are reprocessing New Zealand’s recycled PET plastic. Now that’s the plastic with a 1 in the recycling logo. It’s commonly used in drinks bottles and in food packaging – so water bottles, Coke bottles, all that sort of stuff, our food packaging that we make, which is biscuit trays and blueberry punnets and so on. And what we’re doing is we are buying this material from the recycling bins around New Zealand effectively. It’s coming from a recycling bin to a sorting facility. We buy the material and then we are able to clean that up, get rid of the glue and the labels and the cap and turn it back into a food-grade product. And those food-grade products – interestingly, there is a blueberry punnet. That has been made from New Zealand recycled plastic here at Flight, it’s gone to a supermarket, gone to a customer, gone into a recycling bin and come back to us here at Flight and we will be able to put that back through the system and use it again. That’s a circular economy.
What we’ve been living in up until very recently is what we call a linear economy, and that is you buy something, you use it and you throw it in the bin and that goes to waste and it’s wasted. And what we are learning from this circular economy situation is that what we used to think of as rubbish like an empty water bottle is actually not rubbish, it’s a resource.
The key to recycled plastic in New Zealand and using recycled plastic is that it actually creates a double benefit. We are not importing materials so we are not spending our overseas earnings buying this stuff, we are not shipping it here so there’s no carbon issues like that. And more than that, we’re taking it from our own waste stream, using it here in New Zealand, making a product that we can use again and again.
Professor Juliet Gerrard
It’s really exciting that the PET recyclers have led the way in New Zealand and now we’re at more than capacity. So we can take in the PET recycling plants as much as New Zealanders can make. So you might think that everyone should switch to PET for all their plastic packaging, but you can’t make everything out of PET. So if for example you tried to make an ice-cream container out of PET, you’d need it to be really thick, which would be a waste of resource because overall we’re trying to reduce our footprint, so the next challenge for New Zealand will be to start recycling other types of plastic. So number 2 will be good – things like milk bottles. There’s a little bit going on already, but we need to scale that and then to try and persuade consumers, communities, manufacturers to focus on the ones that we can recycle before we move on to more exciting solutions that might roll out in the future.
Video excerpt from Science and the Plastics Problem, directed by Shirley Horrocks and produced by Point of View Productions. The full documentary can be viewed here.