A coalition of the capable and willing has created Australia’s first prototype of a soft plastic food wrapper made with recycled materials for Nestlé KitKat bars. The project partners included Nestlé, CurbCycle, iQ Renew, Licella, Viva Energy Australia, LyondellBasell, REDcycle, Taghleef Industries and Amcor.
Food grade recycled soft plastic packaging is a major thorn in the side of Australia’s quest to build a circular economy. This prototype has shown there is a solution to the soft plastics problem.
The partners are Nestlé, CurbCycle, iQ Renew, Licella, Viva Energy Australia, LyondellBasell, REDcycle, Taghleef Industries and Amcor.
Nestlé Australia CEO Sandra Martinez says the project was driven by a shared determination.
A lack of collection and processing infrastructure makes it difficult to keep waste out of landfill and impossible to meet the demands for packaging with recycled content.
It took the coalition to collect and process soft plastic waste, turn it back into oil, and then create the wrapper. Turning soft plastic back into oil is currently the only was plastic waste can be treated to be turned back into a food safe wrapper, but the required technology does not exist in Australia at scale.
Soft plastics which were collected, sorted and cleaned were then converted by local technology startup Licella into liquid Plasticrude – a synthetic crude oil consisting of 100 per cent recycled plastic.
The Plasticrude was fed into Viva Energy’s Geelong refinery where it was processed in the Residual Catalytic Cracking Unit (RCCU) to turn it into the basis of the polymer products created by another Australian manufacturer, LyondellBasell.
The food-grade propylene created by LyondellBassell was used by Taghleef Industries to create a metallised film, which was used by Australian packaging giant Amcor to create the prototype KitKat wrapper, before delivery to Nestlé which wrapped and distributed the iconic chocolate bars.
Viva Energy executive general manager legal and external affairs Lachlan Pfeiffer told Food & Drink Business it was the first project of its kind for the refinery.
“It is a clear demonstration of the importance valuable infrastructure and technical know-how has. It demonstrates the refinery can have a significant part to play in Australia’s journey towards a circular economy with zero waste,” Pfeiffer said.
He said the coalition has shown there is a pathway to solve the soft plastics problem.
Martinez added: “To build this at scale, across all states and territories, across hundreds of councils, is going to take a huge effort from government at all levels, from industry and from consumers, but it can be done.
“Manufacturers like Nestlé will have a key role in driving demand for food grade recycled soft plastic packaging and creating market conditions that will ensure all stakeholders throughout the value chain view soft plastics as a resource and not waste.”
Australian recycler iQ Renew CEO Danial Gallagher said that to improve the recycling rate of soft plastics, kerbside collection is an important point of convenience.
“In the trial, soft plastics are collected from kerbside recycling bins in a dedicated bright yellow bag, then sorted from the recycling stream at our MRF.
“To create the KitKat wrapper with 30 per cent recycled content, the soft plastics were processed, then sent to Licella for conversion back into oil using the Cat-HTR advanced recycling technology. This oil was then used to produce new food grade soft plastics,” Gallagher said.
Central Coast Council held the first Curby trial, which has seen almost five tonnes of soft plastics diverted from landfill in four months. Director Infrastructure Services Boris Bolgoff said while the trial was still underway, the preliminary results were impressive.
“There are currently 2054 active participants, with more than 9000 bags scanned since the trial started in November. Participants have collected 4923 kilograms of soft plastics, which is the equivalent of 7,032,857 45 gram chocolate bar wrappers,” Bolgoff said.
Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) CEO Tanya Barden said the trial results would inform the AFGC’s work to develop an extended producer responsibility scheme for hard to recycle plastics, funded by a National Product Stewardship Investment Fund grant.
“Among other things, we’ll be looking at how this model can be scaled up, ensuring there is healthy demand for packaging with recycled content and helping bring to life local industries that can unlock billions of dollars of value that’s currently lost to landfill,” Barden said.