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Recycling covered at AIP dinner

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THERE are a number of issues to be addressed by consumers and the packaging industry in regards to rubbish sorting and collection, according to two recyclers and a facilitator who spoke at the Australian Institute of Packaging June meeting in Melbourne, writes Michael Halley.

Australian Vinyls Corporation vinyl cycle project manager Linda Terry, Signum business systems manager Greg Riley and National Packaging Covenant CEO Ed Cordner assembled to address the topic Recycling and NPC Mark 11.

Vinyl Cycle is a voluntary initiative to increase kerbside collection of PVC bottles across Australia and to recycle these bottles into long-life applications such as pipe-fittings and floor coverings.

PVC is the second most widely used plastic in the world and in Australia the market is approximately 200,000 tonnes.

The main use for PVC is in building and construction where it has benefits such as delivering clean water and providing safe sanitation, helping to deliver safe and fresh food, safely delivering major information, communication and electrical services, and making our homes and buildings affordable and comfortable through durable, low maintenance products.

But PVC is also an important part of the plastic bottle component of the food and beverage industry.

Around 6% of the material manufactured is being converted into packaging, including bottles.

Although a small percentage by volume, the major players in the PVC packaging supply chain are proactive in recycling and reuse so much so that the vinyl bottle industry’s action plan to the National Packaging Covenant [signatories are AVC and Plaspak-Peteron] stated they will achieve and retain a 50% recycle rate.

Back in 2000 only 5% of bottles produced were recycled but four years on a near tenfold increase is noted.

The users of PVC in packaging are keen supporters of the Vinyl Cycle program and promote the recycle and reuse of PVC bottles in processes other than packaging such as pipe fittings and flooring.

The Vinyl Cycle is, as the name suggests, one where householders dispose of empty PVC bottles through the kerbside recyclable collection and the municipal recycling facility [MRFs] sort the PVC from other plastic bottles and deliver the baled material to Vinyl Cycle’s contractor (a company called Cyro Grind) to process and continue the cycle.

Seems simple, but Linda Terry related some astonishing facts that impact severely on the success of Vinyl Cycle.

83% of households have access to a kerbside recycling facility where recyclables pass through a MRF that recovers PVC bottles.

But not all councils nominate PVC as a product that the householder can throw in the recycle bin.

It is known that sometimes adjoining councils have differing policies on collection of PVC yet engage the same collection contractor and utilise the same MRF.

It is obvious that not only the Vinyl Cycle partners but all stakeholders need to work the industry, educators and the community in general to increase awareness that PVC is recyclable and that there is a strong market for the end product

Signum’s Greg Riley presented an overview of recycling PET bottles from kerbside collection to recycled RPET from their operation located in Wodonga where the company’s sorting, recycling and Super-Clean facility for Post consumer PET bottles is located.

The plant accepts baled PET drink bottles and after cleaning and contaminant removal (PVC is the most serious contaminant) to produce granulated washed flakes.

Signum recently made a large investment in new technology at Wodonga that represents a significant commitment to returning recycled PET to ‘food grade’ material.

This technology converts granulated and washed PET flake into PET pellets through an integrated process called solid state polycondensation.

Known within the group as ‘super-clean,’ the automated process is capable of increasing the intrinsic viscosity (IV) of recycled PET to a pre-determined value as well as converting the PET to an FDA approved ‘food grade’ material.

Recycled PET flake (non food grade) and super-clean pellets (food grade) are used by third parties in a diverse range of applications such as fibre manufacture, strapping products and blow or injection moulding.

Signum has film extrusion plants located in Melbourne and Auckland, which convert recycled PET into RPET for use by its thermoforming plants in Australia and New Zealand

Their RPED products have a minimum of 35% recycled content.

It seemed the message delivered was packaged in a statement by NPC CEO Ed Cordner when discussing the National Packaging Covenant.

“Packaging has a high environmental and consumer profile,” he said, “this will not change or go away.

The Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) agreed to the proposal for a strengthened National Packaging Covenant for a term of five years, to commence on 14 July, 2005.

The strengthened Covenant document incorporates a number of changes designed to provide a more rigorous compliance and enforcement process including overarching targets for 2010, a national recycling rate of 65% for post consumer packaging (currently 48%), including increased rates for paper and cardboard, glass, steel, aluminium and plastics.

Cordner detailed future commitments for companies within the Covenant.

So much for the written word!

Ed Cordner clearly wants industry assistance to meet the challenges that arise as a result of the wording that strengthens of the NPC.

He reminded folks that it was the industry not Governments that originally set the Packaging Covenant in motion.

He encouraged the packaging industry to “take the lead and prove the critics wrong - show the Covenant model can deliver the required outcomes”. A major concern is that little or no reliable data is available to show exactly how much packaging material is being used let alone how much is recycled. So we face a situation where Ministers of Government have set a recycling target of 65% for post-consumer packaging, which can not be quantified but is now in the public domain.

Cordner said participating in the Covenant enables companies to provide a structured approach to what they do, plan and drive practical improvements, respond to community concerns, and work more effectively through supply chain participants.

The last suggestion fitted nicely with Linda Terry’s issue about some councils not accepting PVC for collection and sorting and her statement “harass the council” to include PVC in their collections

A major debate is raging, and was the focus of much of the question time, about what is known as ‘the black hole.’

It is about imported packaging and how to collate data on the volume, distribution and use of materials that after use become part of the waste cycle and will be considered by some as locally generated packaging.

Conversely there is no reliable data on the volume of collected material that is being exported for recycling and reuse.

Vinyl Cycle clearly states most of the PVC bottles collected are still sent offshore as part of the ‘mixed plastics’ stream for recycling where processing may be more cost effective – despite the strong demand for the end product here in Australia

The message is that recycling is now part of our modus operandi but every action you take needs to be measured and taken with due caution for the packaging industry is one that has always and will continue to be a ‘whipping boy’ for those who think they know better than us, and are able to get media coverage.

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