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Study Into New Zealand-first For End-of-life Plastic Recycling

A new collaboration between industry and Government marks the first step towards a circular economy for soft plastic packaging in New Zealand. Technology developer Licella, cardboard packaging and paper recycler Oji Fibre Solutions, on-farm plastic recycler Plasback, New Zealand’s largest red meat processing and marketing company, Silver Fern Farms, and grocery retailer Woolworths New Zealand, with support from the Ministry for the Environment’s Plastics Innovation Fund, today announced a joint feasibility study to determine the technical, economic, and environmental benefits of a local advanced recycling industry.

Advanced chemical recycling is new technology for New Zealand and turns waste plastics back into oil – offering a new life for post-consumer soft plastic that is difficult to recycle mechanically and often ends up in landfill. This oil re-enters the plastics supply chain as a substitute for fossil oil. Advanced recycling complements New Zealand’s existing recycling options and creates a circular solution for a wide range of difficult to recycle plastic.

The Feasibility Study will evaluate potential sites in New Zealand to establish an advanced chemical recycling facility using Licella’s innovative Australian Cat-HTR™ (Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor) technology.

The Cat-HTR™ platform is an innovative advanced recycled technology that uses hot, pressurised water, via a process known as hydrothermal liquefaction, to continuously recycle end-of-life plastic that would otherwise be sent to landfill.

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“Advanced chemical recycling has an important place in the circular economy for plastic, creating greater value and less emissions than waste to energy. With a commercial project already under development in Australia, New Zealand has the advantage of being a fast follower to quickly adopt state of the art technology that can potentially revolutionise how we manage plastic” said Simon Mathewson, Licella’s GM of Business Development.

Licella CEO, Mr Alan Nicholl, explained that advanced recycling in New Zealand could provide food brands access to the food-grade recycled packaging that they require. “We’re excited to be working alongside a diverse and highly respected international consulting team and industry partners who are the leaders in their field” he said.

Woolworths New Zealand’s Head of Sustainability, Catherine Langabeer, says the supermarket is proud to be supporting the feasibility study and hopes it will make a meaningful contribution to a more sustainable and future-fit Aotearoa New Zealand. “Our customers want to see focussed action on plastics and for us to move quickly to find more circular solutions for waste. We have ambitious plans to meet that demand and absolutely support the need to accelerate New Zealand innovation with studies like this” says Catherine.

OJIFS CEO, Jon Ryder, said “As a large player in NZ’s paper-based packaging and recycling sectors, we are keen to understand the application of this technology, so we will be very interested in the study findings”.

Silver Fern Farms' Chief Sustainability & Risk Officer, Kate Beddoe, says the company has been actively working towards a circular use model, with a particular focus on PPE use and packaging.

"In the short term, plastics play a critical role in our product quality, safety and shelf life, and in protecting our people at work. However, alongside options for plastic alternatives, we are also keen for medium term solutions that close the loop on recycling of contaminated plastics. This project is a very important step towards solving that for New Zealand," she says.

Plasback Commercial Manager, Neal Shaw, says that the Licella initiative to create a circular solution for waste plastic is another step forward in discovering the most efficient way to process the plastic. “The Agricultural sector has been working on the collection and processing of plastic for about 17 years but has largely been consigned to exporting for processing, the plastic is often industrial and has levels of contamination that make it less preferable for mechanical recycling processors due to the high costs associated with the process in NZ. Plasback is supportive of finding alternative solutions and is pleased to be able to contribute to the feasibility study to determine the benefits with a view to recycling the more difficult to recycle plastics.”

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