How 6000 tonnes of plastic bottles a year are recycled in Wellington
It can recycle 6000 tonnes of plastic bottles every year, and its also the first factory in the country capable of turning material back into food-grade packaging.
The Flight Plastics factory in Lower Hutt churns out meat trays, biscuit trays and fruit punnets - all to customer order, all designed on-site, and all stamped with the words 'New Zealand Recycled'.
Director Derek Lander says there is a huge difference between that and the 'recyclable' label.
"Recyclable means someone else can deal with it, New Zealand recycled means we are dealing with it here."
The difference also equates to about 10,000 fewer kilometres traveled, with most other plastics shipped to Asia for recycling.
"Then we have to buy it back. We have this massive pile of material here that we can now use, and the other options are: it goes to landfill or on to the beach or the park."
The site, which was previously the Griffin's biscuit factory, was bought in 2008. Operations began on a smaller scale in 2010.
The process begins when 400kg bales of bottles, bought from recyclers across the country, arrive in the factory's yard.
The bales are broken apart and any non-PET bottles are separated out.
A high-speed camera looks at every bottle at it shoots along a conveyor belt at 30kmh. As the bottles cascade on to a second belt, any non-PET plastics are forced out by blasts of compressed air from a row of nozzles.
The labels are removed during a hot wash, which also sterilises the bottles.
From here the bottles are broken down.
Because the caps are a different material, they have to be sorted as well.
This is done in a float tank, with the lighter polypropylene caps floating to the top, where they are siphoned off.
The caps are sent to another recycler and the pure PET is melted down, moulded into long sheets, with a skin of virgin material applied in order to bring it up to food-grade.
Now the sheets can be pressed into the various containers and packaging types created by the factory.
PET is like glass, Lander says, and can be recycled time and time again. "We can take bottles, reuse them, and then we can take our product back and reuse it again."
Lander says one of the most common objections he has heard to recycling is a disbelief that the material was reused, with many convinced it was simply dumped.
"If we can get this publicised and people can see where their recycling is going, we're hoping people will make more of an effort to get their items into the recycling scheme."
There is still room for growth, and with about 20,000 tonnes of PET being imported every year, there is no shortage of material waiting to be recycled.
"This is what New Zealand wants. The whole conversation at the moment is about, what happens to my recycling? Why are we sending it to Asia? It's sort of a constant narrative."
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