Taking Back to do Good
IP Plastics are a family-owned New Zealand business that have been manufacturing plastics since 1982. Their product range spans everything from horticultural supplies to furniture, and fittings to homeware. Recognising that these products have impacts if not recovered post use, Amber Maisey (Chief Operating Officer) was driven to investigate what could be done to create a circular system.
Working with Nikki Withington from Square One Ltd., IP Plastics commenced a Discovery Phase project investigating options for improving the circularity of plant pots. Their research focused on two main areas; the potential to recover old plant pots to use as feedstock for recycled content in new products; and investigation into degradable plant pots. The Phase One research kickstarted conversations about post use material recovery and ultimately drove the direction for their Phase Two project – trialing a polypropylene (PP) plastic product take-back scheme.
Since March 2022, Amber and Nikki have been working closely with community recycling centres across Auckland to trial the collection of oversized PP products. PP is highly recyclable and small grocery items made from it are already accepted through kerbside recycling. However, large post use PP items such as plant pots, paddling pools, buckets, and garden chairs are not recoverable through kerbside collection. By arranging collection points at community recycling centres, IP Plastics were able to organize for pick up and delivery to Polymer Processing where the items are reprocessed into recycled content. IP Plastics then buy this back as a feedstock for new products. A truly circular solution!
As the scheme progressed, additional partners were engaged. This supported with smoother logistics and additional feedstock sources. Training was provided for Community Recycling Centre staff to ensure that they could properly identify and separate items for collection. There is also potential for a shredder to be purchased in order to minimise the challenge of storing and transporting bulky items.
Contamination, however, remains a challenge. Many of the products collected through the scheme have been used outdoors. This means they often have dirt, moss, oil, and paint on them. Some items, such as buckets, often have metal handles. Time would need to be spent removing these contaminants before items such as these could be recycled. Along with the resource it takes to sort, collect, and reprocess recovered material, it becomes a costly process. Buy in from other industry members would help to lower this cost.
The journey has been eventful and has included challenges as well as wins. The learnings have shown that circular solutions are possible and will be most effective when there is buy in from wider cross sections of industry. The Phase 2 project is now finished but IP Plastics are continuing with the mahi and are keen to hear from any industry players who are interested in joining the scheme!