Key steps to relaunch soft plastics recycling

The launch of Close the Loop’s new TonerPlas line is integral to the restart of soft plastics collection and recycling in Australia. 

The launch of Close the Loop’s new TonerPlas line is integral to the restart of soft plastics collection and recycling in Australia. 

The collapse of the REDcycle soft plastics collection scheme has been attributed to many factors, however a soft plastics recycling scheme is critical for meeting key sustainability targets soon to be passed down with mandates and legislation.

APCO’s 2025 packaging targets are to reach 100 per cent reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging, 70 per cent of plastic being recycled or composted, 50 per cent average recycled content in packaging, and to phase out single-use plastics. 

Soft plastics collection and recycling is a key part of reaching these targets, whether in the time frame or now, and Close the Loop is helping to create new end-of-life applications for soft plastics, while pushing towards new recycling schemes.

A good example of how Close the Loop achieves this goal, is its role in the development of TonerPlas.  

“TonerPlas is an innovative product that uses reclaimed toner powder  from print cartridges, which is itself a plastic polymer,” said Jessica Ansell, marketing manager, Close the Loop. 

“We basically homogenise and blend the toner powder into post-consumer soft plastic materials such as those previously collected through the REDcycle program.

“It’s replacing virgin polymers which are typically found in road specifications with recycled ones.”

The product has already been used in multiple council road projects across Australia, and as part of major freeway upgrades in Victoria.” 

The sustainability benefits of TonerPlas go beyond the utilisation of difficult post-consumer waste streams- it has lower carbon footprint over the lifecycle of the road, as well as higher performance compared to standard road specifications. 

“The new line will have four to five times the capacity of the previous, processing over 1 tonne/hour of complex polymers,” said Steve Morris, head of circulatory at Close the Loop.

“In addition to TonerPlas, we will also be manufacturing rFlex, a product that re-places virgin plastic in injection moulding applications and can be utilised for use in plastic products such as pallets and crates.”

Ansell said solutions like TonerPlas were critical in helping move towards new soft plastics recycling schemes, especially to help fill a void while complimentary chemical recycling facilities come on-line over the coming years.

“It’s really important we have some solutions coming out ASAP to bridge that gap,” she said. 

“And to support ongoing chemical and mechanical recycling, which will work hand in hand, because it’s not a one size fits all solution when it comes to dealing with problematic waste like
soft plastics. 

“Soft plastic is a key area of focus and along with that it’s important for the efforts and investment brand owners are undergoing on new packaging lines and new packaging equipment to be recognised and for the right result to meet the hard work.

“It is important to have solutions to support all that work being done at the front end.”  

Ansell said soft plastics are currently complicated waste streams that are incredibly difficult to be effectively recycled and reused, something which is likely to be-come simpler as solutions, collection schemes, and the packaging itself evolve. 

“The REDcycle program fell over largely due to the complex mix of materials and limited end markets vs supply of feedstock,” she said. 

“Hence, we didn’t have a pull through effect. We can recover as much plastic as we like but must actively be able to put them into something else and reuse them. Which is a real challenge for a lot of people. 

“TonerPlas was the only high-volume solution there was.”

Ansell said one of the critical goals is to simplify the complexity of soft plastics by reducing mixed materials where possible.

“This allows for more end markets and to generate more capabilities for end-of-life recovery and give those materials added value.” 

The movement of brand-owners away from complex soft plastics laminations will also assist further with improving packaging outcomes in flexible packaging and provide better quality feedstock for new end markets beyond solutions like TonerPlas. 

This includes post-consumer recycled content packaging films for non-food grade applications made here in Australia, which Close the Loop are actively involved with through their O F Packaging division based out of Melbourne.

O F Packaging had already spent years working on monopolymer packaging and its recent merger with Close the Loop has only strengthened the development of alternative packaging solutions for both. 

“We recognised that was the future of sustainability for flexibles at end of life,” said Ansell. 

“Flexibles give great sustainability benefits through their supply chain in terms soft being lightweight, commercially viable, easy to transport, and carbon efficient, while providing protection for food.

“But they are hard to reclaim and recycle which is where we have been focused for a number of years.” 

This already aligns with circular economy standards set out in Europe, which is a great sign for the level being achieved for the Australian market’s standards going forward.

“The challenge has been getting the same level of barrier protection,” said Ansell.  

Which is why we have used multi-luminants for so long because the performance characteristics is what gives packaging its protective capabilities.”  

Ansell said the rapid advancement in technology and innovation around better recyclable packaging remains a key driver in what mandates and legislation will look like going forward. 

“The current APCO system, which has been voluntary, has some brands hesitant about investing in monopolymer because there wasn’t an end-of-life for them, which would mean investing more while it still ended up in landfill,” she said. 

“From the other side, recycling recovery requires good streams to help drive the need for investment in recycling and recovery in the first place. Someone has to move first, or we have to move together.” 

With companies like O F Packaging and Close the Loop working towards stamping out these issues, its hoped more brands and key decision makers from the food and beverage industry will jump on board and help the push to a proper circular economy around packaging. 

O F Packaging was also recognised with the coveted APCO Industry Sector Awards-Packaging Manufacturer & Supplier category for its leadership and packaging initiatives.

“After a period of instability, it’s exciting to see genuine progress occurring with soft plastics,” says Close the Loop Innovation and Sustainability Manager Jason Smith.

“With developments such as the new TonerPlas processing line and government indications of moving to a mandatory environment. 

“And the release of the APCO soft plastics design for recycling guidelines and the positive trials of the National Plastic Recycling Scheme.”

Close the Loop will be a key recycling partner for upcoming soft plastics initiatives, in addition to their existing zero waste to landfill programs that they provide for the recovery, remanufacturing and recycling of print consumables, cosmetics, batteries, and e-waste. 

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