Making the most of PET recycling

Martogg is a family-owned business founded in 1975. It has grown to employ hundreds of people and is a company that specialises in resins and recycled products for the plastics industry. With its head office in Melbourne, and branches around Australia, it is truly a national company that offers solutions for companies that require commodity resins, engineering materials, colours and additives and recycled products.

According to product manager Ben McCulloch, what makes the company stand out from many of its competitors is its all-encompassing business model and diversity that covers off on many aspects of the plastics industry.

“Martogg is made up of five companies that operate under the Martogg umbrella,” said McCulloch. “We are a trader of commodity resins as well as a producer of polymer compounds, masterbatch products/additives and recycled resins, serving the Australian and the regional plastics industry for over 45 years”.

One of the company’s main areas of expertise is recycling, especially of PET. Martogg realises that recycling PET is not only good for the environment, but it makes good business sense, too. They knew four years ago that the recycling of PET was going to become important, so started down that road back then.

“When we talk recycled food grade PET, we bought into the technology and first started producing and marketing it back in 2016, which was a bit ahead of its time,” he said. “Back then, the market certainly wasn’t where it is today. In the past couple of years we’ve really seen it develop and transition off the back of the China Sword policy that came into effect in February 2018. We as a country could no longer ship bales of poorly sorted waste offshore, we must invest in infrastructure to manage this waste and make use of the valuable resource”.

Being experts in plastics compounding and recycling helped because the company was able to take its know-how, spanning over 45 years, to understand and produce recycled PET that is recognised globally for its quality.

“What we are talking about is post-consumer waste plastic streams in the form of PET and converting back into pelletised resin suitable for the same application in which it originated from (e.g. bottle to bottle) McCulloch said.

“Take bottled water for example, I’m sure many consumers today wouldn’t realise that the bottle they are drinking from is made up of 100 per cent recycled PET plastic, the quality is that good. You’re actually rebuilding the PET polymer in the recycling process. marPET is being used today into beverages, meat packaging, cosmetics and household cleaning products to name a few applications. The applications are expanding as brands look to incorporate recycled content into their products”.

McCulloch said that many of its clients are starting to use recycled PET, even though it comes at an increased cost to virgin resin. This may seem a strange decision from a purely business stance, but there is much more to an outcome that just the bottom line – not only do brands see the environmental benefit of recycling, but the brands customers are also demanding it.

“We are talking to and working with businesses and brands in the FMCG space and they clearly want to be doing the right thing for the environment and from a sustainability perspective,” McCulloch said. “But their customer base is also driving and pushing it.”

McCulloch sees it is a win-win situation. Where it has been tough over the past few years, he said, is that it really getting into the brand owners – to understand that the material is available, but it is more costly than virgin material, but it is still worthwhile using it.

“In using recycled PET in pace of virgin PET, brands are going to save significant amounts of CO2 output and greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

“Many studies have been completed across the globe that show, over the entire lifecycle of rPET, in comparison to virgin PET, you are saving up to 80 per cent CO2 output/greenhouse gas emissions. The findings are staggering. You have to place value on waste material otherwise people just discard it and it means nothing to them. Then we see our landfills filling at a significant rate when we have a valuable resource that can be recycled and reused.”

So, how does it work? What is the process that Martogg instigates to enabled used PET to be reused in the food and beverage industry?

The raw material used for making food grade marPET is hot wash PET flake. Hot wash flake comes from PET bottles that have been placed in a recycling bin or container deposit system e.g. Return and Earn by the consumer, and which then get collected and baled into waste. This waste is then sorted, shredded and hot washed to remove residual foods, liquids, glues and labels and other contaminants.   

“In order for the PET to be separated from other plastic contaminants, such as high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene etc, PET – given its density – will sink in this floatation sorting process,” said McCulloch.

“The PET sinks, while the polyolefin floats, which allows you to separate PET from other plastics. And with that process you are able to get the PET into a relatively clean state, but it is still not ready to be used back into FMCG packaging applications that demand food grade.”

To remedy this, the flakes are put through the company’s Vacurema lines, which is a high-heat, high-vacuum process. The high vacuum extracts moisture and volatiles from the PET feedstock and converts the flake into pelletised resin.

“We then send it back out in the form of food grade recycled PET resin – small pellets – where it can be used straight back into many of these applications,” said McCulloch.

Martogg works with businesses and brands to help them achieve their own sustainability objectives. Plastic has a fairly negative image in the market; however, this is largely due to our poor recycling habits and not the function of plastic which offers many benefits.

“The reality is, plastic is a wonderful material, it’s just how we dispose of it and recycle it that is the issue,” said McCulloch.

“If the average consumer understands the process, then we as a country could be much better off than we are. The reality is, for many years we have been used to packaging up poorly sorted bales of waste plastic and shipping it offshore and making it someone else’s problem. Now we are in a position to do something about it.”

He said that the battle all along has been convincing brands that they need to go down that path of rPET and drive the circular economy whereby the packaging materials they use can be re-used time and time again, rather than the traditional linear approach – making it, using it and then disposing of it either in landfills or shipping it offshore, with neither option acceptable anymore.

One of the things that separates Martogg from other players in the market is that it can offer recycled PET – or marPET as it is branded – as a 100 per cent standalone product, or at nominated blends with virgin PET.

It is a truly circular material that can be used in FMCG products that require food contact approval.

“For companies that are part of the APCO – companies that want to put recycled content in their product, we can supply them marPET blends, for example a 30-70 blend, which means 30 per cent being recycled and 70 per cent being virgin,” said McCulloch. “This way they can do the right thing and meet the APCO recycled content targets because their packaging includes recycled material and can be recycled again at the end of its first life; you can see how its circular.”

“The main thing for us is that we have been doing this for a while. It’s not new. As global demand for recycled content has increased, we have continued to invest in production capacity to support the market.

Our commitment to marPET is unwavering and by Q3 2020, we will have a third Vacurema line in our Melbourne rPET plant with combined annual production capacity of over 23,000 tonnes. The era of make, use, dispose is over.”