The Australian Recycling Crisis: Our Search for Answers on Multi-Laminate Films.
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People were sent into a panic when China stated they would no longer accept recycling waste from foreign nations, and with good reason.
Unbeknown to the majority of the population (and despite our relatively small size and position as a developed nation), Australia hadn’t invested in improving the domestic waste buy-back market and had instead been sending vast amounts of their co-mingled recycling offshore for processing.
While Australia is now scrambling for solutions and recycling is being stock-piled or blatantly thrown into landfill, companies both within the packaging industry and outside are working together on improving the feasibility of flexible plastic recycling in Australia, and working towards better film alternatives and processes to combat the negative impact our waste is having on the environment.
The big issue we’re attempting to tackle revolves around multi-laminate plastics- packaging with mixed materials that make recycling difficult in some places, and impossible in most others. To allow recycling, these ‘layers’ have to be separated into their respective materials by vigorous and costly procedures- which is why most just end up thrown in landfill instead.
O F Packaging had a problem trying to recycle their own excess multi-laminate packaging; numerous phone calls to soft plastic recycling centres around Australia found no one willing to take the product. They only wanted easy to recycle plastics, and even though some companies advertised that they’d take anything “scrunchable”, through more enquiry we found out they would just throw away complex flexible packaging formats like everyone else.
We didn’t want to throw it in landfill, and were committed to finding an on-shore solution to multi-laminate recycling.
After more research and phone calls, we stumbled across a potential solution: Pyrolysis.
Pyrolysis is a reactor process which basically heats plastics back to their original crude oil and gas form, and works with multiple different plastics mixed together, even after vast contamination. Imagine being able to source oil and gas products back from plastic products?
We sent some of our mixed laminate packaging to test during the process and it was successful- the process worked on a small-scale.
With investment in something like pyrolysis, we have the potential to utilise and recycle a variety of packaging structures depending on our needs, without seeing them contaminating our environment. Utilising single-polymer, recyclable plastics for the products that are compatible, we could potentially still use multi-laminate structures for high-barrier product requirements, turning them back into fuel at the end of their lifespan.
Exciting times and innovation lays ahead in both the packaging and waste disposal sector- together, we will find viable, modern solutions.