Wellington, New Zealand — New Zealand's first PET recycling plant has opened with the help of a government subsidy.
Keith Smith, CEO of Flight Plastics Ltd. in Wellington, told Plastics News the parent company, Flight Group Ltd., spent NZ$12 million (US$8.8 million)on a full upgrade at its facility, including a wash plant for PET bottles.
NZ$4 million (US$2.9 million)of the total was a grant from the New Zealand government's Waste Minimization Fund, which supports projects that reduce environmental harm. The fund is backed by a levy charged on waste disposed of at landfills.
Smith said the wash plant and other work at the facility enables Flight Plastic to produce thermoformed packaging from recycled PET bottles.
The company installed extrusion equipment to use recycled PET flake starting in 2014, using imported flake to prove the process and establish a customer base.
"We had very encouraging results, so the next step was to close the loop and install our own wash plant," he said.
Flight Plastic has the capacity to recycle 6,000 metric tons of PET a year. It gets feedstock from curbside collections around the nation, which collect about 8,000 tonnes annually.
Smith said 20,000 tonnes of virgin PET is imported to New Zealand annually and he hopes that can be reduced. "It will take time to ramp up to full throughput," he said.
He also thinks New Zealanders will recycle more when they know the product can be repurposed onshore.
"If kiwis know there's a local solution, recycling rates should improve. There are no hard figures, but only 30 percent to 35 percent of PET finds its way into the curbside collections," Smith said.
Flight Plastics director Derek Lander said in a statement the opening of the wash plant was a milestone for Flight and its customers.
"Five years ago, we assessed the economic and environmental costs and benefits of introducing a wash plant in New Zealand. The business case was predicated on the wash plant being part of an integrated solution to use recycled PET flake in onsite production."
Smith added: "Offshore recycling options are getting fewer, meaning countries need to find solutions for their own waste."
Asked about China's ban on imported waste plastic, Smith said: "We'll wait and see how it pans out eventually. But it seems China will be more difficult for mixed-plastic importers."
Chris Bishop, the region's member of parliament, addded: "Given China recently announced a ban on importing recyclables from countries, including New Zealand, it's brilliant to have this facility set up and ready to go."
Smith said the company is making containers with 50 to 80 percent recycled content.
Flight Group was established in 1907 and initially made leather luggage. It is still privately held by members of the original Osborne family owners.
Flight moved into plastic production in the 1970s. It also has PET product manufacturing plants in Adelaide, Australia, and Romsey, England.