We have been deluged in recent months with dismal reports of a world drowning in plastics, our blue planet grossly polluted and our food chains endangered.
A Lower Hutt-based firm is doing something about it in a big way.
Flight Plastics has invested heavily in a new plant that has the capacity to handle all of New Zealand’s waste PET plastic bottles, the type most commonly used for soft drinks and water.
PET (polyethylene terephthalate) principally made from oil refining waste by-products is the world’s most ubiquitous food packing material, surpassing glass and aluminium. It makes up an estimated 20-30 percent of New Zealand’s annual plastics consumption.
The privately owned Flight company is turning the PET products from waste to a resource with a $17 million investment.
The chemical composition allows the material to be recycled multiple times, according to chief executive Keith Smith.
The company manufactures a range of recycled plastic packaging products, from fresh produce containers to meat and fish and bakery items, to chocolates and pharmaceuticals.
Smith talks of a circular economy that moves costs where they belong and helps the environment by reducing consumption and the need for disposal.
That is in contrast to a linear economy where resources are extracted, products manufactured, used and then disposed of, with the community bearing the cost of the environmental impact.
The choices are stark – go circular and reduce the PET pile, or keep importing and add to our landfills and roadsides and waterways.
New Zealand uses around 30,000 tonnes of PET packaging every year.
About 8000 tonnes was previously collected and exported, sending our problem offshore.
Flight Plastics has the capacity to deal with all of the clear PET currently collected in New Zealand and can increase capacity as recycling rates improve.
Even so, that leaves 22,000 tonnes every year that is currently not being recycled in our throwaway society.
Why anyone needs to buy bottled water in a country that has a first rate water supply is another matter.
Flight’s development is some achievement for a company that began life 111 years ago in a single room in Wellington’s Lambton Quay crafting leather bags.
It is no longer in the luggage making business, although the Flight brand lives on, and moved into plastics in the 1970s.
It has since established factories in Adelaide and Romsey in the UK.
The increasing public alarm about the long-term impacts of plastics has seen the Government move to ban single-use plastic bags.
Both major supermarket chains responded they will phase out free, single-use high density polyethylene shopping bags by the end of this year, 750 million of which are produced annually – 154 for every New Zealander.
“Every year we use a mountain of bags, many of which end up polluting our precious coastal and marine environments and causing serious harm to all kinds of marine life,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
“There are viable alternatives for consumers and business.”
The supermarkets could still do a lot more and when profits are at stake, will likely only respond to public pressure or government edict.
They continue to import plastic meat trays – approximately 4500 tonnes of them every year – instead of sourcing local recycled products, adding to the waste mountain.
And yet the price differential is minuscule.
It is easy to tell the difference. The Flight Recycling products are stamped as such – NZ Recycled Plastic.
The recycling process fails in the absence of market demand.
It is up to all of us to demand higher standards.