In a major step forward for Pact Group’s onshore circular plastic initiatives, the company is working with Woolworths Group to establish a strategic partnership that will see Pact manufacture and supply recycled packaging for products in Woolworths’ own brand range.
The partnership will see both companies accelerate their respective sustainability drives and help grow the Australian recycling industry to meet future demand for recycled plastic. For Pact this has already involved substantial investment in several plastic recycling facilities, and a commitment to creating what CEO and MD Sanjay Dayal refers to as a “truly local circular economy for plastics”. Developing end markets and finding buyers for the recycled plastic it manufactures is key to supporting this investment.
For Woolworths Group, while reducing plastics use across its packaging is a driver (it has already removed more than 5,800 tonnes of virgin single-use plastic and packaging from its own brand range in FY22), the retailer recognises that packaging plays a vital role in maintaining product quality and food safety, and where it is required for this purpose, using recycled plastic in its packaging is thus the best option. Sourcing the recycled material locally, and in so doing supporting a local circular economy, aligns with its sustainability goals.
Dayal said: “We know that consumers and businesses are increasingly demanding recycled and recyclable plastic packaging and Pact is working with committed partners like Woolworths Group to drive that change. Plastic packaging that is designed effectively, that is recyclable and recycled properly in Australia, can be used again and again.”
Woolworths Group managing director of Format & Network Development, Rob McCartney, who oversees Woolworths 360 – the business’ sustainability innovation engine responsible for the development of the partnership, said: “As Australia’s largest retailer we have a responsibility to make the products our customers put in their shopping baskets better for the environment.
“Across the scale of our range, the real challenge is sourcing quality recycled material in the volumes we need and ensuring it’s coming from within Australia to support the development of our local circular economy and avoid shipping emissions.”
Dayal said that partnering with Woolworths will allow Pact to eliminate all non-recyclable packaging it produces and provide its customers with solutions to reduce, reuse and recycle all single use secondary packaging.
The product packaging manufactured by Pact for Woolworths will include milk bottles, meat trays, fruit and vegetable punnets, and beverage bottles. The materials involved are rPET and rHDPE.
Pact will source recycled PET resin from its recycling facilities in Australia, including the recently opened recycling plant in Albury-Wodonga, which has the capacity to recycle around 1 billion 600ml PET beverage bottles a year. A second similar facility is under construction in Melbourne.
Recycled HDPE resin will also be sourced from local facilities, including a new plant under construction in Melbourne in partnership with Cleanaway Waste Management, which will have capacity to process more than 20,000 tonnes of plastic waste – or the equivalent of over half a billion plastic milk bottles and food tubs.
In addition, Woolworths plans to scale up the use of Pact’s reusable plastic produce crates over the next three years, increasing usage from approximately 50 million to 80 million crates a year.
According to Pact, its reusable crates, which are used to transport and store fresh produce, are designed to be used more than 140 times before being recycled, in contrast to a cardboard box which is single-use. Using Pact’s reusable plastic crates, the company says, will cut the requirement for 40 million single-use cardboard boxes per annum.
Projections provided by Pact are that the Pact-Woolworths partnership could see 18,000 tonnes of newly made plastic replaced with locally produced recycled plastic each year would relate to an estimated decrease in carbon emissions of almost 25,000 tonnes (equivalent to planting more than 37,000 trees) and a saving of almost 500 Olympic swimming pools-worth of water annually.
NSW Minister for Environment James Griffin said the initiative will support the NSW Government’s ambitious goal to triple the plastics recycling rate by 2030 and reduce plastics from entering our environment as litter or going to landfill.
“It is great to see businesses working in partnership with their customers, to move to more sustainable
packaging and help develop a circular economy,” Griffin said.
In addition to its recycling facilities, Pact is also investing $76 million to install new technology and equipment across its packaging manufacturing facilities as it continues to grow local capacity to support increased use of recycled plastic in Australian packaging.
Woolworths Group too has made forward strides on the plastics recycling front, having co-founded plastic recycling startup, Samsara, to help commercialise plastic-eating enzyme technology that could see plastic become infinitely recyclable.
Woolworths says the business is still in its infancy, with its first commercial scale plant expected to open in the next 18 months. Woolworths will take the first 5000 tonnes of recycled plastic produced for use in its own products.
Earlier this year, Woolworths became the first major supermarket to announce the removal of reusable plastic bags from all stores nationwide by June next year. The progressive state-by-state transition is expected to remove 9000 tonnes of plastic from stores and online orders annually.