Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP) members recently attended a virtual deep dive Q&A session on Replas’ Polyrok innovation, moderated by Sustainable Sally.
What is Polyrok? How will it combat the soft plastics issue? How can this scalable and fit for purpose innovation change recycling and shift to a circular economy? These were just some of the questions answered by the panel during the session. Panelists included Replas’ Mark Jacobsen, Elizabeth Kasell of RED Group, Fiona Lloyd from Coles, Steve Rawson from SR Engineering, and RMIT University’s Dr. Jonathan Tran.
Polyrok is a sustainable recycled plastic aggregate that is an alternative to mineral aggregates in concrete for pathways, curves and channels that find a home for the soft plastics waste stream.
State-of-the-art technology allows Replas to use post-consumer soft plastics that are recovered from the REDcycle program in Coles and Woolworths.
“Fit for purpose, strong and durable, recyclable concrete from Replas is the new way forward in concrete innovation,” said Sustainable Sally.
The session saw the experts discuss the beneficial properties of cement and plastics, independent testing conducted at RMIT University, the partnership with RED Group, and the successful installations of Polyrok by Coles and local councils.
In terms of recovery volumes, Liz Kazell said: “At this stage, we’ve got Australians dropping off over two million pieces of soft plastic packaging every day through a network of bins. The level of participation and engagement has been absolutely overwhelming.”
“But of course, recycling can’t work unless there’s a recycled content product for the material to be turned into, which is why Polyrok has been such a vital and important piece of the puzzle.”
“I think we can take a lot of this problematic post-consumer plastic and the consumers want to know the story and want to know where it goes – culture cannot change unless you can see the end in mind,” said Jacobsen, adding that the two million pieces of plastic per day currently going back, is proof of the growing public engagement and circular economy at work.
“It’s about scalability, and through the education piece, and with all partnerships in place we can help to educate people better, as then they will be able to make more informed decisions," he said.
“The circular economy case is huge for Coles, so to find an end of life solution to some of these problematic soft plastics was an enormous thing for us,” said Lloyd. "Polyrok is really showing us all how we can use it."
“Our construction projects are ongoing and we continue to build new stores and refurbish them, so wherever we can see that opportunity to include Polyrok in, we will.”
Regarding RMIT's role in the collaboration, Tran said: ”We conducted testing against the product to standard, and found that it had unique features to assist with the bonding of the concrete."
In terms of whether Polyrok could release microplastics into the environment, causing more harm, Rawson said absolutely not.
“Polyrok is a course aggregrate, so it is bound and encapsulated within the mass of the concrete, so not exposed to the environment,” said Rawson, adding that concrete is a perfect storage space for plastic as it it provides oxygen and a UV-free environment.
Most recently, Replas has just received a $3 million federal grant to go towards the manufacturing of Polyrok.