Coles will be giving millions of soft plastic packages a new lease of life thanks to new recycling technology researched and developed in partnership with RMIT University and recycling organisations Replas and RED Group.
The new Polyrok concrete technology is made from plastic bags and soft plastic packaging recovered from the REDcycle depots available in all Coles supermarkets, and acts as a sustainable alternative to aggregate minerals used in concrete.
According to Mark Jacobsen, Replas joint managing director, recent developments such as the China ban and our politicians passing the bill for no waste plastic being exported from our shores, has hit soft plastics more than anything else.
“We now have all of this soft plastic, which is the most problematic of all plastics, with nowhere to go, so we had to come up with something that was scalable and fit for purpose, and mixing it in with concrete just makes sense,” Jacobsen tells PKN.
“It is lighter, it is easier to use, and you don’t even know while you are installing that it is in there. And unlike other combinations which don’t bind well, Polyrok links up very well with cement.
“Our process does two things – it delivers the same or stronger bonding with concrete as a 10 percent aggregate replacement. Generally, there is about 90 percent of soft plastic being mixed in, so it’s a real winner.”
More than 6.5 million pieces of soft plastic will be recycled in the largest-ever commercial application of Polyrok, as part of a Coles supermarket development at Cobblebank in Melbourne’s west starting this week.
The technology has the potential to build a more circular economy and support future infrastructure projects, as only 10 percent of the 3.5 million tonnes of soft plastic thrown out by Australians each year is recycled, according to Clean up Australia.
“We are already working with the federal government for a grant for that, and our specialised plant will help us cater to all major infrastructure needs – not just for footpaths and curbing, but also for things like structural walls on factories or sound barriers on freeways,” explains Jacobsen.
“And already we are finding that for future products (like sound wall barriers), Polyrok is a better alternative than what is already out there – it is lightweight, easier to use, about a third of the price, and in terms of acoustics, actually performs better than counterpart products.
“Our mission statement at Replas is very clear, and that is to take the most problematic plastic in Australia and make it into a fit for purpose product. That’s our mandate.”
“There is a new value on plastic because we need to find somewhere to put it, and the more valuable the products we make, the more we can take in and keep out of landfill, because recycling can only live when procurement of recycled plastic products takes place.”
Coles first partnered with Replas and REDcycle in 2011 and was the first major Australian supermarket to have REDcycle bins in every supermarket.
Fiona Lloyd, Coles state construction manager for Victoria, says they were looking at opportunities to use the new technology in future developments.
“We collect roughly 30 million pieces of plastic every month through our customer REDcycle program, so there’s a huge opportunity to use Polyrok in other Coles developments or other construction projects,” explains Lloyd.
“We’re really proud of the work we’ve put in with REDGroup, Replas and RMIT to invest and develop this important sustainable technology designed to reduce our environmental impact.
“This is just the beginning of what is possible – this project alone will help repurpose more than 6.5 million pieces of soft plastic from landfill.”
The program now collects an average of 121 tonnes – roughly 30 million pieces of plastic every month – with more than 1.3 billion pieces of soft plastic diverted from landfill since 2011.