• Future thinking for plastics packaging: CEO Craig Wellman takes a closer look at the company’s 100% rPET preforms.
    Future thinking for plastics packaging: CEO Craig Wellman takes a closer look at the company’s 100% rPET preforms.

On the back of the recent breakthrough launch of a 90 per cent food grade recycled ‘Squeezy’ Sauce Bottle, Sydney-based manufacturer of rigid plastics packaging, Wellman Packaging, has stepped up again to announce that it is 100 per cent rPET ready.

After 18 months of extensive development, trials, and testing both in Australia and internationally, Wellman Packaging is now able to produce all its PET preforms and, in the near future, PET bottles with 100 per cent food grade recycled PET (rPET).

In an exclusive interview with PKN, CEO and owner Craig Wellman said this development is part of the company’s ‘Future Thinking for Plastics Packaging’ program, including ‘Sustainable Plastics’.

“As you know, I have recently been in the media responding to the 60 Minutes reporting on plastics waste. Regardless of the dubious accuracy of that reporting, 60 Minutes and the wider media running similar sensationalist articles have done the world a favour. They have made plastics a dirty word, and have caused the entire supply chain from retailer down to polymer producer to finally react in a co-ordinated way,” he said.

“We now have real commitments to sustainability targets like Ellen Macarthur’s 2025, and brand owners and their supplier partners investing heavily in technologies and spending the money to make it happen.

“I have a young daughter who for her birthday this year asked that her friends and family contribute to cleaning up ocean plastics. She is my real stakeholder, the person I am accountable to when it comes to what we do here at Wellman. Like all who are passionate about this subject, we are custodians of this planet, and our sustainability program has been built with this – and my daughter’s generation – in mind. Ultimately, the teens of today are our customers tomorrow, but of course they are already affecting household spending decisions,” he said.

While Wellman is set up to be 100 per cent rPET enabled, the exact percentage of rPET is up to Wellman’s brand owners. The company is confident, however, that its brand owner customers embrace the same vision and philosophy and will go for it, releasing their products with 100 per cent rPET from the get-go, which Wellman expects to be as early as January 2020.

Wellman’s production line for the 90% recycled, food grade PE squeezy sauce bottle.
Wellman’s production line for the 90% recycled, food grade PE squeezy sauce bottle.

Wellman’s rPET material is 100 per cent food grade approved, and this means that all of Wellman’s food customers can also adopt 100 per cent rPET into their packaging. Right now, Wellman produces PET and rPET preforms for blow moulding at customer sites and is set up for dairy applications, but the company will also have PET bottle making capacity under the same roof in the not-too-distant future.

“Bottom line is that recycled plastics are no longer a ‘nice-to-have’. They are a ‘need-to-have’, and brand owners caught short on this development will struggle to meet their 2025 commitments – but more importantly, will lose traction in the conversation with their consumer,” Wellman said.

“Consumers have fully embraced recycled plastics and are wondering why it wasn’t done across the board decades ago. It’s a good question, and there are many reasons for this, but they don’t matter anymore – the groundswell has shifted, and we must act in unison.

“We have been investing heavily in this area for some time, waiting for this day with high expectation to be able to realise this vision. It is heart-warming to see happen,” he said.

Wellman believes in the notion of ‘nothing to land fill’. As an avid student of waste and recycling, he is also a strong advocate for waste-to-energy solutions where recycling cannot be employed effectively or in a carbon-neutral way.

“The solution for plastics waste, and indeed waste in general, is not one-dimensional. It is not just about plastic or it being bad for the environment because frankly, with the right systems including recovery and W2E working in a holistic way, plastics in fact are one of the best materials available for minimising the tonnages of waste and especially food waste, the often overlooked part of the waste equation,” he said.

The company’s philosophy is that it must have a ‘better-than-carbon-neutral’ footprint.

“We need to use recycled and renewable feedstocks, produce products that are fully recyclable and able to be recycled with nothing to landfill – and then convert our raw materials using energy sources that do not create greenhouse gases. Ultimately, we must go ‘off-the-grid’ in all aspects of our business for the future of our children’s experience on this planet. We are actively working on this now with the design of the next facilities that we intend to commission over the next five years. This is a key component of our business plan for the next 50 years. We aim to step up and demonstrate a new way, what I call ‘conscious manufacturing’, and I am hopeful that others will embrace this vision.”

These are ambitious plans for this medium-sized Australian company but the team at Wellman are heavily united in this vision with an almost evangelical approach to this calling, and that feels very powerful indeed.

PKN will watch this space with interest – but, like most things in Craig Wellman’s career to date that have been en-pointe, there is no denying the global shifts taking place in this arena.

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