Coca-Cola Amatil and waste management company Veolia Australia are partnering to explore building a substantial plastic processing plant in Australia, as the beverage giant makes a big move towards recycled plastic.
The plant would accept crushed plastic bottles from around the country, saving them from having to be shipped overseas for recycling.
Veolia Australia director of strategic projects Heather Bone said the companies were exploring possible locations in regional locations in all three of Australia’s eastern states.
The plant could cost in the neighbourhood of $45 million to $50 million, would employ 45 to 50 people and be able to recycle perhaps as much as 30,000 tonnes of the 80,000 tonnes of PET plastic produced in Australia each year.
PET plastic – polyethylene terephthalate, the kind used in plastic bottles – “is a very unique and high quality plastic,” which makes it easy to recycle, Ms Bone said.
But while some PET plastic recycling is done within Australia by Visy, most of Australia’s plastic bottles are crushed and shipped overseas for recycling.
Coca-Cola Amatil spokesman Patrick Low said the company was probably Australia’s largest user of recycled PET, and had to import 16,000 tonnes of it from Taiwan this year to meet its commitment of producing 70 per cent of its bottles from recycled plastic by the end of 2019.
Some of that plastic may have originated in Australia and been sent to Taiwan for recycling, only to be re-imported back into the country, he said.
Until this year it was impossible to use 100 per cent recycled plastic for carbonated beverage bottles – which have an internal pressure three times that of a car tyre – but research from CCA’s FutureWorks team in Sydney solved that problem in March, Mr Low said.
It’s now possible to make smaller bottles for carbonated beverages entirely out of recycled plastic, an Australian innovation that will likely catch on across the world, he said.
Coca-Cola Amatil executives defended PET plastic at the company’s Investor Day in Sydney on Friday as playing a valuable role in its packaging mix.
PET plastic is 50 per cent less carbon intensive than cans; half the price of aluminium and a third the price of glass; malleable and impact resistant; and quicker to produce, the company said.
They acknowledged it does not bio-degrade and forms micro-plastic marine litter, however, but said CCA was striving to address that through closed loop recycling.
Mr Low said the 115,000 stores that Coca-Cola Amatil sells to are letting the company know loud and clear that their customers want their beverages in sustainable packaging.
“In five or 10 years, anyone who is not producing a recycled NARTD bottle is a dinosaur,” Mr Low said, using an industry acronym for Non Alcoholic Ready to Drink beverages.
“It is a commercial imperative.”
The working group hopes to make a decision on the plant’s location within a few weeks, and it could be operational within 12 to 24 months, Ms Bone said.