Inside Flight Plastics: the revolutionary on-shore recycling facility

A Wellington company have found what they believe to be the most effective solution for the global crisis of waste. Flight Plastics have built New Zealand’s first on-shore plastic recycling facility, bringing us one step closer to a circular economy.

Could this solution mean a global end to plastic pollution?

Flight Plastics 1 Rick Osborne Flight Plastics

Taking Flight

Innovation is something that’s always come easily to the Flight Group. First started in 1907, the family owned company have moved from selling suitcases, to manufacturing plastic packaging in the 1970s, to the opening of New Zealand’s first PET washplant and subsequent facilities in Australia and the UK.

Flight’s interest was piqued in 2012 when they began a five year, $12 million investment program to research and introduce the latest extrusion and thermoforming capability and capacity.

Making the switch from PET – the most used packaging material in the world today – to Recycled PET plastic (which stands for recycled polyethelene terphtalate and is commonly known as RPET), they found, was the most sustainable solution for the future of their business.

Manufacturing packaging from PET plastics, such as drinking bottles and containers for food, that had been collected from curbside recycling meant their materials could become boundless.

Introducing RPET

In 2014, they began importing RPET flakes from overseas in order to make packaging and begin to close the recycling loop. Real change came with the opening of their Lower Hutt washplant in 2017, co-funded by a $4 million grant from the Waste Minimisation Fund, which had the ability to wash, reprocess, and remanufacture recycled PET into new products.

Previously New Zealand’s PET had always had to be shipped overseas to be processed, or had ended up in landfill. This has caused great concern, especially with recent events in China and Malaysia.

Now it can be collected locally and recycled into new packaging on-shore, over and over again.

Flight Plastics Recycling Plant

Moving towards a circular economy

An alternative to a linear economy – create, use, dispose – a circular model revolves around the idea of resources being consumed, then taken back and reused, with this then repeated. Flight Recycling work within the circular economy by collecting recycled plastic, remanufacturing it into new packaging, collecting it once it’s finished with, and carrying on the process. The beautiful thing about it? It could go on infinitely, with Flight’s endless regeneration eliminating the need for raw materials.

We recycle over 98% of all plastic waste in-house and any waste possible from purchased goods and supplies, like plastic wrap and cardboard containers.

Patrick O’Donoghue, National Sales Manager of Flight Plastics.

Why it is important to manufacture with RPET?

Though a circular economy is undoubtedly the answer for the end of environmental crises facing our world – depletion of resources, toxic levels of greenhouse gases, more plastic in our oceans than fish – it may be awhile before manufacturers fully commit to long-term initiatives.

Recycling is necessary now to keep diverting waste from landfill. But it’s also crucial for us to be actively procuring recycled products. Without there being a need or requirement for recycled materials, the value of these resources can drop, and our recycling can become completely ineffective – this is not conducive to the visible difference that needs to be made against plastic pollution. Manufacturing with RPET in New Zealand is one way in which we can promote sustainability and inspire environmental action.

How have Flight helped New Zealand?

Every year, 20,000 tonnes of virgin PET is imported into New Zealand. Only 8,000 tonnes of this is recycled each year, meaning 12,000 tonnes are not accounted for.

With Flight’s process, new virgin PET becomes one tonne of RPET and can be recycled again and again. They assert that recycling can only be beneficial if we have an end-use for the recycled material. Every PET bottle or container recycled at Flight, they say is given new life and becomes 100% recyclable.

Transparency too is a vital part of recycling – we need to know where our recycling is going to know if our efforts are being rewarded.

So what else are the incentives for manufacturers to use Flight Plastic? Their RPET sees no loss of function or performance, is cost-neutral, meets all applicable food safety standards. Businesses can share in public recognition of using recycled plastic, appeal to those who cite sustainability as a deciding factor over their purchase decisions.

“Our commitment to sustainability is also in our everyday business operations,” says Patrick O’Donoghue, National Sales Manager. “We recycle over 98% of all plastic waste in-house and any waste possible from purchased goods and supplies, like plastic wrap and cardboard containers. We purchase recycled cartons for product deliveries to clients and recycle a large numbers of shipping pallets.”

Flight Plastics Products

The future looks bright for Flight, but will others follow suit?

With China refusing foreign waste, landfills filling to capacity, and the incredible cost of shipping our recyclables to other corners of the world, Flight’s solution is the best for us for now.

On-shore processing means:

  • Transparency for where our recycling is going
  • Self-sufficiency and efficiency when it comes to waste
  • Sustainability for the future.

In June it was revealed that Countdown supermarkets will use recycled plastic, processed by Flight, in its bakeries and delis. Other New Zealand manufacturers are also on board, with RPET becoming an increasingly popular material for packaging.

Flight’s success has been inspiring to see, but they are one company that has also predominantly been privately funded. We need to see governments and councils putting legal policies in place to replicate the success that Flight has had for their solution to become universal.

Find out more about the Flight Group

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