Recycling & Manufacturing needs Transparency

This post is part of a series where our co-founder Steven Korner will be talking about a range of topics – from design, to what it’s like to engineer a product in the sustainability space.

As you may have heard on Stuff this morning, Wellington Council has announced their plan to only collect plastics 1, 2 and 5 in the kerbside collection.

This move, that follows in the footsteps of councils around the country, highlights one of the main problems we have - the quality of materials manufacturers are choosing to use. It’s undeniable we have a plastic and waste problem, but it all begins with the Manufacturers choice of materials. We’ve known for some time now that plastics 3, 4, 6, and ‘7’ the other category are difficult to recycle and there isn’t a market for these recycled materials. So the first instinct should be to move to a higher quality materials.

Though, to enact real change manufacturers should take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products and be involved in the recycling process for their products. The Regulated Product Stewardship Scheme is planning on addressing. But I believe that if you’re making a product, the manufacturer should take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of it. This means they would choose materials that maintain their value and while making them responsible for downstream issues that may arise.

It’s something that Method takes very seriously, we utilise post-consumer plastic (no 5) from the central north island kerbside collections to make our new product the Method Twenty Litre Bin. In fact, the Twenty was designed to maximise recycled material inputs resulting in a product that is made of 80% post-consumer recycled content.

We would like to get to 100% NZ recycled materials in both of our bins, but have so far been unable to find a sustainable source of clear PP (no 5) from NZ recycling to allow us to produce our colour-coded lids.

It’s something we will continue to work on, as we know we have the opportunity to help the NZ recycling industry with the demand for recycled plastic, for example, in 2019 alone we utilised over 44 tonnes of NZ recycled PP. The main issue we face is the inflexible nature of recycling processing.

How do you get just the clear PP yoghurt containers to be separated from kerbside collection? This is very difficult, but can be achieved with investment in optical robotic sorting machinery which some councils have invested in, but have under utilised to allow specific waste streams to be separated for manufacturers like ourselves to utilise in making our products.

Method are also accepting our product at end of life, we see the inherent value in the materials we use. We chip old bins down at the end of their usable life and use the materials to make new bins. As we aren’t an FMCG product we know this is simpler for us than many, but some companies have embarked on this. Such as Coca Cola, who pledged that for every bottle sold, that will collect one and recycle it into a new Coke bottle.

Ultimately this is possible for Coca Colas as they use number 1 plastic (PET) for their bottles which is easily and widely recycled. Comparatively, some juice companies use polystyrene, plastic number 6, to make the bottles for their juice. Number 6 plastic has always been as issue, its hard to recycle effectively and there isn’t a market for the outputs. Simply moving to PET would completely change the recyclability of their products.

We also can’t ignore greenwashing, which is very prevalent in the plastics industry and transparency from manufacturers is one of the fundamental changes that need to occur for widespread improvement. I know Method isn’t perfect, we have a long way to go on our sustainability journey, but we’ll continue to put our hand up in the areas we need to improve - it’s at the core of our mission.

One of the main drivers for a change needs to come from the consumers, making educated choices on the products they purchase. Looking through the greenwashing and taking part in campaigns like Plastic Free July (which starts today) to understand the sources of waste in their purchasing habits and making changes to ensure their consumption is not adding to the issue. Invest in products and companies that actively acknowledge their issues and actively work to solve them and the wider issue of waste we have as a planet.

Remember next time you’re in the supermarket to check the plastic code on your options and choose to purchase products labelled 1, 2 or 5 and better yet, that include recycled materials.

Profile: Steven Korner

Steven Korner graduated from the University of Canterbury with first-class honours in Mechanical Engineering.

After leading the neonatal care product design team at Fisher and Paykel, and inspired by buying Total Bins, he and his wife India decided to create their own company and their own product.

Steven took an analytical approach with Method – spending weeks researching, prototyping, and gaining customer insights to decipher what could really make a difference in the waste market.

As co-founder and CEO, he has spearheaded Method’s innovative product research, development and design, and is the creator of Method’s award-winning 60L Office Recycling Bin.

Any questions? Get in touch here.

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