Wellington company providing work for people with disabilities as soft plastic recycling scheme relaunches

Soft plastic recycling has made a comeback to Wellington - giving the mass amount of discarded packaging a chance at a new life as underground cable covers. 

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Earthlink is employing people with mental health, addiction and head injuries. Source: 1 NEWS

Previously heading straight to landfill, the consumer waste now is picked up from a company that employs people with mental health and addiction issues that find it hard to get work - before the compressed plastic makes its way up to Levin to be turned into new products. 

Soft plastic recycling, which cover a wide range of food items and packaging, returned to Auckland and Hamilton in September and to Wellington this month.

The scheme was put on hold late last year while businesses were sought to get onboard. Most councils do not collect or process that type of plastic - meaning most would go straight to landfill. 

Soft Plastic Recycling Scheme chair Malcolm Everts said Wellingtonians were "looking forward to seeing the soft plastic recycling bins back at stores in the region". 

The new collection points will be Countdown Kilbirnie; Countdown Crofton Downs, Countdown Newtown and Countdown Petone; The Warehouse Lyall Bay and The Warehouse Queensgate.

"Collections will be carried out by Earthlink - a community enterprise based in Lower Hutt which employs people who struggle to get into work due to mental health, addiction and other barriers.

"This supports our commitment to the environment and the community."

Earthlink chief executive Chris Ellis said people go through their training programme to get work experience, leading to possible employment, "at the same time we're looking after the environment". 

"We get referrals from the DHB, from health organisations, people who have had mental health issues, addiction issues, head injuries, all kind of reasons why they couldn't get back into work. 

Earthlink previously collected the soft plastic for recycling, before the scheme was put on hold. "We were getting lots and lots of soft plastic. The problem was there was no destination for it," Mr Ellis said. 

The businesses make sure there's no contaminants such as "nappies and disgusting things like that". 

"It gives us an opportunity to give our guys some more work. Some of the people we would've let go when the soft plastics stopped last time, we can now bring them back, give them some more work, it just gives us another work opportunity for our people."

He thought the destination for plastic, ending up as products such as protective covers for underground cables, was "fantastic". 

"Why wouldn’t you re-use it? It was all going to landfill and it takes ages to rot down," Mr Ellis said. 

Once the soft plastics leave Earthlink, it goes to Second Life Plastics in Levin. The company also create buckets, bait pots and waterslides. In Auckland, it goes to Future Post, where the plastic is turned into fencing for farms. 

Now, the search is on for other businesses that can use the recycled plastic. 

Lyn Mayes, manager of the scheme, said the feedback of their return has been positive. 

"We are deliberately starting at fewer collection points and locations to allow us to monitor the volumes.

"We will only expand into other parts of the country when we are confident that volumes in equals processing capacity."

The bins currently accept empty, clean and dry:

- Bread, pasta & rice bags
- Fresh produce bags and netting citrus bags
- Frozen food bags
- Dairy wrappers
- Plastic packaging around toilet paper, kitchen towels, nappies and sanitary products
- Courier packs
- Newspaper wrap
- Chocolate & muesli bar wrappers and biscuit packets (wrapper only)
- Confectionery wrap; chip packets with light foil
- Cereal box liners
- Bubble wrap and large sheets of plastic that furniture comes wrapped in (cut into pieces the size of an A3 sheet of paper first)