Gimme a piece of that! Licella, Nestlé, others have sweet news on plastic waste to plastic resource

March 21, 2021 |

It was a big week of news for Licella and their Cat-HTR platform in Australia with two soft plastic project announcements. First, Licella joined forces with a group of high-profile companies like Nestlé and LyondellBasell, who have collaborated to produce Australia’s first soft plastic food wrapper made with food-grade recycled content. Second, Licella launched a feasibility study with other key industry stakeholders, including major Australian retailer Coles to determine the technical, economic, and environmental benefits of a local advanced recycling industry and will look at potential sites in Victoria (Australia) for a Cat-HTR plant.

In today’s Digest, all about the KitKat wrapper, the feasibility study, how Licella takes plastic waste to plastic resource, the path to commercialization, other big news from down under, and more.

Giving the planet a break

Let’s start with the sweet stuff. The prototype KitKat wrapper, which represents Australia’s opportunity to close the loop on recycling soft plastics, has been created by a coalition of companies with a shared vision. Alongside Licella, these companies include iQ Renew, Nestlé, refiner Viva Energy Australia, polymer manufacturer LyondellBasell, REDcycle, Taghleef Industries, Amcor and CurbCycle. Each company brought their individual expertise, with Licella converting the collected soft plastic to oil with their Cat-HTR (Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor) platform, and other members of the plastic supply chain working together to create the prototype wrapper.

Cat-HTR is a form of hydrothermal liquefaction technology developed by Licella. The Cat-HTR technology has been recognized by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for its potential to help tackle the growing global issue of plastic waste.

The initiative emerged from a trial underway on the NSW Central Coast, where Australian Recycler iQ Renew and Nestlé are working together on a trial of kerbside collection of soft plastics. These collected plastics, together with plastics collected via the REDcycle supermarket soft plastic collection, formed the starting point for the project.

The KitKat players

The prototype KitKat wrapper was created by a coalition of companies with a shared vision and we all know it often takes a village:

  • REDcycle and CurbCycle, collected households’ soft plastic waste, some from REDcycle bins and some from the kerbside collection trial.
  • iQ Renew sorted those bags in their Material Recovery Facility (MRF), removed the contaminants, and did the primary processing to create a feedstock
  • Licella converted the plastic to oil using their Australian-developed advanced recycling technology, Cat-HTR
  • Viva Energy Australia refined the synthetic oil
  • LyondellBasell made food grade polypropylene
  • Taghleef Industries created a metalised film
  • Amcor printed and created the wrapper
  • And finally, Nestlé wrapped the KitKat – keeping it fresh and safe to eat.

Reactions from the stakeholders

Sandra Martinez, CEO of Nestlé Australia, said the project had been driven by a shared determination to resolve the soft plastics challenge – and an enormous amount of good will.

“Between us, we have shown that there’s a pathway to solve the soft plastics problem. To build this at scale, across all states and territories, across hundreds of councils, is going to take a huge effort from government at all levels, from industry and from consumers, but I think it can be done.

“Manufacturers like Nestlé will have a key role in driving demand for food grade recycled soft plastic packaging, and creating market conditions that will ensure all stakeholders throughout the value chain view soft plastics as a resource and not waste,” said Ms Martinez.

To date, soft plastics collected in Australia have been made into products like outdoor furniture, added to road base or used in waste to energy.

Danial Gallagher, CEO of iQ Renew, said that “to improve the recycling rate of soft plastics, kerbside collection is an important point of convenience. In the trial, soft plastics are collected from kerbside recycling bins in a dedicated bright yellow bag, then sorted from the recycling stream at our MRF.

“To create the KitKat wrapper with 30% recycled content, the soft plastics were processed, then sent to Licella for conversion back into oil using the Cat-HTR advanced recycling technology. This oil was then used to produce new food grade soft plastics,” said Mr Gallagher.

Tanya Barden, CEO of the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), said learnings from the Central Coast trial will be informative as the AFGC works to develop an extended producer responsibility scheme for hard to recycle plastics, such as soft plastic packaging. The AFGC received funding from a National Product Stewardship Investment Fund grant to develop the scheme arrangements, which will then be implemented and funded by industry.

“Among other things, we’ll be looking at how this model can be scaled up, ensuring there is healthy demand for packaging with recycled content and helping bring to life local industries that can unlock billions of dollars of value that’s currently lost to landfill,” said Ms Barden.

What about feasibility?

The KitKat news was closely followed by the launch of a feasibility study with other key industry stakeholders, including major Australian retailer Coles. This new collaboration marks the first step into a circular economy for soft plastic packaging with Licella and iQ Renew joining forces with Coles, LyondellBasell and Nestlé. The joint feasibility study will seek to determine the technical, economic, and environmental benefits of a local advanced recycling industry. The study will look at potential sites in Victoria (Australia) for a Cat-HTR plant.

With the National Packaging Targets requiring industry to use an average of 50% recycled content in packaging by 2025, the demand for recycled content, especially food-grade plastic, is expected to grow significantly. Without local supply, brands will be forced to source packaging from overseas.

Reactions from the Stakeholders

Licella CEO, Dr Len Humphreys, explained that advanced recycling in Australia can give food brands access to the food-grade recycled packaging they want, while giving Victoria an opportunity to lead the nation in creating a circular economy for plastics.

We believe advanced or chemical recycling has an important place in the future circular economy for plastic, creating greater value and less emissions than waste to energy,” Dr Humphreys said.

CEO of iQ Renew, Danial Gallagher, further explained that advanced recycling would significantly increase the amount of plastic that can be recycled in Australia.

“Advanced recycling complements existing mechanical recycling, as it can process plastics that are difficult to recover mechanically, such as soft plastics, multi-layer packaging and plastic that has been degraded by repeated mechanical recycling,” he said.

Coles Group Chief Sustainability, Property and Export Officer Thinus Keeve said accelerating the development of local recycling forms part of the company’s ambition to be the most sustainable supermarket in Australia.

“We are committed to working together with industry to find ways to reduce the impact we have on the environment and we understand the importance of being part of a more sustainable future for plastic packaging for our customers, our team and the communities we serve. The potential to completely close the loop on soft plastics and convert it into food-grade soft plastics that could then be used in our Own Brand packaging, would be a game changer – we are delighted to be supporting the feasibility study, which is a vital step in bringing this cutting-edge technology to Australia at scale.”

Mitchell Killeen, Managing Director of LyondellBasell Australia, said that as part of one of the largest plastics, chemicals and refining companies in the world, the company aspires to be an industry leader in the production and marketing of recycled and renewable-based polymers.

Our ambition is to produce and market two million metric tons of recycled and renewable-based polymers annually, by 2030. This is a major commitment which will enable our customers and value chain partners, in turn, to transform their businesses.”

Nestlé Australia CEO Sandra Martinez said that the company wanted to be part of finding new approaches to boosting recycling of plastic packaging.

“While Nestlé wants to reduce its use of virgin plastics and increase our use of recycled packaging, this won’t happen without the whole plastics value chain working together. This feasibility study will provide an important key to developing a better future for soft plastics in Australia,” Ms Martinez said.

Last but not least, Licella’s Cat-HTR technology has been recognized again at the highest level, with Co-Founder Professor Thomas Maschmeyer acknowledged in the prestigious honorific awards of the Australian Academy of Science, the country’s premier scientific association. His fundamental research on advanced materials and catalysis is at the heart of Licella’s Cat-HTR platform and a revolutionary new battery technology, developed by Gelion Technologies, where he is Founding Chairman.

Bottom Line

“I look forward to bringing you more announcements as we move towards commercialisation of our pioneering technology,” said Dr Len Humphreys, CEO, Licella Holdings, so we anticipate more news coming from Licella in 2021. In the meantime, you can check out Licella’s video “From plastic waste to plastic resource” here.

You can also read about the Trans-Pacific Partnership as covered in The Digest in October 2020 when Licella entered into a new joint venture with Canadian Forest Products Ltd, usually known as Canfor — the JV is called Arbios Biotech. The goal of the JV is to accelerate adoption of ultra low-carbon fuels technology.

And if you are interested in getting more of a peek into their tech, check out “Converting Waste to Synthetic Crude Oil: The Digest’s 2019 Multi-Slide Guide to Licella’s Thermochemical Tech” here.

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