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Soft packaging recycling scheme relaunches in New Zealand

New Zealand's soft packaging recycling scheme is about to start up again on Monday, after being suspended last year when global recycling options dried up.

Now a home-grown solution has been found that could help us all do our bit to save the planet.

Simple ways to improve recycling
A complete guide to what you can and can't recycle in New Zealand. When China stopped taking plastic in 2018, it had a knock-on effect.

Our soft plastics had been going to Australia but with a global market flooded with plastic, we can no longer rely on overseas processors and are forced to manage our own waste.

Soft plastic has no commercial value and is difficult to repurpose.

That's where Jerome Wenzlick steps in. He's a farmer and fencer who came up with an idea while putting up fencing at a rubbish dump.

"We were putting wooden posts into the ground and the posts were snapping and we thought why don't we make some posts out of the plastic that's in the ground," he told Newshub.

He's set up a company called Future Post and since the start of the year, he's recycled 300 tonnes - that's 75 truck loads.

He's shocked at how much New Zealanders waste but feels happy he's keeping it out of landfills.

"[I feel] pretty good that we're turning that into something useful instead of it going straight into a rubbish hole," Wenzlick said.

The soft plastic is sorted and granulated, then mixed with milk bottles, before going through a New Zealand-designed and built extruder to melt and reform it into fence posts.

The equivalent of 550 plastic bags goes into making each post.

Before the soft plastics recycling scheme was paused it was very popular, collecting up to 50 tonnes in one month.

"That's about 9 million units of plastic, whether they are shopping bags or toilet paper packaging or bread bags, so that's around 9 million pieces of plastic in one month," The Packaging Forum's Malcolm Everts told Newshub.

And that 9 million is only what's being recycled, estimated to be around just 10 percent of the soft plastic packaging people were actually using.

The scheme is about to start up again, but on a smaller scale.

Organisers are appealing to those who have been saving their plastics to start slow, so the bins aren't inundated all at once.

"If you turn up at a store and it's already chocka, please just hang on to it and drop it off the following week," Everts said.

And the plastic must be clean and dry or it could contaminate the bale and end up in landfill anyway.

They're also hoping that the amount of soft plastic will have dropped following the single-use plastic bag ban.

Initially the recycle bins will only be reintroduced in 37 stores across Auckland, including Countdown supermarkets and The Warehouse, but there are plans to roll it out further to Waikato and Wellington if the capacity to recycle it grows.

But they can only do that if there's a market for the finished product.

Villa Maria is running a trial using the Future Posts in two of its wineries.

"It's very early days but we actually see this as potentially being a much better product. The posts are very strong, they're going to have a longer life span," Villa Maria executive director Fabian Yukich told Newshub.

And the fence posts are BioGro-certified, so they're suitable for organic farms too.

Wenzlick says the more posts people buy, the more plastic he can recycle.

"As we grow, that soft plastic scheme can keep growing," he said.

"Saving the world one post at a time."

It means New Zealand's waste plastic will still be going into a hole in the ground - just not the landfill.