What to do about your plastic construction waste: Shrinking the shrink wrap problem

Typically made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE), shrink wrap's properties, while advantageous, also make recycling difficult, especially as it cannot be recycled together with hard plastics.
Typically made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE), shrink wrap's properties, while advantageous, also make recycling difficult, especially as it cannot be recycled together with hard plastics.

Exploring ways to minimise construction and building waste is a passion for Dr Terri-Ann Berry, co-director of the newly formed Environmental Innovation Centre (EIC). Dr Berry has partnered with experienced Master Builder Nigel Benton to develop practical environmental solutions for the construction industry. In this month’s column, the team at the EIC will begin a series on the most common types of plastic waste found on construction sites, starting with one of the most visible — building shrink wrap.

Why is building shrink wrap such a big problem? Typically made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE), it is highly visible in New Zealand’s urban environment.

Serving as a protective layer for large objects or structures, it shields from weather-related damage during transportation, storage and construction.

Despite its benefits, including increased efficiency, dust and debris containment, safety enhancement, versatility, and cost savings, building shrink wrap poses a growing environmental dilemma. Its properties, while advantageous, also make recycling difficult, especially as it cannot be recycled together with hard plastics.

Recent media coverage has raised serious concerns about the amount of plastic waste created by shrink wrap.

Is there anything we can do about it?

To address this shrink wrap dilemma, the EIC collaborated closely with ShrinkWrap Supplies (SWS) and industry organisation Scaffolding, Access and Rigging NZ (SARNZ) to identify opportunities for creating circularity through reuse and recycling.

The goal was to reduce plastic waste sent to landfill by enabling SWS customers to dispose of their used shrink wrap sustainably.

A nationwide initiative was sought to ensure all SWS shrink wrap could be recycled and used in New Zealand.

SWS already had a supplier return scheme for the Auckland region in place, but further development was needed to fill in the gaps in the process, especially transportation and quality control, to ensure the material from all over New Zealand gets recycled locally.

Working with a New Zealand recycler, SWS and EIC established rules for returns that would allow the shrink wrap to be recycled into quality new products, such as damp-proof membrane for under concrete slabs.

The plastic must be clean and sorted into a designated bag, free from other plastics or biodegradable materials. SWS developed its own bag made from recycled shrink wrap plastic, incorporating a unique customer barcode for tracking purposes in case the plastic wasn’t returned in the proper condition.

Customers were responsible for sorting, checking, and dropping off the used building wrap at a designated depot.

Transportation back to the SWS depot also posed a significant challenge, especially from the regions.

To address this, SWS negotiated with a nationwide transport partner to implement a reverse logistics scheme, facilitating the return of plastic from all over New Zealand back to the SWS depot in Silverdale, Auckland.

Customers can now drop off their shrink wrap bags at designated transport depots, strategically located in most regions.

The bags are designed to be lifted when full (30kg) and to fit into remaining gaps in the trucks.

SWS invested in a bailer to compress the soft plastics, making transportation to the recycler significantly more efficient.

Additionally, on receiving the plastic, SWS conducts quality control checks, weighs the plastic, and issues the sender a receipt to prove that they have disposed their material in a responsible manner.

For the recycler, Polymer Processing, the provision of quality-controlled plastic waste means the waste can be made back into a high-quality resin and used to make other plastic products, including damp-proof membrane.

This circular process has reduced the amount of virgin plastic being imported back into New Zealand, ultimately reducing carbon footprint and the amount of plastic entering landfill.

This collaboration exemplifies how working with an innovative supplier can create a circular nationwide solution. Having industry support from organisations such as SARNZ is crucial for facilitating and prioritising sustainable action.

From the EIC’s point of view, it is extremely encouraging to see what sustainability solutions can be developed by making connections with willing and motivated stakeholders across a range of different industries.

Over the next few months, we hope to update you about further exciting developments in this space.

Have questions?

• If you have any questions for the team that you would like answered in this column, please contact [email protected]
• Learn more about the Environmental Innovation Centre:
• Learn more about the ShrinkWrap Supplies take back scheme: www.shrinkwrapsupplies.co.nz

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