November 23rd, 2020
Close the Loop has delivered resource recovery solutions in Australia for over 20 years.
Cartridges 4 Planet Ark, a collaboration between Close the Loop and Planet Ark, is one of Australia’s oldest and most successful product stewardship schemes
Over 46 million toner and inkjet cartridges have been recycled with zero waste-to-landfill.
Close the Loop create an award-winning asphalt additive from recycled cartridges and plastics called TonerPlas.
Just 1km of road with TonerPlas contains toner from 18,000 cartridges and soft plastics equivalent to 800,000 single use plastic bags
As the circular economy movement becomes more mainstream in Australia, more and more businesses are adopting its principles. However, some organisations have been demonstrating these principles of creating regenerative processes and products since before the term ‘circular economy’ was popularised.
Since 2000, Close the Loop has been delivering world class product stewardship and resource recovery solutions to manufacturers of consumer products and their customers. The company makes end products — a premium asphalt additive and the world’s first fully recycled pen are examples — from their zero waste-to-landfill recycling processes. We spoke to Close the Loop founder Steve Morriss about his experiences as a pioneer of the circular economy to Australia.
Steve started his work life as a civil design draftsman. He went on to become a small business owner and travelled the globe before starting a cartridge remanufacturing business in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton. His remanufacturing business National Toner & Ink became Close the Loop in 2000.
For Steve, the circular economy simply makes sense. “I’ve felt for some time that treating our planet as if it had endless resources and measuring the success of each country by how much unfettered growth we achieve is nonsense,” he says. “The foundations of circularity — design out waste, keep products and materials in circulation and build regenerative businesses — are empowering to me, and objectives I feel very motivated to pursue and encourage.”
Close the Loop’s simple but ambitious vision is “a circular world”. Steve explains that the company aims to be “a globally respected product stewardship and circular economy solutions provider to the world’s leading consumer brands”. And they are already well on their way. What started as a small operation in the Melbourne suburb of Thomastown in 2000 has now expanded into the USA and Europe. The company’s services include all aspects of product stewardship: designing products with circularity in mind, effective collection programs, keeping products and materials in circulation for as long as possible and developing innovative end use solutions.
Collection and processing is just the start, companies like Close the Loop must rally support from government and industry to embrace new materials, change outdated barriers to entry and change counterproductive relationships that block progress.
Through their product take-back, resource recovery and reuse initiatives, Close the Loop has diverted millions of products from landfill and converted them into valuable new materials. They were also among the first to promote the idea of product stewardship - an approach to managing the impacts of products and materials that acknowledges producers, retailers, users and disposers have a shared responsibility for their impacts - in Australia.
One of their earliest product stewardship schemes in the country, Cartridges 4 Planet Ark, was established in 2003 in collaboration with Planet Ark. The program offers Australians a free, easy and environmentally accredited way to dispose of their printer cartridges. The program comes with a zero waste to landfill certification that, so far, has seen 46 million cartridges be turned into roads and pens.
“I still remember Paul Klymenko, now Planet Ark CEO, saying I was mad in his jovial way when I suggested the program would have a ‘zero waste to landfill’ brand promise,” Steve recalls.
That single commitment has driven significant innovation at Close the Loop including the development of eWood, a timber alternative made from recycled rigid plastics. Other notable innovations include what is possibly the world’s first ever recycled pen made with 100 per cent recycled printer cartridge ink. This recycled ink is popular among consumers and is now promoted and also used by the funky brand Lousy Ink, owned by Melbourne street artists Mike Eleven and Oli Ruskidd.
However, Close the Loop’s proudest innovation to date is a newer product called TonerPlas; an award-winning asphalt additive invented by Close the Loop and refined in partnership with Downer over more than eight years of intense research and development, lab testing, road trials and monitoring. The real breakthrough of TonerPlas, according to Steve, is the circular supply chain model which has been developed to turn plastic waste into a high performance asphalt road.
Steve explains how the program works:
“Used ‘waste’ toner cartridges are collected via the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program. These toner cartridges are then recycled by Close the Loop in their Somerton plant in Victoria. Waste soft plastics are also collected by REDcycle from Coles and Woolworths stores across the country and shipped to Close the Loop where they are blended with waste toner powder and some secret herbs and spices via an advanced manufacturing process. The result is 100 per cent recycled asphalt additive that improves the performance and life span of asphalt roads. Testing of numerous asphalt samples shows the addition of TonerPlas increases the lifespan of a road by around 15%."
One of the company’s more recent innovations is rFlex, a new polymer for injection moulding made from 100 per cent post-consumer mixed soft plastics.
“Post-consumer mixed soft plastics are often called the 'mongrel' mix. Close the Loop has developed an advanced process to turn this mix into a homogenous polymer that performs similar to virgin plastics,” Steve explains. “Small amounts of known additives can transform the mix into a polymer to mimic either PE or PP. This technology development has global export potential and is a direct result of Close the Loop’s innovative culture.”
Today, manufacturers of all types turn to Close the Loop to minimise waste and work towards a circular economy. Close the Loop uses circular economy principles to help companies make the most of their valuable resources, transforming items that would normally end up in landfill into useful commodities that can be returned to the supply chain.
Beyond the materials Close the Loop has kept out of landfill, their commitment to zero waste has led to innovations which are adding value to previously worthless material, something Steve sees as crucial to the development of a circular economy.
“We must create resilient markets through innovation,” Steve stresses. “Collection and processing is just the start, companies like Close the Loop must rally support from government and industry to embrace new materials, change outdated barriers to entry and change counterproductive relationships that block progress.”
Close the Loop’s achievement and dedication to circular business models was globally recognised when the company was the only Australian finalist in the coveted ‘Circular Awards’ presented by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2019.
“So you see, we do indeed have world-class circular economy activity, right here in Australia,” says Steve.
“We must put all our efforts into creating resilient markets for products of recycled content. Recycling is one part of the circular economy, but given our current global waste crisis, it’s the low hanging fruit and we need to embrace that and get on with it.”
Interested in an open and direct discussion about your companies transition to circularity? Steve and the team at Close to Loop are always open for a chat. They can be contacted here.