Closed-loop recycling: Z Energy and Anchor team up for social enterprise Will&Able

Sustainability October 18, 2023


New Zealanders throw out tonnes of plastic waste every day, much of it ending up in landfill. But in an exciting collaboration between Z Energy (Z), Anchor and social enterprise Will&Able, dedicated closed-loop recycling bins have been installed at almost 40 Z service stations, reducing plastic waste and creating employment for people with disabilities in the process.

After an initial trial last year, Z and Anchor are proud to be expanding the trial, with collection bins for empty Will&Able cleaning products placed at service stations across Auckland. The empties are collected and returned to Will&Able, a social enterprise dedicated to employing people with disabilities, where they are washed and refilled. Additionally, Anchor milk bottles from the participating Z cafés will also be collected and recycled into other useful products, such as wrapping for product distribution and mesh products. 

Will&Able General Manager Craig Burston says Z and Anchor’s support has been crucial for the social enterprise, which provides employment for people with disabilities by making cleaning products that are better for the planet. Will&Able bottles are already made from recycled New Zealand milk bottles, which are then filled, labelled and packed by people with disabilities and sent directly to customers or to supermarkets. Customers can then return their empty Will&Able bottles to be cleaned and refilled to make new cleaning products for sale. This closed-loop model is believed to be the one of the first of its kind in New Zealand.

“Our vision is pretty simple,” says Craig. “Every Kiwi with an intellectual disability should have equal employment opportunities. And we’re determined to do that with the lowest environmental impact possible.” 

He says the bottle collection at Z has been hugely successful so far, and Will&Able customers have been enthusiastic in returning their used bottles. Adding Z as a drop-off point to the existing network of collection bins has made it even easier for consumers to do the right thing. With 10 staff currently, he hopes to grow that to 100. Craig says people with intellectual disabilities need the right opportunities, support and work environment to flourish, and he’s proud to say that after a stint at Will&Able, workers often feel confident enough to go out into the broader workforce. 

“It’s amazing how much people can offer when they’re given a chance. They begin to really build as people and their confidence grows. Being in fulfilling employment makes them feel worthwhile and valued, which is something everyone should have the opportunity to experience.”

Abbie Bull, Z’s Head of Sustainability and Community, says working in partnership with Will&Able means that Anchor and Z are able to have a more positive impact.

“It’s about doing good,” says Abbie of the collaboration. “This initiative is doubly impactful, because not only are we reducing plastic waste, which is so important for our environment, we’re having an impact socially, too, through the amazing work that Will&Able is doing. They’re making a real difference to communities.”

Bringing Anchor into the mix has led to a marked reduction in plastic waste and lent vital support for Will&Able, an organisation set up three years ago to provide employment for those who struggle to find it elsewhere. A collaborative approach is always best when it comes to sustainability, says Abbie. 

“Partnerships can create shared value for all those involved and are essential for achieving sustainability goals,” says Abbie. “By working with both Anchor and Will&Able on this initiative to reduce plastic waste, we can accomplish more than just selling coffee. We know that consumers are concerned about the build-up of plastics in the environment. This partnership makes a sustainable choice easier for our customers by ensuring that the plastic waste created by our milk supply is recycled. We offer a discount for customers bringing their keep cup, too.”

Anchor spokesperson Rosie Cotter says the collection scheme is part of the

brand’s commitment to deliver 100% recycle-ready packaging by 2025. “Not only does the partnership with Z and Will&Able help ensure our bottles get recycled into new and useful applications like slip sheets and fencing, it also provides meaningful work for people with disabilities, enhancing community well-being throughout Aotearoa,” says Rosie.

The initiative is part of Anchor’s broader commitment to sustainability. “This includes sourcing our milk from New Zealand farmers that undertake annual environmental assessments and adhere to high animal wellbeing standards, through to manufacturing the large majority of our products in Toitu Enviromark Diamond certified factories. We’ve also developed a lower carbon plant-based bottle made from sustainable sourced sugarcane and have additional recycling partnerships with Future Post and Trees for Survival.”

In addition to Anchor’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact, the brand is committed to helping its communities. Working alongside Fonterra and other strategic partners, Anchor long life milk and milk powder are donated to the New Zealand Food Network to distribute to community food hubs, and Anchor milk is delivered to over 1,400 schools as part of the KickStart Breakfast programme, a partnership between Fonterra, Sanitarium and Ministry for Social Development. The programme has served over 60 million nutritious breakfasts across Aotearoa.

 “By demonstrating that we can create a resilient system that is good for business, people and the environment, we hope to inspire other people and business to do the same”, says Rosie.