The call to repurpose the Whakatāne Board Mill to move into sustainable packaging options has been welcomed by a local charitable trust.
Last week more than 200 staff at the mill were presented with a proposal to close, which would see them all made redundant by the end of June. The mill has been an intergenerational employer in Whakatāne for more than 80 years and produces paper and packaging products.
Sustainabile Bay of Plenty Charitable Trust said in a statement today it strongly supported the repurposing of the mill to produce more sustainable packaging types, such as value-added cardboard products, to help to remove single-use plastics from circulation.
The trust's spokesperson Glen Crowther said the board mill reportedly had unique intellectual property in this area that would result in the removal of thousands of tonnes of single-use plastics and laminated board from circulation every year.
"We ask central government to investigate this technology and how the mill can be supported to commercialise it in the near future.
"We are aware that the closure of this mill would have a big impact on many in the town, with it being the largest private employer in Whakatāne that supports many other businesses," he said.
"It is vital that all options are investigated to prevent an unnecessary closure. We hope the government will support the mill, Toi EDA and Whakatāne Council to find an optimal solution."
Sustainable Bay of Plenty said it understood the Whakatāne Board Mill was already making moves towards sustainability by investing in research and development of compostable product lines to replace the polymer-coated cardboards commonly used in the food industry.
"If central government supports those efforts to enter this new and rapidly growing niche market, it could help to cement the mill's future in the Eastern Bay," the statement said.
Crowther said one of the key goals of the Sustainable Bay of Plenty Charitable Trust was to support the development of a low carbon circular economy.
"We can't keep increasing our carbon emissions, growing more pine trees to try to offset those emissions, trucking the raw logs to the Port, fumigating them with toxic methyl bromide, exporting them to Asia, and then buying back some of the processed products produced by subsidised industries using cheap coal power.
"That's bad for our economy and terrible for the environment. We need to start walking the talk and embrace a sustainable future here in this region."
The trust said it agreed with Toi EDA that a sustainable wood processing sector was one of the keys to regional prosperity.
"The proposed mill closure is just a symptom of the wider issue."