Green Caffeen: Two dads and a green coffee cup

In this episode of Plastics Revolution, I chat with Damien Clarke and Martin Brooks, the founders of Green Caffeen. Both of them were stay at home dads struggling with mental health issues until they decided to start a business that essentially rents reusable takeaway cups.

In 15 short months they have taken their idea across Australia with interest from overseas as well. And in this episode the guys also make a big announcement which explains why they’re in Canberra, the nation’s capital that day. I hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Damien Clarke and Martin Brooks of Green Caffeen.

Companies, Organisations and Products Mentioned in this Podcast:

Green Caffeen website
Planet Ark
Take 3 for the Sea

Credits:

Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade
All Rights Reserved 2019


PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

KEY

T: Host Tammy Ven Dange
D: Guest Damien Clarke, Co-Founder of Green Caffeen
M: Guest Martin Brooks, Co-Founder of Green Caffeen

The Green Caffeen Coffee Cup
The Green Caffeen Coffee Cup

Introduction to Green Caffeen

T: Damien and Martin, welcome to Canberra.

D: Thanks for having us.

M: Thank you.

T: I have such an interest in your coffee cup – which is the Green Caffeen green coffee cup. It’s something that has been in the news quite a bit here in Canberra lately, just because of significant initiatives to try to reach some targets by our local government around recycling and less waste going into the landfills. Can you tell us about your program here?

D: Yeah excellent. Thank you for having us firstly. It’s really exciting down here in the ACT. It seems to be very progressive around heading towards zero waste particularly around takeaway packaging and takeaway coffee cups are one of the big elements that they’re trying to work on at the moment.

D: I think within the ACT – if you look across the problem across Australia, we have significant impacts being had by people just having single-use takeaway coffee cups. So, we congratulate the ACT government (for) actually sort of being one of the first people to progress towards a zero-waste policy with single use cups.

How Does the Green Caffeen Program Work?

T: Now for those people that aren’t familiar with the Green Caffeen system, let’s walk through it. If I was someone who is a heavy coffee drinker, which I am – how would I use your program?

D: Yes, it is really, really simple. So, all people do in this day and age is go to their smartphone, they download the app through the Google Play or Apple store. Once they’ve done that,, they enter their details. They do sign up with a credit card but what that enables us to do is actually give people access to our scheme for free – being like a library book where if you use our scheme and do it correctly and do the right thing with it, you’ll never be charged.

D: So, we wanted to remove all the barriers towards having access to a Green Caffeen reusable coffee cup. So, we’ve made the scheme completely free so you can now download the app, walk into any participating cafe and check out a Green Caffeen cup and then you can actually swap, drop or grab a fresh cup at any participating café. And you’ll never be charged and that’s the big thing that we’re very proud of that we’ve been able to achieve in our business model.

T: So, this is basically a, “Oh man, I forgot my coffee cup again. So, I want to take away a coffee. Can I get a Green Caffeen?” How many of these cups can I take out at any given time?

D: You can take two cups out at any given time, and that’s again controlled through the app on your phone. We knew that ideally our target market is that person that’s trying to use a reusable cup and struggled to do so. So, we know that if that person goes to the cafe on Monday and uses Green Caffeen, there could be a strong chance that on Tuesday they’d forget the cup. So, they’re allowed a second cup out with the app.

T: Okay so this is more like a “transition program for people that want to be more environmentally conscious but still haven’t gotten into the habit of bringing their own cup?”

D: Yeah, and I think it’s also – Martin puts it really well, sort of the lazy person’s reusable cup because you never actually have to remember your cup. You just have to remember your phone and from all the research and sort of analysis we did of the marketplace nobody leaves home without a phone these days. The phone is the sole source of everything. So, we thought, “Shy can we just build the technology into the phone and then enable people to have access to two reusable coffee cups through the technology and the phone?”

T: So, if I was an office worker, and I had more than one coffees a day – which a lot of people do… Do I just bring the coffee cup back with me at that time? Do I have to wash it?

D: No, not at all. No, no you can leave it sitting in your car for a week dirty. You just take it back, and all the cafes that we work with are very, very willing and happy to wash the cups. So, we make sure there’s a sanitation process that’s involved with every cafe coming on board. So they actually have to have access to a commercial dishwasher. So, all the cups are clean and sanitized correctly, stacked and then ready for you to walk back in and grab a fresh one when you’re ready.

Who’s Paying for the Cup?

T: It’s interesting to me that the customer’s not paying for the cup. Is the cafe paying for the cup?

D: No.

T:  Who’s paying for the cup?

D: Great question. We’ve been very, very fortunate. So, initially when we launched Green Caffeen now just over twelve months ago, about 14 months ago we realized that we had a business model that was going to be providing value to corporate universities, councils across Australia and across the world. What we wanted to do is to test that model and actually show the value in the model.

D: So, we had to sort of pay for the cups ourselves initially, and that was the outlay that we had and the belief in ourselves that the model was going to work. So, we spoke to our wives very, very nicely and asked if we could invest some money into this crazy idea and from there we developed the app.

D:   We bought a whole heap of cups, and we were able to form partnerships very early with councils that saw the problem that they had which is a commercial business, a cafe having waste go back into a council’s collection. So, for them it wasn’t just the council, but the business collecting that on site. What actually happens with a lot of these cups is they leave the café; people walk down the street, and they put it into a council bin. So, councils and universities across Australia have massive problems with waste. So, we’ve been very lucky to come in and solve a problem that they’ve had that they’ve had no real alternative solution to.

T: So, there’s a business case then for governments to get behind this program because they’re saving money on the landfill side.

D: Yea, and that’s the whole aim of it. We’ve worked out really, really quickly that mixed waste costs within Australia are on the increase. We have a recycling stream that people aren’t having as much faith in these days because of the news. We’re not sending it off to China and mixed recycling is going out of fashion. So, yeah we saw that really early on that if we could sort of target the market of the consumer, the cafe but also the council to come together as a collective solution to the problem, then we’d be on a bit of a winner and that’s why we haven’t stopped for the last 15 months.

This Start-up’s Growing Up Fast

T: Well you have been quite busy. I’ve been watching you on social media and it seems like you’re getting…

D: Sorry about that.

T: Were you on Planet Ark the other day? You got a nice plug from them. So, that was really good and the SBS, I saw that as well.

D: Most definitely.

T: So, you guys have been getting around. I am actually thinking about, from a business model perspective, how complex this is. You have so many stakeholders. You have all these cafe coffee drinkers, and they say, “Oh, I lost my cup. Do I got to pay for mine?” versus the cafe owners that are in and out of stock probably and then trying to bring them on board, and then you have all these government councils. Is it just you two managing all this?

D: At this stage it is. We’re just in the process of now actually expanding the team. But, to keep up with the demand we’ve had to. One thing that we realized really quickly is that we had to bring a model to the market that was very, very scalable. So, we eliminated all of the touch points that we could possibly to start with.

D: So, when we touch something to start with, we would go, “How can we streamline this so we never have to do that again?” So, we’ve done that, we’ve built a model where most of the efficiencies are actually built into the technology and through the back-end. So, we don’t really have to do a great deal once it’s all up and running except for continuing to motivate people to jump on board and encourage the use of the cup.

T: Yeah. Okay. Who spend the most time dealing with cafes right now?

M: It’s probably joint actually. 

T: It’s probably joint.

M: We’re lucky now. Very, very early on, at first to get the model up and running, it required us to go into cafes and almost sell it I suppose. But within six months that stopped pretty quick, and now we have cafes reaching out to us all around Australia. So, the fact of finding cafes isn’t hard. We’ve got plenty of cafes that we’re trying to get cups to. So, it’s just word of mouth. It’s pretty much gone viral around Australia, and every day we have cafes register.

How to Register as a Cafe?

T: So, if somebody wants to register as a café, then basically what? They jump online?

M: They jump on jump online. You just fill in the details, register your café. We send out some instructional videos and a little “How To” email, and they get the cup sent out to them. They’re ready to go.

D: An exciting part for us is that we’ve tested that model multiple times and different ways of doing it. We’ve got it nailed because we know that there’s cafes, and we’ve never met before. We ship them out the cups and all instructional details and information and then two minutes later they’re up and running, and they’re already checking cups in and out of the cafe with their customers.  

D: And there’s some that even get too excited and before they’ve even got their cups start announcing it on social media that we’re going to be part of Green Caffeen and we’re like, “Oh, quick! Let’s get the cups out really quickly!” Because they start getting a following, and people start saying, “Hey, when’s it happening?” and they all get excited and there’s no better time to take advantage of change in the marketplace than when people are excited.

M: And we’re starting to really attract those cafes that want to make a change which makes it easy for us.

Day and a Life of Damien and Martin

T: Tell me about a day in your life. I keep thinking you guys are on the road all the time because I’m watching your social media, and it seems like you’re always in a different cafe and you have pictures of young and old who are drinking out of a Green Caffeen cup. What’s a day in a life like for you right now?

D: Well, this morning, my morning kicks off. I go to the gym every morning. I try and remain disciplined and structured. So, I get up at 4:40 every morning regardless, and I go to the gym, train for about an hour and a half. Start with a coffee, finish with a coffee and then get home do the dad duties, the family duties and then by that sort of eight o’clock, 8:30 ready to roll and get Green Caffeen. This morning we left home a little bit earlier. We’re on the road down here to Canberra, but I try to be as structured as I possibly can and as disciplined as I can in that order.

T: What about you Martin?

M: I’m almost identical. Yeah, I go to the gym every morning, same time 4:40. Do a workout, come home breakfast, get the kids off to school and then start the day. And it’s a busy day. There’s a lot of e-mails to answer, a lot of inquiries. A lot of cups to get shipped out. There’s a lot of back-end work because it’s not all the glamour. But it’s tough sometimes, but it’s rewarding, and it doesn’t stop does it. You can be answering an e-mail at 10 o’clock at night. I mean Damien does the social media, and he’ll do things all day. So, it’s a good job though. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

D: We’ve always sort of worked it out. When someone’s sitting staring at their phone in silence not engaging or talking to each other – but we’re working on something or something’s happening or someone’s shouted us out or you’ve got to react to something like that. But, we get a real buzz out of it.

The Green Caffeen Movement

D: We wondered, when we first started this, we said,  “Wonder if we can create this Green Caffeen movement? Can we start a movement where people got so excited they’d start to share it on social media and engage with their friends about it?” And that happens multiple times throughout a day now.

D: We started really, really early on with our hashtags for social media which was “Green Caffeen Team.” And we said, “Well, this is a problem that we can’t solve ourselves, but if we all join in together, we’ll be able to nail it on the head.” And that’s proven very, very effective and exciting for us because we now have people, cafes, councils, celebrities. People grab a green cup and say I’m part of the team. I’m doing my bit for, you know, single use plastics.

Dividing-up Duties

T: Yeah. So, Damien you work on the social media.

D: Try to.

T: It’s obviously just a small piece, but a very important piece of your entire day. How else are you divvying up your roles?

D: Yeah. When we first started we did a bit of everything. In the last three to four weeks, given the volume of work that we’ve now got coming at us, we’ve actually split our roles. So, I’ve come from a sales background, pretty lucky to sort of have a bit of a knack for social media. So, I look after the engagement, the selling, the growth. All the sort of strategies around engagement for Green Caffeen and Martin’s well, what are you doing?

M: Probably more logistic. Probably just getting the cafes set up and the follow up in regards to that.

Working from Home(s)

T: Yeah. And are you working out of your homes right now?

D:  Yeah. Yeah.

T: Are you sharing an office in one of the houses or are you just working independently?

D: We’re very lucky. There’s no more than 150 meters between our two houses. So, it depends on who’s doing what at home and which kids at home sick or who’s doing what, and we meet. But a lot of the cafes get a regular workout. But yeah, certainly our warehouse and distribution is within our joint garages. That’s going to hit a point, well, it’s actually going to hit a point in the next couple of weeks, so we have to change that. So, yeah we’re excited about taking that next step.

More about Damien and Martin

T: Let’s go back a little bit. I want to know more about you. There’s certainly enough written about your histories and the fact that you basically have two stay-at-home dads that started this business. First of all, how did you guys meet?

M: We met through our kids. So, I think it was our two sons become friends at school, and then our daughters became friends, and then our wives became friends, and I think it was a family barbecue one day.

T: So, how long ago was that?

D: Eight years ago

M:  Eight years ago.

T: Eight years ago. So, you’ve known each other for a while.

D: Yeah, a little bit now.

The Business Idea

T: And the business idea. Who came up with the idea?

D: Well, it was quite funny. My own sister was originally involved in the in the sort of the conception of Green Caffeen and what was brought to the table and the idea say 18 months ago looks completely different to where it stands today.

T: What was her original idea?

D:  Well it was just that, “Can you have a swap and go coffee cup? Can you give people cups and they can swap them and drop them in any participating café?” We looked at that and went yeah that’s probably the basis of the idea but the development of the app, the cafes, the back-end, the reporting the system, all these other things we’ve had to sort of develop on the fly.

T: So, Martin’s sister originally had this idea and then how did you two get involved?

M: She gave it to us and said hey guys have a go at this, have some fun. She knew we were both stay at home dads. My sister knew that we both had some mental health problems and were probably looking at getting back into the real world if that makes sense. So, she said here, I’ve got this bit of an idea. Have a run with it and have some fun and it’s probably like any brother/sister relationship. You can’t give my sister too much credit. I think we, as a brother, sort of tuned it and fine-tuned it a bit better. 

T: It certainly is front of mind for most people right now.

D: It’s exploded Tammy. I mean it’s really exploded. We set ourselves a little bit of an internal target for our business to be in front of the message before the message started, and we were very lucky to get pushed to launch by our local sustainability and waste manager there in Kiama, and we’ve just ridden the wave and we’ve been very lucky to be on the forefront of the messaging at the moment.

D: It’s changed significantly, and what we thought was going to take three years probably took six months and the last six months have seen significant change in the way people talk about it. I mean just during the last weeks, we’ve had Boris Johnson, the leader of the UK walking down the street, walking down to a press conference where we might have been, and his public aide holding a single use cup and so I was told, “You can’t be seen with that! Give it back to me!”

D: And you know, you had a Greens member that’s had a single use cup photoshopped so that it was a reusable cup. The messaging is out there now –  twelve months ago was not around at all. That was nowhere to be seen whereas in the last six months it’s now being seen to be an image that you don’t want to be seen with having a single use item.

Finding Purpose Again

T: So, you guys started the company 15 months ago is that right?

D: That’s correct.

 T: A lot’s happened in 15 months. I mean you guys definitely were ahead of this curve. What actually gave you the inspiration to start this business?

D: I was a stay at home dad with some mental health issues, so I spent probably five or six years of the prime of my life being a stay at home dad. Stay at home dads involve running kids around but also involves having a lot of time to yourself when the kids are at school, and I spent a lot of that time just sitting and watching the world go by,

D: And here in Kiama, we had a couple that every morning they’d be walking past with one of those claws you pick up rubbish with, and they’d have a bag and they’d be picking up rubbish. I sat there and watched them multiple times until the curiosity got to me. I got out the car and said, “Can I ask you guys why you’re doing this?” And they said, “We just love Kiama, and we want to keep the place clean.”

D:  And it was that moment that I went, “Geez, that’s a really cool thing to do, and I should be part of it.” So, I think the switch flicked a little bit for me where I started picking up rubbish. We started doing beach cleanups. We started following people like Take 3 For The Sea, some of these really cool organizations. So everywhere, we’d go, we get a chance to do a little beach cleanup.

D: I’ve made a pact to myself personally that I’ll never walk past a single use coffee cup on the ground without picking it up, and I’ve picked up some pretty ordinary looking ones in some pretty silly places, and Martin’s like, “Oh here he goes again. He’s off to pick up a cup.” But…

That passion was instilled by us by watching what other people were doing and realizing that if we all did it together the world would be a much better place.

T: So, the interest right away with the rubbish and the plastic pollution and certainly the coffee cups that we see on the beaches. Now for people who are not from Australia, Kiama is how far from Sydney?

D: It’s two hours south and you should visit it’s a beautiful part of the world. You’ll thoroughly enjoy it.

T: It’s quite famous for the big…

D: The blowhole, the world’s largest blowhole.

Kiama Blowhole
Kiama Blowhole
Credit: VisitNSW.com

T: Yeah. What exactly is a blowhole for people that don’t know?

D: It’s just the geo-formation. I can’t really explain that properly. It’s a hole that water comes out makes a big spout.

M: It’s like a whale spout.

T: But it’s made out of cliffs?

D: Yeah, it’s just natural over the years, and it’s a lot of volcanic rock down in Kiama and it’s just been formed naturally over the years.

T: It is great, as I have been there a few times. Okay. So, we understand your passion. I’m curious to know given how crazy your business is…

D: Can I just mention one thing on passion because this story sticks with me? Martin was very lucky. He and his family in his last few years spent a fair bit of time on a boat. So, they actually went live on a boat for nine months, and I was very lucky enough as a mate to be able to go and spend a bit of time on that boat as well.

D: And we had multiple stories where we’ll do sailing along, and you’d see a thong (aka flip flop) in the middle of the ocean. You’d go, “How the bloody hell did that thong just get out here?” Or you’d see a bottle, you’d see a bag, or you’d see something. So, I think for me the impacts were sort of starting to notice something. Once you start to notice something, you become very hyper vigilant, and you see it everywhere, and I know you sort of say the same thing from your journeys.

M: Yeah. We’d sail up the east coast of Australia and you’d go to remote island off the coast of Queensland and there would be plastic on it, and it’s not little pieces. It was big bits of plastic on this beach and beautiful remote island and every island we went to there had plastic on it.

M: And, in going back to that when we lived on the boat. You’d go into a food shop, and we were pretty tight for space on the boat so you do a food shop for a couple of weeks and we put everything on the big table and all the kids would help us, and we’d unpack things. Just to make more room –  you’d unpack it from the box. 

M: And the rubbish that was left over from our food – our food was a third of the size compared to what it was when we bought it. So, you’d be carrying three lots of trolley loads back to the boat and at the end of the day you’d probably have a trolley load of food. So, it just sort of makes you realize we use a hell of a lot of waste, and nine times out of ten that stuff can’t be recycled.

T:  And if we go back to your sister basically handing you an idea. Why did she think that you’d be interested?

M: I think she knew that we probably needed something to get out of the house. So, I think we were stuck in a rut and we’ve known each other for eight years. We know both of us went through some mental health problems. We both know how bad we were, and we were in some pretty bad places, and I think at some points we were lucky to get out of those places.

M: Some days, I couldn’t get out of bed to make my kids lunches, and my wife actually wrote me a list of what went into school lunches, and even though I’d done it weeks before I just couldn’t. I’d get stuck at putting things into lunches. Couldn’t get over that. So, once we had this project, and it has taken off, we’ve never looked back.

D: It’s also how we met. We met through our kids and then one day I said to Martin. I said, I’m thinking about getting back into the gym, feeling a bit down and out. And so we started training together, and then those training days we’d get up at 6:00 and train at six and then we’d train again at 10 and then we’d run around.

D: So, we were probably spending more time with each other at some periods of our life for two or three years than we were with the rest of our family because our wives were out there working and doing their best. And we had a lot of time to sit around and kick some ideas around, and thankfully some of those ideas didn’t come to fruition.

T: What other ideas did you have?

D: No, you don’t want to know. Some pretty crazy elements.

M: We won’t discredit these ideas.

D: Crazy elements but we’re always talking about problems and solutions. And we’ve always looked at things and thought,  “Just how do we come up with a really easy solution to that?”  And I think most of the credit we’ve been given for with Green Caffeen is people just come up and say why didn’t I think of that. That’s such a simple solution, and we were very lucky.

D: We got a great tech developer who understood exactly what we were. He was a coffee drinker, a regular takeaway coffee drinker, and he’s now switched his habits. We’ve met some fantastic people that have done all their graphics and our design – all these fun sort of things. They have just understood what we’re trying to do.

D:  We look at ourselves daily if not hourly sometimes. You go, “Bloody hell, how have we come here?” And I think it’s been from the last six years of dark, deep terrible places where, as Martin said, we may not have come up on the other side of, to now having a passion. We’re doing good, we’re creating community, we’re bringing change to people’s lives, we’re creating positive impacts across the world. And why wouldn’t you get want to get out of bed? We spring out a bit now. We’re like,“Oh, what have we got today? Let’s go do this!”

We’ve got a new passion for life.

Business Qualifications?

T: What were you doing before that made you qualified to start a business?

M: To start this? I probably had no qualifications to start this. I think that’s probably why it’s gone so well for us because you sort of come in with no expectations, and we just learn along the way.

D: Certainly not an eco-tech start-up as we call ourselves sometimes. We had zero qualifications. I drink a lot of coffee and realised the problem that I was having personally. That was probably my best qualification. Before that I was a real estate agent, so I ran a couple of franchise real estate offices for a number of years in Sydney’s North West.

D: I worked 80 hours a week. Had the European cars and the big mortgages and all these sort of fun sort of things that led you to push harder and go bigger and go stronger and unfortunately for me that was my down-bringing as well. All these hours I just couldn’t keep up with and sort of ran me into the ground, and I realised I had some underlying issues there as well.

T: What about you Martin?

M: I was a police officer for a few years.

D: Which is his best strength because he’s logistic, he’s task orientated, he ticks things off and he doesn’t give himself enough credit for that. But that police officer, report writing, bringing things to the table, making sure it’s diligently done and handled properly is one of his great strengths.

M: He wants a pay raise.

D: Granted!

Working for Purpose versus Money

T: Are you paying yourself right now?

M: Everyone involved in Green Caffeen is on the same wage at the moment.

T: Zero?

M: Yeah.

D: We laugh and say we’ll put you on the CEO wage if you would like to be and everyone goes, “Oh, that’s fantastic! What is it?” We go, “You don’t want to know.”  Now, we’ve got a massive passion in what we believe, and we’ve got some strategies around that. We really do now and even in the last few weeks since we first spoke with you, Tammy we’ve now got opportunities reaching out across the world. So, we actually have five international partnerships now lined up for Green Caffeen.

T: Oh, that’s fantastic.

D: And people just say, “Can we bring it here? Can we do this? Can we do that?” And we’re like, “Yeah, we’ll make that happen.” If you really believe in what we’re trying to do, there is a way, we’ll make it happen. It might take us another six months, but we’re working overtime to form allegiances with the right people – to understand what your passions are, who you are, and what’s your environment, and how can we help you have a similar impact as to what we’re doing across Australia.

T: So, you’ve been a business for 15 months. You haven’t paid yourself. You must have some very understanding wives looking after you.

M: Well, I think they’ve seen where we’ve come from and the big change that we’ve made in ourselves mentally and physically in the last probably 18 months, two years this has been happening. And, I think they know where we’ve come from and see a different person today than it was back then.

D: I think we put that on our website. We’re getting more out of this than anybody actually really understands. If this all fell apart tomorrow, we are different people. We’ll get back in the workforce. We’ll go do whatever it might take, a new start-up whatever. We’ve changed, and we’ve come from some terrible places. So we do get a lot more out of this than people realise, but that’s also part of our driving force, as well is we don’t want this to stop.

We’re just going to ride this little green monster, as we call it, and give it as much as we can and make it as big as possible.

M: You know what? You go to work on a Monday morning on any other job, and you got 20 or 30 emails to open.  At Green Caffeen, with the head office at the dining table, most of those e-mails are people reaching out telling you how good they love it, and how much they want to bring it to their cafe and so forth. So, it’s a great reward. Every day you are rewarded definitely.

T: I think it’s so interesting how both you, having some challenges with mental health have found some relief in starting a business with a cause, and how that, even though you’re probably working crazy hours right now, that’s actually energizing you. A lot of people when they start a business, it’s incredibly stressful, and if you had a mental health issue a lot of people would go backwards. But you guys are just going strength to strength right now.

D: Still got a mental health battle. I have to keep in check regularly with how I’m feeling in my moods and all that sort of thing. So, the mental health stuff doesn’t go away. It actually probably gets exacerbated sometimes. But I’ve learnt personally to handle those, and I’m a much smarter and more insightful person.

D: So, if I need time, I take time. If I’m struggling, I’ll take the moment to switch off and tune out a little bit but then I keep structure and discipline and surround myself with routine and always find the sort of things that enables us to keep forging forward. And as Martin said when you get a little pat on the back every five minutes of the day by someone saying, “I really enjoy what you’re doing.” That’s a little dopamine release, and that’s a little kick, and it’s another little move forward. So, it’s really, really exciting.

T: It probably helps too that both you understand that same challenge. So when one needs a day off, the other guy can…

D: There’s no days off, Tammy! What are you talking about?

T: You guys told me you took time out.

D: I know. We take time – maybe half an hour or so, go for a swim, go for a run.

T: Ha Ha! But, at least the other person could kind of understand where you’re coming from.

M: Yes, I think so definitely.

D: For sure.

T: What do your children think of all this?

D: They laugh. Two 40-year-old blokes on social media. We had zero budget for media when we first started this. So, we thought, “Let’s just go to social media and make it a bit entertaining and engaging.” I don’t know whether we’ve successfully have done that, but people have given us a little bit of feedback to say that, “We really enjoy watching your travels and enjoy what you’re up to.” And we’ve toned that back a little bit, but more people are crying out for this silly stuff, and we’ve got a few more fun things planned in the near future. But our kids, what do our kids think?

M: Well, they’ve changed. I think without sounding too common, we’re good role models for them now. Well, most parents are good role models for the kids, but they see an environmental side, and they’ve seen the change that we’ve made, and I think they’ve definitely changed the way they use things. I think they’ve change the way they consume things. I think they stop and ask themselves, “Do I really need that before they buy it or is there another option or is there a better way for the environment?” So, they’ve definitely changed.

T: And also, they’re probably impacted by your personal changes as well, not just the business?

M: Yes.

D: Yeah, for sure. With parenting, so I won’t go to too deep into parenting –  but parenting is one of those fun things, and you can tell your kids what to do or you can show them what to do, and the last two years we’ve shown them what to do. And I think they’re very, very proud of that, but that’s given us an element of pride to share with our kids that no matter what you’re going through at any particular stage of your life, there’s always a way out of it.

M: And I think we’ve changed that – you just tell the kids now, “If you’ve got a passion, just do it. Still go to school and still try hard but if you’ve got a passion, follow your dreams.” I think if anything, that follow your dreams is probably being not pushed onto them, but shown to them that, “I don’t need to leave Year 12, and think about my career and buy a house and so forth. If I’ve got a passion or a dream, I’ll go chase it.”

Experts on Not Being Experts

T: Probably also, it shows that you don’t actually have to be an expert in something to make something happen, right?

D: No, we are experts at not being experts.

M: Very, very early on we realised that there was a lot of fields we weren’t experts in.

T: But, you figured it out?

D: We made smart decisions. We realised that we weren’t experts, and we outsourced that information or skill, and brought people along with us that shared our passion but also had the skills to fill the holes. And, I think that’s why we’ve once again by default – we were talking about this, this morning – why have we been able to achieve what we’ve been able to achieve in the last 12 to 13 months.

D: That is because if we don’t know the answer, we go find the solution to it straight away. But, not only find the solution, we find the person that has the passion and energy that we do, but is also an expert in the field, and that’s a winning formula that’s working well so far.

M: And it’s everyone that we’ve worked with just love the idea. They love it, they get it. They are coffee drinkers; they know they’ve tried to have reusable cup and it’s too bloody hard sometimes. They forget it, they don’t wash it. So, they look at this and think that’s a really great idea.

M: So, our app developer, we met a couple of people to develop an app and the first couple it was really hard to sell it, and they really didn’t get it. Then, we met our current developer and within less than a minute, you could just see his brain working it out going, “Oh, this is what I’m going to do!” And it’s like his baby – It means, (us to him) “You have it. You do the things that you think to do with it because we aren’t app experts at all.”

M:  It’s like the graphic designer was saying to us, “We want to do this.” And then when they started to work he (app developer) would go, “Can you tell the graphic designer to give me a call?” And we’re like, “Do you guys just want to talk by yourselves because if it goes through us we’re bound to stuff it up?” So, they just worked in the background, and we’d sort of roughly tell them what we want to do and then couple weeks later it’s done.

T: Well, you obviously found partners with common values.

D: That’s key. That’s definitely key, and I know our app team regularly saves us. “Sorry guys, we’ve got just another little thing for you.” And they go, “No, we enjoyed working on this one because we watch the cup count to go up, and we watched the people join, and we know that you guys are leading the way and having a bit of an impact and somehow we’re a part of that as well.”

T: I think that’s really good advice for any entrepreneur, “If you’re not an expert in something, just find the best person you can with the values aligned.”

D: Values aligned is one of the key elements. We have definitely said no to people over the time. We’ve gone, “Yeah, we’re probably not quite suited to each other even though you might be the best person in that field.” (And then)…

Let’s go find somebody that’s you know equally as best but has the same sort of passion as we do.

The New Cup

T: Let’s talk about some of your future developments. I’m looking at a cup here. It is a special cup.

D: It’s still white. It hasn’t been colored yet, Tammy. It’s a prototype.

T: It’s still white compared to the green one which we’ll put on the show notes so people can see what your cup looks like. But tell us more about this cup that’s sitting right next to it.

D:  Yeah look, when we first started Green Caffeen we had an idea to implement a circular economy. So we never wanted to use virginal material.  We wanted to sort of bring waste as a resource, and 18 months ago in the Australia marketplace that wasn’t much of a discussion point and it wasn’t actually able to be implicated within a business. So, we weren’t able to do what we wanted to do originally.

D: So, we came to market with a cup that we could get made here in Australia from a virginal polypropylene. We made sure that we could handle that cup correctly at the end of its life and turn it back into new cups. So, we were trying to go circular and move towards that waste free, zero waste model, but deep down we always wanted to push towards a model where we could actually use waste as a resource. So, we went out to source and secure supply of FDA approved food grade recycled content now here in Australia which is massive.

T: That is new, isn’t it?

D: Yeah, it’s brand new and we’re lucky to form allegiances with the right people that we’re at the forefront of this but also had a passion to work with us and bring change to the marketplace. So, yeah this this new cup will be made from food grade recycled plastic here in Australia and waste will be then turned into a resource which will be turned into a reusable which will go around, around, around, around the end of its lifespan. It should be turned back into a reusable and closing the loop on the whole process. So, it’ll be a zero waste reusable coffee cup.

T: So, this food-grade product, which wasn’t available until recently, will be actually recycled when enough people use it. And how many how many uses do you reckon a coffee cup can use?

D: So, we’re just still testing. The cups that we currently have at the moment are three to four years (lifecycles). We still hope to achieve the same target with the new cup, but we’re still just in the process, so you’ve caught us very early. We’re still just testing that at the moment, but there’s no reason why we won’t be (able to)  get three years plus from the cup in the commercial environment.

T: And that’s with how many circulations do you reckon? How many?

M: Numerous.

D: We have to think 500 a year.

T: So, we’re looking at 1500 times that coffee cup is used, and then you’re recycling it again back into another coffee cup.

M: And the current (virgin plastic) cup (only) has to be used 15 times before it has a positive impact on the environment. So, one of our current green cups is equivalent to 15 paper cups.

T: Paper cups?

M: Yes.

D: We haven’t actually even looked at the statistical data on what a reusable cup from a waste resource will have because that’s just not been available. So, we’re just in the process of looking at that now.

T: Well also, the energy required to make that new product is actually less than a virgin (plastic) product.

D: 100% and one thing we’re really, really proud of, Tammy – we looked at how we’re going to implement this model, and when we first started we said, “We’ll go build a factory. We’ll set up washing facilities there. We’ll collect all the cups on a daily basis.  We’ll transport them back to our factory. We’ll wash them, and then we’ll ship them back to the cafes ready for the next day.”  And it was just massive resource waste going around, around, around creating new infrastructure for these cups to be handled.

D: So, we looked at the cafe and said, “Cafes have everything we need there. If they’re willing to partner with us and work with us to reduce waste and make an economic saving for themselves as well, let’s just roll within the model that already exists.” And that’s exactly what we’ve done. So, our model is very, very resource light and it’s even resource lighter – can I say that – and we’ve got this new cup coming out very shortly.

T: It’s really interesting that the solution that you came up with, which was the simplest implement, is also the greenest in terms of carbon emissions.

D: Yeah. Once again, we look at them. We’re not geniuses. It was just a simple solution to a big problem, and we’ve been very lucky to have the execution available to us to pull it off.

An Exciting Announcement

T: Yeah brilliant. Let’s go ahead to talk further about the announcement that you’re about to have with the ACT Government. Go ahead and tell us more about that.

D: So, let’s go back a little bit about 18 months ago the ACT Government started talking about banning single use coffee cups. They sort of put it out there a little bit. It got momentum. The press got a hold of it, and it really ran some big stories. It was very similar to what we’ve achieved in the Inner West of Sydney. The mayor came out there about the same time and said we want to implement a reusable coffee cup scheme.

D: So, let’s go back 18 months ago. We hit Twitter like we’ve never hit Twitter before. We started tweeting all the ministers involved. We started getting anybody that could get our story and message. By then, we were only weeks into business, and we thought we’re the perfect solution to this problem, but we were not maybe two or three weeks into our existence. So we had to go and get some runs on the board before it happened. But very luckily enough we won the inner west trial…

M: In Sydney.

D: …in Sydney, and that trial has now escalated to a full-blown scheme. So, they’ve actually cancelled the trial program, and they’ve gone straight to a, ‘let’s just implement a scheme and have it going forever.’

T: So, how big is that scheme?

D: It will hit 60 cafes within the next couple of weeks, but the LGA – the Local Government Area of the inner west is one of the biggest and heaviest populated councils within Australia. So, it’s a big area.

T: Okay.

D: It’s a big area. Let’s get back onto the story. The story was then that the ACT Government came out and they said they wanted to run a reusable cup trial once again. So, they’ve put out some tenders, out for some information and then once again we went to Twitter. We were very lucky to come down here and meet some of the people involved and sort of share our dream and yeah, it’s been six weeks of very exciting challenges for us to sort of get this to the marketplace. But we’ve been very lucky to be, by the time this podcast comes out, announced as the successful candidate to implement a reusable cup trial here in the ACT.

M: But prior to the tender going out we had a massive interest from cafes in Canberra and when we tried to hold back knowing that this was going to happen later in the year, but we couldn’t. There was such a strong interest from cafes wanting to jump on board with Green Caffeen that we just had to roll it out.

T: And then they couldn’t get involved right away because?

D: Well there’s a scale of economies for us. We have to partner, and we need support and funding from local councils or governments or organisations. So, for us we sort of looked and said okay, let’s get 20 cafes up and running. Let’s look at the ones that are sort of crying out the most, and let’s show what can be done in the ACT prior to any of these being announced.

D: Now we’ve already got a 20, 22, 23 cafes with a lot more registered in the back-end ready to go. They’re already operating and running Green Caffeen here in the ACT. So, we put it out there. We thought, “let’s support the people that want to support us.” And we’ve been very, very lucky to win this tender for us as a little start-up from what we know of as one of the first reusable cup’s that’s state-sponsored or territory.

M: Statewide.

D: Statewide here in the ACT, (first) across the world. So, we regularly get people reaching out to us worldwide now saying, “Hey, can you do this? Can you do that? How have you done it?”  And we go, “why are they calling us?” But we’re working it out. They’re calling us for a reason.

T: Hey congratulations, guys! That is huge to convince any government to do anything new. But to be able to have a consumer-led change for the environment is even bigger than people realise. I’m not surprised that people from overseas are reaching out to you to try to figure out how to do similar things. So, congratulations on winning that contract.

D:  Thank you.

M: Thank you.

D: And it’s not just our congratulations. Congratulations to people that actually care about trying to implement reusable schemes and systems versus getting away from single use. I think a lot of the messaging over the last 12 to 18 months has been,  Now we can recycle this, we can compost this, we can do something a lot better.” But as the message gets bigger, people now are saying that’s probably still not the best solution.

D: You look at the waste hierarchy, the waste hierarchy is Refuse, Reduce then Recycle. So, recycle from what we grew up with as, “Recycle is going to fix all the problems –  just put it in the yellow bin and she’ll be alright” to now it’s their very lowest portion of the waste hierarchy. So, we look at it and go refuse. Well, you can refuse a coffee cup, and then how do you get your coffee? Well, next stage is you are going to have to reuse, and that’s where Green Caffeen fits in beautifully.

How to Connect with Green Caffeen

T: Brilliant. Is there any advice or request you have from our listeners?

D: Well I know you’ve got a worldwide market and an international market so if you here in Australia you can just download the Green Caffeen app and find a local participating café, but not to support us, support them. Go and give them a little pat on back for implementing this scheme and wanting to make a change in your local community. That’s the best thing we can do.

D: If you’re a cafe you can jump on board you can go to https://greencaffeen.com.au/ and register your cafe. If you’re a university, a council, anybody that just wants to talk to us about reducing waste and going zero waste with takeaway coffee cups, we would love to hear from you.

T: Okay, so we’ll put all those contact details on the show note in case people want to reach out to you personally, but also as you say the apps are available on Apple Store as well as the Google Play Store.

D: Thank you.

T: Guys, thank you so much for joining me today, and thank you for all the amazing things that you’re doing for coffee drinkers, for the environment, for the cafes and working with government to find a single solution for all the waste that’s going into the landfills – that it’s really generated from something as simple as a coffee cup.

D: Tammy, thank you and congratulations on your initiative and your interests as well. We really appreciate having five minutes to chat with you – maybe or little bit longer – with people that actually care about what we’re trying to do so thank you very much. 

T: You are very welcome.

M: Thanks Tammy.

T: Cheers.

Mark Yates of Replas – from rubbish to products

In this 2-part series, I chat with Mark Yates, the founder of Repeat Plastics, now called Replas in one of the most educational and insightful shows we’ve done yet involving the plastics industry.

Mark unintentionally entered the recycled plastics business 28 years ago when he decided to make something with the plastic packaging waste that was being generated in his father’s gum factory.

Today, Mark’s company is one of the very few in Australia that makes products from mixed plastic waste.  If you ever wanted to know what happens to the soft plastic that the grocery stores collect, this is the show for you.

I hope you enjoy this two-part episode of Plastics Revolution with Mark Yates from Replas.

Companies Mentioned:

Replas
Redcycle
Close the Loop
Planet Ark
Integrated Recycling
Earth First

Credits

Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade

All Rights Reserved 2019


PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

KEY:

T: Host Tammy Ven Dange
M: Guest Mark Yates, Founder of Repeat Plastics (now Replas)

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Welcome

T: Mark, welcome to the show.

M:  Thank you.

T: Thank you for joining me. I’ve actually been interested in your company and the work that you’ve been doing since I found out that you were a partner with Redcycle. A lot of people here who might be listening may not be from Australia or might not be familiar with the Redcycle program. Could you talk to us about what that is?

The Redcycle Program

M: Okay.  So years ago, and I don’t know how many years ago – it would be eight or nine years ago, a lady by the name of Liz Kasell came to us with a harebrained scheme of collecting all the green bags, the polyprop – the woven polyprop bags – the carry bags that were handed out. And so she went to Coles and developed a system to grab those bags back in a one-off type collection.

A green bag
A green bag

M: So her first venture into that area, I’d say, was at the front of your Coles supermarkets. There was a supermarket market trolley with a great big green bag draped over it. And so it was to encourage people to bring their broken bags back. And we got that material, and it only produced sort of five or six tonnes. But that’s a hell of a lot of bags. We got that material and made products out of it.

M: She then started to push our products into schools and into areas because she could see the synergy between the education of young people and getting them to learn to recycle. And the spin off with that would be they’d hopefully educate their parents. So, she worked on a group of products that were well usable in schools as she pushed her products into schools. And then they were returnable into these collection systems. And it really grew from there. So she worked with that one collection with the supermarkets that worked well.

M: Coles love that. The supermarkets pushed Liz it to go further, to give them the answer they needed, which was to be able to put “recyclable” on their packaging, which is a bit of a side story.

M: I think there is a regulation or a form of governance that to be able to put recyclable on your packaging, 86% of the country has to be within so many kilometres of a collection point. So, to legally put recyclable on something. It has to be recyclable, which makes sense. Doesn’t it?

M: From there, the supermarkets expanded, kept pushing Lizo to increase her presence and Liz set up the soft plastics collections with Coles first up, and now it’s with Coles and Woolworths right across Australia. She’s holding back on any more supermarkets at the moment because like every attempt at recycling in the past, the emphasis has been on collection and not on what to do with it. So, she can see that at the moment, she’s got a lot of plastic .But a lot of projects she’s been working on over the years is starting to come through to really use bulk amounts of that plastic.

T:  So Liz came to you with a material, basically. And was she purchasing those products from you or were you just taking the material and using it for your own products?

M: The idea was to supply us with the material, yes. And it was actually quite a good material that was sought after by us. It helped a lot of the poorer materials we got work better. But she wanted the whole system. She wanted it from front to end. So she’d also go out and push our products into schools and councils and the like or any partners that she had in in the program.

The Truth About Recycling

M: It is such a good idea. Now every supermarket or every Coles and Woolworths has a collection point and a lot of them – nearly all of them have one of their products in the front of the supermarket. So you get the connection. If I put this in here, it turns into that. And that’s what’s missing with a lot of recycling.

M: When you put your stuff in your yellow lid in at the front of your house, there is no connection. It goes in that and it’s gone. And that no connection or collection has is come back to bite us in the bum, hasn’t it?  It’s once it goes in that bin it’s gone, it’s recycled. Well unfortunately, no.

T: And now we’ve had a lot of videos or newscasts recently that have shown a lot of mixed plastic going overseas or it actually going to landfill.

Working with Mixed Plastics

T: Let’s go back a little bit now because I thought it was important to talk about how we’ve kind of met because I was interested in your company, because there’s not many manufacturers that deal with soft plastics for recycling. I’m not sure – is there even maybe one other one I’m thinking about here in Australia?

M: There’s a few that deal with soft plastics, but they’re all single polymer. So, there’s a few that recycle ag (agriculture) film, and add it back to films, which is a hard one. There’s not a lot in this game. The “rigids” are pretty easy. The machinery is pretty simple to chop up.

T:  So that’s the hard plastic (rigids).

M: Yeah, your laundry detergent bottles and the like.

T: So as far as mix plastic go, there’s really not many that would be doing what you’re doing?

M:  There’s a handful if that.

How did he get into the Recycled Plastics Industry?

T: So let’s go back to how you got into the industry, because I think that this will explain a lot about why Liz would pick you. And that is important too, because for those people that are not from Australia, this is a significant program within the two largest grocery store (chains) in Australia. So, I think it’s important to go back to this process about why she picked you, and why you said yes. But I reckon it has to do with your past. So how did you get into the recycled plastics industry?

M:  That’s a very good question. I used to work throughout Asia a lot when I was (young). I did an electrical fitting apprenticeship. So the first job out of my apprenticeship was commissioning environmentally friendly heat treatment plants all over all over the world, but mainly in Asia.

M:  So I had to project manage the installation of these plants and the commissioning and it was basically fly out on a Monday, fly home on a Friday night, spend the weekend at home and then out again. So being young, and I was gonna say single, but my wife would kill me for that. Just being young and wanting to see the world or having a taste of seeing the world. I really enjoyed that for a while. But like any job like that, whoever’s done that sort of work, it’s very tiring and very hard.

M: So I needed something to do in Australia. That’s basically it. So my father owned a rubber manufacturing company, which was a dying industry, just like the auto industry at the moment. But, my dad had a small factory, and he let me use as a corner of a small factory and pushed me towards doing something with the plastic waste he generated.

M: He had some customers that had some products that could possibly be made out of recycled plastic. So I fooled around with some of his equipment and some ideas that I’d had – a very simple idea.  Probably the biggest asset was not knowing anything about plastics – not even knowing they were recyclable at the start.

M: So the first plastics I got, I found an old oven on hard rubbish and dragged that into the factory and heated the plastics up in an oven on a tray, and just like you see on YouTube now with a lot of the project stuff that’s brilliant out there. It simplifies it down to the Nth Degree. And that’s how it started. Very simple. Melting plastic in an oven, pushing it into a shape and then working from there and then trying different plastics.

M:  And eventually, I knew that an oven wasn’t quite good enough to manufacture from. So I went to a plastics company and said, “I know they make such a machine.” I didn’t know the name of it. “I need to melt plastics.” So, they put me on the path to buy an extruder, which was a huge investment back then – a very old extruder that just happened to work straight away, which was a great start.

T: What were the first products that you made from your recycled rubber?

M: It was recycled plastic that was wrapped around the rubber.

T: Oh, OK. So was it wasn’t even the actual product? It was packaging.

M:  It’s packaging way back then. The first product we made was a foot, an up-stand for asbestos removal bin. So it was just a lump of plastic that had to be shiny, that had to hold a great big steel bin off the ground. And so there were these feet and they’d throw the asbestos in this plastic lined bin, close it all up, put the steel lid on, spray everything with the sticky tacky substance and then dump the whole lot down the tip.

M: I can remember –  I got the dye sorted and I got the first order. It was for a couple of thousand units, and I started working in an afternoon and 30 hours later I turned the machine off. I worked straight through to get the order done. I was that excited to get the order done. Shipped the product. Customer was happy and the first cheque I ever received bounced.

T: Oh no!

M: I didn’t get any money for the first product.  So possibly I should have quit then, but I’m glad I didn’t.

T: So that was a different kind of machine than most of things you’re doing now? They’re injection moulding, aren’t they?

M: They’re a combination. So, we use all those stupid ideas from the start combined them to be able to handle the rubbish plastics we use, the mix polymers, the contaminants and everything and get a reasonably good product, a product that’s fit for use at the end.

T: Oh, okay. So, because you’re processing the waste, you’re using the extrusion process to create the feedstock basically for the other products? Is that right?

M: Yeah, there’s a few processes. We went along that the path that we needed to engineer the mixes of the plastics to suit the end product. A lot of people spruike that you can throw anything in and we can make a quality product. Well, you can throw anything in and you’ll get an anything product. And for some products that’s fine.

M: Like a wheelstop that sits in a car park, that doesn’t have to be that strong. It’s actually got to be fairly soft and malleable. It’s held down. It’s not going to bend in the sun too much. So a product like that can handle total mixes of anything, you know, and it can be a lot of soft plastics or a lot of rigids or whatever.

M: But we went along the path. We’d process to a minimal point. So, we wouldn’t put too much energy in the front end. We’d densify the material in various forms, and then we’d mix. So, we’d get different supplies that we knew vaguely what they were and knew their characteristics and then we’d mix them to suit.

M: So it’s like if we make a park bench, it’s not going to bend in the sun, which was a problem in the past. There used to be black benches out there, and they’d be very expensive – some of the first ones. And you’d go along a month later, they’d all be bent and look terrible.

T:  I’m looking around your office here and you have bollards and other things. I mean, when you’re dealing with the consistency issue of mixed plastics, meaning that you can get just about anything. I mean, I saw downstairs when we were going through, you had different bails. So you can control what percentage of what, but we also looked at some of those plastic bundles and some of them had wires sticking out of them and such.

T: I don’t know how you can possibly control your quality process when you’re not really sure what you’re getting at the end. I mean, that’s the number one reason why manufacturers have told me up to this point they don’t like working with recycled plastic.

The mixed rubbish feedstock Replas uses for some products
The mixed rubbish feedstock Replas uses for some products

M: Yeah. You’re spot on there. We solve the quality problems by blending. So, if we’ve got what we’d call a bad mix, a very wide ranging mix, we’d only add that at a certain percentage to our end product. We’d also add other plastics that have strong characteristics that bind all the bad stuff together. But probably the biggest help was we design the machines to suit the rubbish plastics.

M: So we just design it differently. We didn’t go along standard injection moulding procedures because we didn’t know them. I didn’t know how to run an injection moulder. Actually, I still have trouble running an injection moulder. We build the machines ourselves. We put our own software in them. We put a Simplified Operating Systems on them, and it works.

T:  So that’s interesting because we’re talking about someone who was experimenting from the very beginning with your oven, with wrapping or packaging, and creating your first product. You’re still doing that today, like 20 something years later.

M: I wish I could get some of the ideas out of my head that I still have. That’s the frustrating bit. It does hold you back a lot. We’ve got to run a business. It’s gotta to be sustainable in every sense of the word. We’ve got over 50 employees. So we have to come up with their wages every week. That’s the number one priority. We have to make money. It sounds wrong, but that’s the way we’re here. And that’s the way we’ve stayed here. Whereas a lot of people in the past have come and gone.

T: Well, I think that’s the big thing about any sustainable environmental focus. There’s a lot of social enterprises out there that aren’t making it. And you’re a company that’s only working with recycled plastic. Is it all from Australia?

Let’s talk about dirty nappies

M:  It is all from Australia. Although we have played with imported stuff that we couldn’t get in Australia with a view to starting up in Australia like disposable nappies –  dirty, disposable, nappies.

T:  I feel like going down that rabbit hole right now.

M: It is a rabbit hole. Believe me.

T: When we talk about disposable nappies or diapers, that’s a big push right now. In fact, probably two weeks ago I went to a forum where they were talking about trying to get people to go back to cloth nappies because of this environmental issue, and the number of diapers or nappies that a child will go through in their time. Are you actually working on something like that that you’re happy to share?

M: I can share a little bit. It is a rabbit hole. It’s a pet (peeve) ever since having kids myself – Kids of my own and seeing the absolute staggering amount of waste that comes from disposable nappies. Although we did have a cloth nappy service. So they dropped them off and picked them up, which was a bit of a luxury.

M:  I’ve followed a company, a Canadian company that had set up plants around the world, and they seem to always get them 90% right. They had one set up that I visited in the Netherlands there that used to do mainly hospital waste. So it used to process ten tonnes an hour of diapers and incontinence nappies. I worked with them to get some of their finished product out here to trial it. And it worked great, actually worked really well in our process.

M: I’ve worked with a company in Melbourne called My Planet, which was around 12 years ago. They actually started up, got the process running here in Melbourne, and then the company got bought out and it wasn’t core business. So, the company that bought them out shut it down.

M:  Now, there’s another one recently, probably five years ago I called, Relive It. They won an award, got some money or got together some money, got rights to another process, the same Canadian company’s process and tried to start up here. They nearly made it, but I think they failed because they were trying to go too big, too quick. They trying to generate tens of millions of dollars to set up a plant and couldn’t quite get it there.

M: And now there’s someone in that space now with a technology from Italy. It’s actually in conjunction with – I don’t think I’m telling stories out of school here –  it’s Proctor and Gamble and an Italian family have got together to develop a process.

M: And it’s not rocket science. We’ve been washing cloth nappies. It’s the same way. You just wash it and you separate everything at the end. And if you can separate the plastic, separate from the pulp, separate the super absorbent polymer that’s in nappies nowadays – you’re on a winner. You’ve just got to do it in a model that works that you can make money and be there for the long run. So watch this space. It’s quite exciting.

T:  I think there’s a lot of people that will be very excited about this. It is a moral dilemma for people that are trying to reduce their plastic consumption and every couple of hours are having to take a dirty nappy off. So, I think a lot of people would be very interested.

Supply versus Demand for Mixed Plastics

T: The question I have then is – because most the products that I’ve seen here have been largely outdoor type products or industrial type products. Australia’s a fairly small marketplace compared to some places. And with the environmental interests that a lot of people have now, more and more people are using those bins at the supermarkets to put in their single use plastic. How are you doing in terms of trying to match the supply that you’re receiving of all these various materials, even potentially nappies and being able to sell something on the back end of it?

M: Yeah, it’s a good observation. It’s not working at the moment. It’s changed so dramatically over the last 18 months. We’ve gone from having to employ probably around 30% to 35% of our staff to get out there and sell the product to now not being able to make enough product and build equipment quick enough to meet the demand. So…

It’s really spinning around now that people understood that there’s more to recycling than just lifting that yellow lid in and putting stuff in the recycling bin.

M: An announcement today was – lots of councils got together, and I think it was in South Australia – I’m not 100 percent sure of this one. But they’ve brought in another procurement policy to really hammer home they’ve got to buy recycled. And that is the answer. And that will give hope for start-ups and other people that they can afford to invest in this industry because it’s not a real easy or cheap industry to invest into. Some of the capital costs for equipment are phenomenal.

Plastic Railway Sleepers

M: But actually there’s a lot more. There’s a big light at the end of the tunnel now, and there’s some huge projects that are just coming to fruition, like the plastic railway sleepers, that have been out in the States for the last 15 years or more than that. We developed one here 17 years ago, which got passed. They were developing them in the UK and the States at the same time. And the States has been making them for that long and putting them in track. We’re a bit slow over here. We didn’t realize. But a product like that will soak up thousands of tonnes of material, which we need to soak up tens of thousands of tonnes.

Plastics to Roads Projects

M: There’s other ventures starting up at the moment, like the plastics to roads, which is a which is a great one if it’s done right. There’s a few people around or a few companies around that are just throwing plastics into roads, and it’ll become an aboveground landfill. It doesn’t,actually increase the lifespan of the road. So it’s it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

M:  But there are companies – can I mentioned companies names, is that right?

T:  Yeah, absolutely.

M: Companies like Close the Loop that have been again in this space for – oh Steve Morris was playing with this nine years ago – plastics into roads, adding their toner collection that they get from Planet Ark. And they’re just at the top of the hill. They’re just getting the large orders they need to put the investment in to get it happening. And the spin off with that is the technology they’re using here will be taken to the States and also help with the same problems that they’re having in the States.

A bigger problem in America

T:  I actually think the States are a lot worse off. My family is from the US, and I just spent a couple weeks there visiting in various size places in terms of population. And just some information to share – it probably won’t get into this podcast – But my great aunt, who is 92 years old. She lives in a very small town in the middle of Kansas. She can’t drive anymore. So she asked me to drop off recycling to three different places.

T: So I did that. But I got to the last place where they are hand-separating everything right there in this drive-through warehouse of sorts. And I asked the guy working at the warehouse how things were going. And he said that since they can’t export this anymore, they’ve gone from six regional centres for recycling to just that one because everything they’re grabbing now is worthless pretty much.

T: At my parents’ place, which is a little bit bigger, and that’s in Arizona. They used to accept every single kind of plastic – one through seven, which I’d never seen a recycling system like that before. And that included paper, glass, whatever. As of this month, they are no longer allowed to recycle anything without paying a weekly fee. And now, even if they pay that weekly fee, kerbside pickup only will pick up clear or white plastic, cardboard – so no paper, no glass, but metal. And that’s what they’re going to (in terms of recycling systems) if they were to pay for it, which they can’t with a pension. So I actually think America is in a worse position than Australia at the moment maybe just because the size if nothing else.

M: It’s probably a polite way to put it – There’s a lot of potential in the States. But there’s also some technologies in the States that are brilliant, like the trex decking material, which is why they only collect that clear soft film to go into products like that, which they they sell it out here now.

M: It’s such a great engineered product, a great use for rubbish plastics that if you do get it right, you can make a difference. And the numbers they put through that plant. I know they sell half a billion US dollars now here of the product. I used to be able to recite the volume of plastics that would go through at that.

M: But they do it the right way. They used rubbish plastics, and then coat it with a virgin surface – that’s what you see, and that’s an engineered surface so they can guarantee it. And the rubbish plastics and wood flare will just hold up the nice surface that you see. So that’s a bit of a hint, too, to anyone who wants to get into it. It doesn’t have to be big, black and ugly.

The technology

T: No, but if you have a couple million dollars sitting around first. Right? I mean, investments in manufacturing, period, whatever it might be is not a small task. And the kind of work that you’re doing right now, Mark, is pretty incredible because you’re not just buying off the shelf equipment to be able to do the things that you want to do. You’re actually creating your own machines.

M: Yeah, that’s what I find enjoyable about my job. I get a bit of a free reign to look at technologies all over the world and make sure we’re up with the best. So things like the latest buzz word is Industry 4.0 and AI. All those buzzwords are something that was going to happen anyway. They just put a name to it. We get to look at all that and grab the best bits and incorporate it in our processes.

M:  But still, you have to do it yourself. And you’ve been able to create this capability in-house, which has to put you in a position to do more with recycled plastic than just about anyone here in Australia. Maybe even other places too.

M: The idea of recycled plastics in that way, yeah, we can do more. It’s a bit of a dilemma with us. And we sit a bit above “waste to energy” in this field. But once we mix the polymers, it can only ever be a mixed polymer product from then on out. So, we’re really careful not to grab single polymer streams because a single polymer stream should go back to single polymer products. So, if you’ve got a plastic bag, it should go back to a plastic bag, and it can be done. It just needs a bit of an investment and a bit of a push along or pull along.

M: So, we sit in a space where it is maybe not so limited because all the multi-layer films and that sort of thing, which are a problem to recycle – not so much for us. But if you want to turn a stand-up pouch, the multi-layer films that are involved in a stand-up pouch – back into a stand up patch, you’ve got no hope.

T:  Could you just, for our audience that aren’t as familiar with plastic – could you explain, first of all, what’s a film and then what’s a stand-up pouch?

M: There’s probably not much difference. A pouch is made from a film, but it’s a very thick film. A film – it’s your standard plastic bag or your old shopping bags. It is basically a single polymer and very soft and “scrunchable” is the word we use. A stand-up pouch, which is a very easy thing for producers to manufacture. It’s a great way to get the products on the shelf. It’s very cheap.

T: So, what’s a good example of a pouch?

M: The squishy yogurt containers that you just undo the top and squeeze them straight into your mouth. A lot of products that used to be sold in rigid plastic. So rigid plastics are things like laundry detergent bottles, coke bottles, sauce bottles, all that sort of things are going to stand up pouches where they can because it’s cheaper. There’re properties they can put in those multi-layer films that help the products last longer that are stronger for the lighter weight. So, there’s good things about it and bad things about it.

M: Some of the polymers they add to stand up pouches, there’ll be layers of nylons and PETs. And in our processes, it’s not a huge issue because those sorts of plastics have a higher melt point. So, they’ll sit in our products just as discrete particles. Whereas a film, a plastic bag, if you can’t melt it, you can’t blow it into a plastic bag or if it’s a wrong polymers.

T: So, once again, let’s try to do technical-ise this conversation. When we talk about polymers, we’re talking about basically a type of plastic. And when you’re talking about the variations of plastic and those issues, it’s basically because every kind of plastic has a different melting point. Right? So, if you’re putting it through a melting process and they’re all melting at different levels, I suppose – would you get some that might burn and others that might still be in a solid state of some sort?

M: Yeah. If you are doing a PET product, and you had a lower melting point, it could degrade when you get to the temperatures you need to run PETs. And the nasties in this field is the PVCs which turn into a gas – a chlorine gas which tend to rust your factories unfortunately.

T: And unfortunately hurts people too.

M: Yeah. Although you never seem to have a cold when you run PVC machines. Cleans your right.

T: Oh no!

T: The PET we talked about too is plastic bottles essentially like for water bottles.

M: Yeah. And clothing. All sorts of things that doonas and doona filling. That sort of thing. It’s everywhere. The seats you sit on have PET in them, and there’s fillings and that sort of thing. But yeah, our process we run at temperatures that the lower melting point products melt and then the higher melting point products sit in there as discrete items.

T:  And you could do that because by the time that you add the extra recycled plastics to harden it or whatever properties that you’re adding to it, you don’t notice?

M:  Yeah, you’re right. It comes in as a percentage of the finished product. So, it’s a small percentage. Now our tolerances can handle percentages of contaminants be them paper, liquid paper board type products, timber.

What about colour issues?

T: Most the plastics I am seeing in this room, they are all solid colour. Sometimes when people think about recycled plastic, they think about more of a speckled – I guess it’s probably more the project type plastic that people are doing in small shops. Is colour an issue for you?

M:  We have a hierarchy. So we start with-  we do a lot of white products. So, we need either natural or white supplies and material for that. So they’d be more post-industrial or very well sorted post-consumer plastics. Luckily for us, the white products from our factory, any rejects or any scrap goes to yellow products.

M: In a yellow product, we can use natural or white and or yellow, and turn them to yellow. And then we have a hierarchy – from yellow, we can go to green, blues, browns, black. So, we have a spectrum of colours. And and as they go through our plant and become more contaminated, they end up in the holy grail of recycled plastics which is a big black, ugly product.

Circular life cycle of his products

T: So, you’re actually doing a circular life cycle of all your products too then?

M:  Yep. Within our plant, nothing gets wasted. We don’t throw much out in our factories. In fact, here’s not really anything we do throw out, although you could walk out the front, see a big bin there full of maybe broken office furniture or something. But other than stuff that’s every day, we don’t take in any product and then lose anything. We pay for the materials, so why would we want to throw it out?

T:  Yeah. So, you find a way for it.

T: I’m curious for your own recycling. I see you might have recycle bins there. And I notice you even have a soft plastic bag here for your own soft plastic use. You said you had like 50 employees. Do you have bins for them too, and it literally goes right into the process?

M: Yeah, it’s probably the most efficient way of recycling. It would be pretty hypocritical, although I have caught my wife now and then grabbing a bag of soft plastics and heading off to the supermarket.

It’s a pretty efficient way of recycling isn’t it, when we recycle our own plastic?

T:  That’s right. And certainly part of the ethos.

M: Yeah. We try to spread that right through the company for sure though. It is hard. As everyone knows it’s hard to stay on top of it, and it is hard to educate people. That’s the hardest thing.

T:  Well it’s probably getting easier right now with the trends.

M:  It is. We don’t make it easy with all these different plastics and different varieties of every plastic. If you look at the plastics and just a soft plastic or any of the plastics have different melting points. Any single polymer has different melting points, different colours, different additives. You can end up with thousands of different plastics or varieties of the seven or eight main plastics to try to do something with.

What comes first: product or material?

T: Are you finding that you’re receiving a feedstock, and then you’re trying to figure out what to do with it? Or is it you have an idea of something to create, and then therefore you’re sourcing that material? What comes first as far as the chicken or the egg?

M:  The chicken or the egg? That’s a good one. It’s normally a combination. I’ve got material we’ve trialled over the years. It hasn’t worked for some things. And then years later I’ll think, “Hang on a minute. That would work well in that product.” So, we’ll grab that and use it in that product or vice versa.

M: We’ve got a product – the seats are a good example again. We have to have a certain amount of polypropylene in that seat, which has a higher melting point and is basically stiffer to make sure when it’s there in the hot sun in central Australia, it’s not bending. So, we make sure we source sources of polypropylene, like the hospital scrap material you saw there, which is a very high melt flow film and polyprop. When you melt that down, it’s very stiff and brittle. It would be too brittle if we used it straight. So we blend it.

Hospital gowns as feedstock?

T: That’s interesting, because the hospital material I just saw downstairs were actually like gowns and such. Are we talking about the same one?

M: Yep. It’s what they call a non-woven fibre that feels soft to your hands, but actually it’s thousands upon thousands of little fibres that aren’t soft at all. If you melt that stuff down it’s hard.

T:  Because I’ve always thought about #5 or polypropylene to be more like the laundry detergent plastic.

M: Or your take-away containers.

T: Yeah. Something harder than that. So, I did not realise that you could also get a soft version of that, and that’s what those gowns are made out of?

M:  Oh, your hospital gowns, your hospital curtains, the food industry – all the overalls, hair nets, masks, all that sort of thing.

T:  And it makes sense why that would be a really useful substance for the industrial type products that you’re making.

M: Yeah, it’s a great binder. And other thing when we used to make white posts for the sides of the roads, we couldn’t add too much of that plastic because the road authorities wanted the post to bend and not break. So, if we had the stiffer plastics, the post would break when a car hit them. If we had the softer plastics like stretch wrap, they’ll bend over.

T:  What are your top selling products right now? Are they what I’m seeing in the room like the bollard type things or the railroad sleepers we just spoke about?

Railroad Sleepers Installations

M:  Unfortunately, the railroads sleepers – we’re not big enough to handle that. The company that’s running with them, at the moment, Integrated Recycling, are backed by a very large company, and they’ve got the money to see that project through. They’re well along the way to getting them specified and bought in a commercial scale.

M: We’ve had sleepers in the local Puffing Billy railway line for 10 years now. And just recently they’ve put Integrated Recycling sleepers in the Richmond station down here, which is a proper mainline track. So it’s really good to see that’s finally happening.

Most Popular Replas Products

T:  And I’d say your most popular products then right now are? You don’t have to answer that question if you don’t want to.

M: No, no. Luckily, all our products seem to rise together. The seats are huge at the moment. A lot of that’s because Coles and Woolworths have them in the front of each store so people can see the connection with recycling. And then kids – I don’t know if it’s kids or just being out there. Schools are starting to say, “Well, why aren’t we using them? You know,kids should be sitting on recycled seats.” And universities use them. So that seat and furniture market is rising.

M: The bollards – we can’t keep up with those. We do a lot of infrastructure products for watermains and valves and hydrants around, and marker posts for the sides of the roads. As infrastructure grows around the country, that’s expanding. And no doubt there’ll be 10 products we’re asked to make next week that we can’t make as people are starting to realise that they have to start purchasing recycled to increase the uptake.

T:  So much going on. It’s interesting to think that you’ve been in this business for 20 years.

M: Twenty-eight years.

T: Sorry. Twenty-eight. Wow, that’s closer to 30. Twenty-eight years. And finally, people are starting to get this message. Finally, after all these years of trying to sell the story, that people needed a deal more with recycled plastic in terms of buying products from it, they’re finally hearing this message, Mark. How is that affecting your business?

M:  It’s putting pressures on the other way now. Now we’re struggling to keep up. It’s exciting times, that’s for sure. The potential is everywhere, all around the world. The potential is there. And Australia is not unique.

M: A friend’s company in Europe has grown 30 percent year on year for the last two and a half years. Another friend’s company in the UK has grown 15 percent year on year, and those sorts of numbers were unheard of. When we first started, of course, we were growing fairly rapidly because it was all new getting the right products in, and then we had a bit of a levelling period. And now we can’t keep up as well. It’s crazy times. It’s frustrating actually that we’re knocking back material every day.

Should we still recycle if a lot of waste is now going to landfill anyway?

T:  And I wondered about that with our prime minister here in Australia recently said that we’re not going to export any plastics anymore. Not that many countries wanted it anymore after the changes started happening last year with China. I mean, what’s your view about plastic right now in terms of it going to landfill? Because before it wasn’t visible to us, but it was.

T: Now, everybody’s trying to recycle. Is it still worth it for people to do that or is it right now we are at a crossroads where there’s not enough demand or processors or manufacturers or something that this amount of plastic that we are putting in the bins right now clearly will good to landfill until that market catches up.

M:  It’s a great question. The infrastructure is there. It would be a pity to lose that infrastructure because whatever Channel News showed a picture of a truck dumping the stuff in landfill, Now there’s still very valuable commodities in that recycling bin. The milk bottles – people can’t get enough of those. That’s sorted. The PET bottles – can’t get enough of those.

M: I’m not that much across paper and cardboard. So, I don’t know how that industry is travelling. The glass is a bit of an issue. But the infrastructure’s there. It would be a pity to go backwards because one or two media outlets showed a picture of a truck dumping a few loads down into landfill. And even if it’s more than a few loads, even if it’s for the next six or eight months while the industry catches up, it would be a pity to lose that infrastructure because of all the negativity on that.

T: Because, you just lost here in Victoria –  this is the state. Melbourne is the major city here – just like two months ago, one of the major recyclers.

M: 40 percent.

T: Yeah. Just closed down. And they were also looking after Tasmania’s recyclables I think or at least part of it. That tells me that there’s still not enough buyers if they went under.

M:  Yeah. It’s gonna be a hiccup for a while. There definitely isn’t enough buyers. The States are pushing plastics all around the world. Europe is pushing plastics all around the world. We’re trying to push our tiny bit of plastics. Lucky we’re on Asia’s doorstep. But now it’s got to be dealt with in-house. We’ve got a process it here which will take time. There’s so much movement in this industry. My mind just boggles. There’s some big plants that have just come online and that are setting up. So we’ve got to keep the infrastructure going because these big plants require those materials – that feedstock we’ve got.

The contamination issue

M: There’s a lot of talk on the contamination in recyclables. Well, I was just speaking to someone yesterday who pointed it out. We used to buy kerbside rigids and manufacture out of that material because it’s easy. But then when we couldn’t buy the hundreds of tonnes required that the big boys were moving, we sort of got squeezed out, and the Chinese were paying a higher price.

M: But when we used to buy kerbside rigids, there was a 40 percent loss. So, we’d pay for a tonne of material to go through a wash plant to get rid of the contaminants and only 600 kilograms that come out.

M: Now, you can imagine China accepting millions of tonnes of material, the amount of rubbish that would have generated – the 40 percent of those millions of tonnes. And unfortunately, in the not so environmentally aware plants, the best way to get rid of that material is straight out back into the local creek. I think that’s what Indonesia’s had to deal with too, at the moment.

M:  We handle those contaminants by just enveloping them in plastic and they’re still sitting there. But when you go bottle to bottle recycling you, it’s got to be nice, clean plastics.

T: Yeah, because it has to be food-safe, and that’s certainly a bigger challenge.

M: So, yeah, there’s a lot of talk on the quality of the materials. People are lazy and I’m lazy. Everyone’s lazy. Who wants to wash out a sauce bottle before they put it in? We probably need to get the quality up at the second bite –  in volume, in big controllable atmospheres that can handle the waste and dispose of it properly.

T:  So, the person on the street, they can start doing better recycling in terms of what they put into the bin. Our local council actually told us we didn’t have to clean it, but they wanted us to recycle. That’s obviously changing now that things are being done local, or is it just because we don’t have the machinery up that can properly clean things?

M:  I think the thing that everyone’s got to accept is that there’s different systems for every single shire, house, whatever in Australia. Some people can handle things like lids on bottles. I believe they should be kept on, and then they sorted out and sold as a secondary raw material.

People who want to do the right thing need to figure out what the right thing is.

M: So you probably need to call your council, although I’d rather councils were more proactive and got above all the noise and said, “In our council, you put milk cartons, you put whatever milk bottles, you don’t put this, you don’t put that.” I don’t have a clue what our council wants or doesn’t want. And it changes. And let’s accept that and get it right.

Mixed Plastics Start at the Design Process

T: The other thing that I found that most people don’t think it’s a problem, but it seems to me that (it is)…since the products I’m trying to make personally are mostly a single plastic – although we’re looking at some mixes as well just to harden the plastic up a little bit –  the milk bottles are a good example where you have a #2, high density polyethylene mostly.

T: Sometimes it’s a #1 PET, but the lids are often something totally different and a totally different colour – which it seems to me without being a manufacturer or a processor that that would cause at least a plastic difference or contamination of colour, and as well as two different plastics if you left the lid on. 

T: Now, for the process that you’re going through for your industrial type products, you’ve found a way to work with that mixture. What about other products that maybe they do need a single? Is there something we could do in the design process with the actual packaging that would make your life easier? Would it make it easier for other manufacturers and processors because they’re not mixing plastic type?

M: Yeah. Not so much Replas’ life. We’re pretty right with all those variances. But you’re right. If the lids were the same polymer as the bottles, which is impractical in a lot of cases, you’re not going to have a PET lid on a PET bottle. But you know, if they got rid of – I hate to say it again, PVC containers, and there’s no reason for them. If they went to a natural (colour) lid. 

The Issue with Black Products for Recycling

M: One of the crazy things is one of the big companies has figured out how to detect a black product by adding a black master batch. Now we’re talking about the colour hierarchy before. So if there’s lots of black products in the waste stream, all you can do is make black products out of them. So, the simple thing I think is don’t make black packaging products, just don’t do it. And then you’ve got a bigger field for your recycler.

T:  So that will be things like garbage bags?.

M: Garbage bags are going down the tip anyway, aren’t they.  So they don’t matter. But Coca-Cola have a black lid on one of their bottles. Why?

T: Oh, yeah.

M:  It should be a natural lead. You know, they all should be natural. Your milk bottles should all have a clear lead.

M: I think there’s a company here in Melbourne. I think it’s Earth Choice. And I was at a talk a couple of years ago, and the CEO of that company stood up and said, “We decided to make all their packaging out of recycled plastic because we didn’t know we couldn’t.” What a great company.

M: They make a PET container out of 100 percent recycled PET. This is years ago because they didn’t know they couldn’t. So they design their dyes to make it out of that. Their lids are all natural (colours). So they were different polymer, but it just makes so much sense. Like you said, get it right from the start and you’ll open your markets..

T:  Let’s start with the design. It helps everything else, doesn’t it? Interesting..

M: It is simple at the end of the days.

T:  And some of that’s going back to the future, isn’t it? That some of the things that we’re trying to do now in terms of going back to cloth nappies and reusable containers? You remember the days when the Coca-Cola bottles were reused?

M: And milk bottles got delivered to your doorstep. Even the foil leads were recycled.

T: That’s right. And you didn’t see a lot of plastic then.

T: What was your view on polystyrene? Because I noticed that like things like yogurt containers are that. But everywhere I’ve gone, in terms of asking questions about that particular plastic – it’s #6, right?

M:   I told you, I know nothing about plastics.

T: Well, I say this just because I know that when people – like the average person, when they’re sorting, they’re looking at the bottom of the container. So they’re trying to understand it as well. But I think that #6 is the polystyrene. And I notice that even yogurt containers have that, but most councils won’t take a #6 because it’s just too hard to recycle.

M: Yes, a polyprop container (#5) looks the same as a styrene (#6). Work is being done with a recycled label, and there’s a lot of work to try to get to the designers to standardise on our materials. But good luck with that when you got marketing departments.

M: One thing that irks me is we had a supply of white plastic and then it had a tiny little tinge of light blue through it. And then one week it all changed. There was a dark blue line through it. So all of a sudden, all the plastics we were getting in couldn’t go to those white colours at the top and then roll their way through. They had to go straight to the blues or darker.

M: And I asked the company, and I better not mention their name because we’ve dealt with them for a long time, and don’t want to lose them. You know, “Why?“ They said, “Well, the marketing department realised that colour blue wasn’t our corporate colours.” And this was inside four layers of packaging. So, by the time you’ve got it, you’ve already bought the product.

T:  So it didn’t influence your decision on buying the product.

M: No,but marketing said that that colour blue is our corporate colour, and that’s what we’ll have. I said, well, do you realize what’s happening now? Too late now.

What about government regulations for packaging?

T:  Well, it sounds like the conversation then is also with the packaging companies and trying to recognise these issues. Government could also help with some regulation. The only thing we seem to really make a lot of in Australia is food products.

M:  Yeah. It’s a huge market is in the food industry.

T: Yeah. And that’s where there is some control, I suppose, in terms of how things are made. And it’s also food products are largely the ones that are using the scrunchable plastic that you’re getting.

M: Right.

T:  So it’s interesting that some of the biggest things that we could influence here in Australia – because that’s where it’s actually being made rather than imported in – is also one the plastics that’s causing the most harm in terms of what’s going to landfill if you’re (Replas) not picking it up.

M: But that, again, is a can of worms, because although we make a lot, we also import a lot. So if we’ve got regulation for our industry that’s onerous and costly, how do we keep to keep up with the imports?

T: That’s true.

M: There is no answer. There’s no silver bullet. There’s just a myriad of answers, and you hope that people can get across it at the end. You know, that when they design things, they design it for recyclability in mind.

T: How much power does the consumer have?

M: Well, they’re the ones that buy the products. It’s educating the consumer. And I get so confused, I get totally confused and am probably aware of a lot more things than most people in the packaging game. It is does seem to be too hard sometimes. Way too hard, I think.

M: India had a good bit of legislation a couple of years ago which really nailed anyone who wants to sell a product into India, that every bit of packaging has to be low density polyethylene (#4).

T: Has to be?

M:  Yes, has to be. Now they can produce it, and they do. There’s a company in Melbourne that produces low density single polymer packaging, that has enough barrier to stop the inside products from going bad. The problem is it’s thicker than all the other packaging, so it’s more expensive. So, it can be done. And the way India brought that in, it got the big packaging companies scrambling to get their engineers to figure out how they can change packaging, not because they wanted to, but because they had to.

T: Yeah, based on government policy.

M: Government policy and the size of the market.

What about the Biodegradable materials?

T: Are you being impacted at all by the biodegradable stuff that’s coming through? That is not exactly what you think it’s gonna be.

M:  We again, if we had biodegradable is in our products, it’s not going to make a huge difference. I’m so confused in that area as well. Yeah, biodegradable, degradable. It’s just another minefield. It’s the same with all the stats. It’s just all white noise to me now. I figure I’m better off not worrying over all that. (And instead) trying to find new products, developing new markets for recycled plastic, and I’ll do better than talk about all the stats, the plastics in oceans, the number of fish there are.

T:  Well, I think you’re in a unique position because you’ve created this. You have the ability to take whatever rubbish we give you through the grocery bags or the hospital bins or whatever else people are throwing at you. Because you’ve created these products and blends, that it doesn’t matter as long as there’s not too much metal or as you were pointing out, coins.

M: Coins are hard.  Frustrating too because you’re watching that money go through the other end when it’s on you, and you’d like to take it out in the front end.

T: But you’ve figured out a way. So, of course you’re not paying attention to it because you’re just like, “It’s all rubbish. We can still use it.”

M:. It’s very hard. And a lot of people in this industry get dragged into the dozens of conferences that there are and the same talk. As I say to other friends in this industry…and we all do know each other. We don’t collude.

M:  A good friend of mine says, “We’ve got a 70/30 rule. We can talk about 70 percent of our business and help each other. But that 30 percent is off limits.”  The 30 percent is the collusion part and also losing our IP (intellectual property).  So, it’s a fun industry at the moment. It’s going nuts. It really is.

Considering Whole of Life Costs for Products

T:  Well, hopefully all this effort that you’ve been putting in for all these years is really going to show itself and also teach other people how to think about rubbish in a different way. I’m sure that there is a lot of councils and governments and cities and wherever they might be should be looking around their neighbourhood right now, and they’ll probably see more wood than anything. And that shelf life of the wood products aren’t going to last very long where you have these recycled plastic products. And what are you looking at in terms of life?

M:  We’ve had product out there for 25 years, so we know it’s 25 years minimum.  40 years plus, and even then you’re going to lose a tiny bit of the surface.

Plastic lasts forever. That’s its attributes and it’s also its problem, isn’t it?

T: So, if governments decided to go ahead, invest in it now, even though my may or may not cost more at this beginning, it will have a longer life?

M: Whole of life. If they look at whole of life costs, it wins hands down.

What could we make out of recycled plastics?

T:  So, you’re also making playground equipment?

M: We do some componentry. We really should move into that area a bit more. But probably the thing that’s kept us out of playgrounds and talking to playground engineers or salesmen, again, is that kids like bright colours. And we can’t produce bright colours unless everyone changes all their plastics over to natural to clear (coloured) plastics (for their recycled feedstock). Then we could turn out some very nice bright colours, but then the sun would get to them. Although some of the playgrounds we’ve done look right in the greens, in amongst the gum trees.  They look quite good. So you sort of wish people could see through our eyes.

M: It’s an occupational hazard everywhere you look. You think that should be plastic. That should be plastic. It’d be nicer if we were struggling for feedstock, and it wasn’t as much plastic out there. That would be a good thing. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.

T:  Is there anything you want to share with our listeners?

Watch out for the green wash cowboys

M:  Yes, probably one concern. It’s great all the media exposure and the government giving out millions of dollars to help our industry, which is good and bad. A big concern amongst our industry is that the wrong people get a hold of the money, and that it’s wasted. That it’s thrown at projects that really it shouldn’t be thrown out. And it gives our industry a bad name.

M:  We’re worried about cowboys coming in, and you can do so much damage if you put out a recycled plastic product and it fails. So, if you make the wrong things out of recycled plastic, you’re going to damage the whole industry. We need to be careful with the cowboys coming in.

T: And that they know what they’re doing?

M: Yeah. And that the products are fit for use.

T:  So what could the average consumer do? Iis there a way for them to know what might be a trusted brand other than your own?

M:  Again, the greenwash is phenomenal. It’s so hard to wade through all the absolute rubbish that’s spruiked out there. Yeah. I can hand on heart, say our brand is good. There’s a few others out there that are good.  I should name them now. They’ll kill me for not naming them that.  I’ll leave that.

M: Just do a bit of due diligence – especially councils. Make sure it’s Australian recycled plastic.

T:  Not imported.

M: Make sure the company will recycle their own products.

T: Circular?

M: Circular. Yeah. So we’re not just making above grand landfills. Yeah, a bit of due diligence.

T: Is there a third-party certifier out there?

M: There’s a million of them.

T:  Okay. So no one that we just say is the expert here.

M:  Yeah. Green. This tick. That tick. Again, its stats and perceptions that kill the industry. A bit of due diligence. Look at the company. See how long they’ve been around. That doesn’t mean new companies aren’t doing the right thing, but maybe just have a good look.

The big goal?

T: Already you’ve diverted 80 thousand tons of waste from the landfill. Do you have any kind of goal?

M:  Yeah, I have a personal goal by 2030 to be doing 30,000 tons a year.

T: 30,000 tons a year?

M:  Yeah. And that still won’t be a big part. And I’m not gonna go into stats about how much plastic there.

T: No, I was just thinking. Thirty thousand tonnes –  is that enough to fill a football stadium?

M:  I’m not gonna say that. It’s a lot.

T: It’s a lot. It’s probably something like that, though. That’s huge.

M:  Yeah. I could get online and Google that…

T: There’s no need for that. All right. So, I think that’s a really good goal. I will put any of the companies that you mentioned that make it in the podcast –  We’ll go ahead and put them into the show notes so people can find them.

T: How can people find out more about your company and if they want to reach out and say hi or connect with you? What are the best channels to do that?

M: It’s really simple. Put in recycled plastic products or you go straight to our website, which is replas.com.au.  We’re pretty well up there on the Google rankings. So, it won’t be hard to find us and a few of our competitors right up there.

T: Okay. We’ll put your website on your show notes too.  Mark, thank you so much for your time today. I’ve learned a ton, and I bet our listeners have too. I really appreciate the work you’re doing in taking the rubbish that no one else will take and turning it into something amazing. And I hope that you do reach that goal because that’s so much better for the environment if you do.

M: That’s great. Thanks Tammy. Thanks for coming along.

Luise Grossman of Five Oceans

Changing the surf industry one fin at a time

Today’s guest is Luise Grossman of Five Oceans. She’s a surfer, marketer and the co-founder of a sustainable surf product company.


In 2013, Luise and her life partner, Felix Wunner decided to start a movement of sorts by trying to make the surf-product industry more sustainable.  In fact, she explained to me the contradiction between the mindset of a surfer and the lack of sustainability in most of the products they use for their own sport.

Five Oceans first product was called Ecofin, a surfboard fin made recycled plastic collected in Bali. Specifically, a set of Ecofins is actually made from 100 recycled bottle caps.

In this episode, we’ll talk about how they came up with their idea, how they funded the manufacturing through crowdfunding, and ultimately the impact they have already made and want to make moving forward.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Luise Grossman of Five Oceans.

Companies, Organisations and Products Mentioned in this Podcast:

Five Oceans
School fin key video

Check out the full transcript on Tammy’s blog page.

CREDITS:

Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade
All Rights Reserved 2019


PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

KEY:

T: Host Tammy Ven Dange
L: Guest Luise Grossman, Co-founder of 5 Oceans

INTRODUCTION

Five Oceans Ecofin
Five Oceans Ecofin

T: Luise welcome to the show.

L: Thank you for having me.

T: I was looking for a manufacturer for my own products, and I found your case study about what you did to create your first product, Ecofin. And that’s essentially how I found my own manufacturer. The owner of that company suggested I give you guys a call for my podcast. And that’s how we ended up on the line.

T: So Luise, thank you for coming on today. I’d love to know more about yourself and your co-founder Felix. Would you mind talking about that, and also how you ended up in Australia from Germany?

L: So Felix my co-founder – he’s actually my partner in life and in crime – and during university and after university, we had been living in Australia already before the Ecofin project.

L: At the time, it was 2013 when the idea sparked of the Ecofin. It was pretty much like one of the first projects in the space, and we worked on a fin concept which was a different project.  And then, I came up with the idea and said, “Hey Felix, why don’t we make something out of ocean waste? And why don’t we try making fins out of ocean waste?”

L: And that was essentially at the time (that) there was nothing around. There were no products that were actually aiming at raising awareness at the same time as providing a useful product.

L: We got the opportunity to move to Australia. He was doing a PhD at the time, and I said, “OK – that’s it. That’s the call of the universe. I’ve got to do the Ecofin project.”

L: We always have been very cautious, “Let’s see how we go. We can always drop the project and start something else or just get a normal job.”

L:  But things kept going – first from desk research. My first trip to Bali was such an eye opener as well. And somehow things always worked out, and we kept going.

L: So now the project is still alive, and we have by this time moved back to Germany. And it was a really exciting journey, and (it’s) still alive. (There are) new projects in the pipeline. So that’s really exciting. And we have a new partner on board, and we’ll talk about this later.

RECYCLED PLASTICS FROM BALI?

T:  Yeah. Well, I feel like there’s a bunch of questions within what you’ve just said that need to be unpacked for our listeners. Let’s go back to Ecofin. Let’s just go back to that. It’s a surfboard fin made out of recycled plastic from Bali. Right? The actual plastic is from Bali? Is that correct?

L: Yes. We’re using recycled plastic from Bali and islands eastbound off Java – just for the geographic setting. So, we’re working with the recycling partner in Java because there’s no industrial recycling (facility) in Bali and east bound. That’s what we associate with the material.

T: Are you collecting the rubbish? Or are the recycling partners doing that?

L: We are working with partners in Bali. So, all of the waste from Bali goes into that recycling stream, other islands as well, because every island has the same problem. So it is hard to say it’s only this material, but we can say all the Bali waste and beach waste that is collected in Bali goes into that recycling stream, and there’s no reason not to accept it because it doesn’t qualify for certain reasons.

L: So yes, this was basically connecting the dots between our partners in Bali, and they are actually providing rubbish to the recycling facility in Java.

T:  OK. So let’s go back to the fact that you are from Germany, and you’re moving to Australia. Why Bali rubbish? How did Bali get into the middle of the story?

L: Yeah that’s where the surfing comes into play. We’ve been surfing since 10 or 15 years I guess now. And my first time I surfed in Bali was about 2006. So very different times.

L: All the travelling, all the rubbish on the beach you could see – the more I started researching about the problem and seeing the problem, I was more and more concerned, and I got really passionate about the topic.

L: And then the opportunity came up to move to Australia, which is a surfing country because I think there is quite a challenge to be in the surfing space when you’re based in Germany. I mean there so many surfers in Germany, and Munich has quite an active surfing scene because we have the river, right. Of course, you’re not on the ocean. You’re not in that lifestyle. And that’s what we wanted to do.

L: I was living in France before. So, I came from surfing two or three times every day. So, as I said before that it felt like a calling, that everything came together, and we did move to Australia.

L: We have lived before in Australia. So it was an easy landing. We just called our friends, and some didn’t notice that we were gone for three years. So, it felt like reactivating our life overseas, and it was just a great start and things kept rolling. And the opportunity then to open our little office in Byron Bay, which is of course, the mecca of everything eco and surf. So that definitely helped a lot. Now we are back in Germany which is great too.

T:  I still want to go back to the Bali situation. I know this probably feels like a long time ago for you, but if you started surfing I think you said 2006?  Was that the first time you started surfing in Bali?

L:  Well I started surfing before, but I was surfing in Bali for the first time in 2006.

T:  I know I’ve surfed there a couple times. In fact, I was there in September last year, and I know that just in the two times that I’ve been (there) with two years apart, that I saw a lot more rubbish in the ocean. Did you see that changing over time as well?

L: I wouldn’t say so, but those observations are – I don’t want to be too scientific about it but it’s only a moment in pictures that you can take. I find it much more interesting to say, “OK, well how do things change from spot to spot?”  And you can see in Bali, just because there’s so much tourism, it’s starting to have working waste management infrastructure.

L: Whereas you go to Lampung, you go to Sumbawa to Sumba or Sumatra – there’s not much going on in that.  I’m so deep into that topic, and I’m passionate about it.  I go to see all the landfills and check out the recycling when they say, “Yes, we have recycling.” And then you go there, and then (see) those piles of plastic bottles flowing over, and I ask the locals, “How does it work here?”

L: So, they have so many differences between the islands.  Because how do you strategically and also physically transport all the waste from A to B. They have boats but it’s a very informal market. I see that this is such an exciting and difficult space to have to slow the problem. And I wouldn’t get out there and say, “Oh, it’s much worse than the last five years.”

HOW DID THEY GET STARTED?

T: What was your background that inspired you to start manufacturing something.

L: We’re actually well-equipped, I feel, for the project. Felix is a mechanical engineer specialising in product development. And he was working on a biomimicry fin concept. So, he was into fluid dynamics and all the composite material. Then, he can do all the CAD drawings etc. So there is definitely knowledge which I would say it wouldn’t have been possible without that.

L: And I, on the other hand, am a business and technology graduate. That means I studied business and engineering. So, I also had an engineering background but more to the business side, and also my majors from university were marketing and innovation management. That helped. You can understand things.

L: Previously I worked for DC Shoes and Quicksilver in France. So, I got into the surfing industry a little bit. I understood a lot about how the market works, and that was part of the reasons that pushed us to start the project.

L:  It was before this sustainability hype happened, and people weren’t quite aware of what this all means. I was really frustrated about how things worked. I felt like (we had) different values (than what was) in the products. You can actually change things by becoming an active part of that. And I thought, “Well, I don’t have to wait until someone else comes up with the idea.” There was nothing around so, “That’s OK. Why don’t we do it ourselves?”

T:  Well it sounds like both you and Felix as a team had some great skills, and as you said, you had this background already in surfing. And you were in the surf industry so you understood the market. What was the hardest part of getting your product to market?

CROWDFUNDING

L: Yes, our funding was definitely a problem. But we did the crowdfunding campaign so that helped.

T:  Why did you choose a crowdfunding campaign over getting investors involved?

L: We thought it’s the ideal product for a crowdfunding campaign. We had a story to tell. I mean, we created this amazing documentary about the whole project telling the story. We felt like people were really open to this topic. It was really like just on the brink of becoming a bigger topic of ocean pollution and plastic pollution.  So, it felt like it was the right moment.

L: It was challenging because in 2015 when we ran the crowdfunding campaign, I felt like crowdfunding was not yet globally so well accepted. So, we had to do lots of education around it. At some stage of the campaign, we made this video explaining how crowdfunding works. It was horrible.

T: You used Kickstarter didn’t you?

L: Just because it was the biggest platform at the time. I think it was a good way, and we learned so much about it, but it was so exhausting to run the Kickstarter campaign.

L: I’m still happy that we went this way. I mean, in retrospect, you always have a different perspective. But I would say it was the right way to do it because we’ve been revolutionary in two ways: how we initiated the project through crowdfunding, and also the type of product. So, I think that aligned well, and people understood the story, and this kind of work created lots of media buzz around it.

L: Of course, through our network in Germany, it was easier in Europe. We toured all of Australia and Europe with our documentary organising screenings everywhere. We gave it our all, and I think after those two months I was so exhausted. But then things only started. So, it was quite a journey.

T: Well it sounds like though you would have needed almost a crowdfunding campaign just to fund the crowdfunding marketing.

L: At the time, that’s also interesting. I mean that was all self-funded. We kind of just saved up for that, and we used all our savings and all the people that supported us. Like I edited the campaign. There was a lot of self-made. So, a friend who was shooting the video for us, she’s like, “It’s okay if you pay me much less than my usual day rate would be, and also pay me once you have the money. If you can’t get the money then we’ll make a super, super discount etc.”

L: So there was lots of help and people investing their own time and resources. And that’s why it kind of worked without previous prefunding of the crowdfunding.

L: But it’s very interesting to see because I’m involved in the new project as well, and we were considering crowdfunding today. Then something that I found was really, really interesting – the difference between crowdfunding in 2015 and 2019. Today you need an advertising budget of about 20 percent of the sum that you want to raise to make it work, and you need that upfront.

L: Everything is so professional about it (now). I think all the successful campaigns nowadays, they are all run or made by agencies and (are) super professional. So, the way we used it – it was us talking in the video, no makeup specialist and no special effects and this and that. It’s not common anymore. You look at the polished and super glossy videos today you’re like, “OK well, it’s a different game.”

L: I think we did a good job, but for today’s crowdfunding market, it’s definitely not the standard anymore which is a pity, I find.  Because the original idea of crowdfunding is – hey, you come up with a good idea, scrap your funds together to create a half good video, and then you hope people will love it. And yet today, it’s like “Okay, how do I get the budget right to make this massive machine work?”

T: Well, you’re right it used to be a really a grass(roots) funded campaign. And that’s why the videos were fairly amateur-like, right? You guys were probably way ahead of the curve when you created the documentary, and you’re probably a part of the blame, as well, as to why everybody has to lift their game to achieve the same targets and have to engage professionals now to create these commercials and such. So you could thank yourself for your successful campaign making it harder for everyone else, right?

L: Maybe a little bit.

T: I do. I’ve seen that video. I really do think you’ve raised the bar. So, how much money did you actually raise?

L: AU$38,000

T: And what did that money cover?

L: Manufacturing, the molding, the material that we sourced from Indonesia, the shipping etc. And also we did a classic Kickstarter rookie mistake that we offered so many different things: drink bottles and Frisbees and T-shirts and all kinds of things because we thought we needed to offer something for non-surfers as well – just to get those people onboard.

L: And then of course you do your math, and then of course things change, firstly just of time passing. So, things end up being much more expensive etc.

L: This was really difficult to run all of these different little projects from the drinking bottles to this and that, and then we had lots of issues with the currency as well because everything was displayed in Australian dollars. People looked at the prices, and (would) say that’s quite pricey. But everyone here in Germany or Europe didn’t instantly see that this (price) was in Australian dollars, and for them it felt expensive.  But we were actually supposed to put the prices much more up because the margin then (on) some of our products that we offered was not great. And it barely covered what it was costing us.

L: So, there was lots of complicated situations. I was like, “Oh my God! We didn’t make anything out of this!” And then all the logistics, and how do we get all this stuff over to Europe, and then it was such that such a difficult task.

L: Felix was doing his PhD at the time. So, I was basically doing all the operations in the background myself. And I was so busy, and I am quite an organised person, but you can imagine having five types of projects coming at the same time and then packaging design and this and that.

L: The crowdfunding money helped to kick things off, but all the rest was self-funded and it was never enough to pay for what it needed to get off the ground. But it was a good starting point and that that helped a lot.

L: And also, we created the community around it and the buzz around it. So we didn’t have to start from zero with building an audience and having people liking our brand or creating that brand identity out of the ether.

HOW TO SELL THE PRODUCT POST CROWDFUNDING?

T: Well let’s talk about that further because you hear a lot about successful crowdfunding campaigns where they get a great start, they’re able to start the project, but then the sales die off after that, they don’t maintain the momentum. How did you continue to sell product after you’ve gone through that buzz? You finally have more products to offer because you’ve created the mould for your fin, (but) how did you keep things going?

L: I think if we had the resources, I think we would have done much more in this phase. I think we just kept going by getting the word out on social media that was all that was possible in terms of resources and money. And I think we were just lucky that it was not yet in this super professional space, and we had a story to tell and it was engaging for the people that they kind of stayed onboard and were following what we were doing and with all the education projects that we’re doing. So. there was always a lot of noise just happening naturally.

L: And then after we had our product ready for the market, I went on sales trips. I went to visit every surf shop in Australia – not quite every surf shop – but a few shops in Australia. I went to Indonesia, and then I don’t know, (but) people knew about the products.  The online sales kept coming in, but I mean we have to level this out. It’s not (a) huge (amount that we) would (have) made. Yeah, we sold off our product, but now we are almost out of stock for the first production run.

L: So we’re going into production towards October hopefully for the next production run. So, it’s not a massive machinery where we pump so much stock. It’s a small project.

SIDE-HUSTLE

T: If you had the Kickstarter campaign in 2015. It’s 2019 now. And now you’re just finally getting to the end of your stock from that. This must be a project of love then. It’s more of a side hustle? What do you guys normally do for a living now?

L: I’m involved in a new startup. We’re doing a training device for golf and other sports. So, I stayed in the sports area and also same thing again developing products from scratch. And Felix is actually in a consulting job now.

T: OK so a little bit of a “normal” paycheck to help fund your other projects. It’s great though that this project is still going on especially because you guys are now in Germany. You’ve tried to tell me before about Max, and I think is the great time to chat about him further. You’ve gone back to Germany, Felix has a job, you’re working full time at the moment. Tell us about how Five Oceans is continuing without you being present here in Australia.

L: It was a very difficult time with the transition back to Germany. We weren’t sure what to do with it. As I mentioned in the beginning, we always said we keep it in the flow, and let’s see how far we go. And then of course we went that far – that we’ve been basically a global brand with say –  it’s all over the world. It’s not huge, but everyone knew that we were out there.

HOW TO RUN THE AUSTRALIAN COMPANY FROM GERMANY

L: And then it was the time that we started to transition back to Germany and spend some time in Indonesia, and I was not finding a solution in my head. I was like sitting there, “I don’t know what to do.” I felt like I needed something else now after four years of really intense time with Five Oceans, but I felt like it didn’t want to die like a little flower or a tree that you actually didn’t water it, but it kept on growing.  

L: Things were sitting there, and it was like, “Okay, well then if I cannot find a solution at the moment, maybe I need to let it sit and hover” – which I think was risky, just because of how social media works nowadays. When you keep things quiet, people tend to look away to find new things they can engage with.

L:  But things kept on coming in. I had new shops in the US and left and right, and we have a depot and a little logistics infrastructure here in Germany as well.  So, I could handle lots of things from Germany, and I did that on the sidelines of my new project.  I was like, “Well, okay if it’s that for the moment, then it’s that. I can’t change anything about it.”

A NEW PARTNER

L: And then suddenly Max got it in touch with us. He’s German too. Funny, but yeah we’re not exclusively (a) German project but it seemed to happen that way. I get lots of requests from people who want to be involved, who want to do an internship.  Literally, (we receive) a few emails per week in that space, but Max’s email was a bit different. I could instantly see (that) he’s different, and he has a different spark, and also he was a bit more professional.

L:  And then we started talking, and I was like, “Okay, well interesting. Let’s have a call.” Then he told me what he’s doing, and that he actually found us because he had the same idea. And (he’s) like, “Well, instead of reinventing the wheel, I might just get in touch and see what those guys up to.”

L: And then I was like, “Oh, okay. Well, what do you have in mind? What do you want to do?”

L: And he (said), “Well, I could imagine getting involved in some way.”

L:  And we started talking more, and then it was last year before Christmas – he came to Munich, and we met in person and that conversation was flowing instantly, and it was like it’s super good vibes. And then by the end of the first conversation, we had a person who already said, “Yes, I want to move to Byron Bay, and I got to do this and this and that.”

L:  We’re like, “Okay, well you’re our man.”

T: Wow! Well, that’s amazing too because obviously if the company doesn’t sound like it’s bringing in a lot of revenue, with Max coming on board, there probably wasn’t enough for even a full-time salary perhaps? Is that true?

L:  At the moment, not (enough for a full-time salary). But he also came in with lots of new ideas to also make things bigger and expand the product range etc. So, I think this is the plan. I mean, in business you never know if the plan works out.

L: It’s the plan that it grows from this always being a side hustle to a fully working company that brings in enough money to fund at least one or two people working for the company and having freelancers supporting from the sidelines. And yeah. That’s the mission and I think we’re in a good way. And let’s see what happens in the next year. I’m really excited.

FUTURE PLANS

T: As you’re moving forward, are you still really focused on the recycle plastic story? As an example, I know that you’ve created a special composite to make these surfboard fins, and I just wondered if people are still buying the product because of the recycled factor or if they’re just buy it because it’s a great fin.

L:  No, I think it’s the story that impresses people and also gets their attention. And then that it’s a good product. One of our major reasons or major quality things is that we’ve always been very transparent about where things come from, what we’re doing, that there’s certain content of recycled material in it.

L: What we decided for our brand is (what) Five Oceans stands for is a transparent, approachable, brand that makes products that consumers can understand. They can research about it, and when they’re convinced that they want to support this cause, and I’m convinced that this is a good product, I think that’s where we get our customers from.

T: OK let’s talk about the future, Luise, because I know you guys are about to relaunch a website, and you might have some other projects or products in the works. Do you want to tell us about that?

L:  What I can tell is, yes, the web site is in relaunch. Max is doing a great job refreshing the brand and having a bit of a new appearance which I think is a great way to relaunch things. We’re going into a new production round which will be towards the end of the year. So, this will be an Ecofin for future systems because this is the most requests that we have most of the time. Apart from doing other colors etc, that was basically (what) everyone was (asking about), “When do you bring a future fins?” And we’re doing this now.

T: So, just to be clear for some of our listeners that aren’t familiar with surfing, can you explain what a future fin is?

L: It’s just the different system – how the fin is connected to the board. There two different systems out in the market, well three, and we went for FCX (connection system) which has double plugs that you screw the fins on, and the other system has just one long plug. For non-surfers to understand it, it’s much more stable as well.

L: We’re going for this now, but we also are working on other products from recycled material.  And we’re also working on some apparel and products that are in the same base in surfing, and that they have the same values and are not unnecessary.

L:  Unnecessary because that’s something that is also really important for us. When you’re (intentionally) not producing things that you wouldn’t really need. 

“I think part of the solution to our problems in the world is also being more conscious about what you consume and how much you really need. And sometimes just don’t produce any waste at all is the best option and to avoid unnecessary things.”

WHAT KIND OF IMPACT DO THEY WANT TO MAKE?

T: What kind of impact would you like to make with the company ultimately.

L: Of course, using recycled material on the sourcing side of things. I would love to connect the dots even more and connect with more areas where we source our material. At the moment, we’re trialing things in Fiji which is a super exciting project. The world will hear about this much more in the future.

L: So there we are going into a long term partnership with the Fiji Surf Team and working on different options how to transform the waste partly already locally on site and then partly in Australia. That’s my definite passion area for the whole project is the sourcing, the waste management and the infrastructure.

L: So that’s my goal to get much deeper into that and to bring the waste closer to the product even in terms of storytelling but also in terms of distances travelled. Let’s say that because, I mean we’re working on a sustainable product. So, we have to keep a close eye on our carbon footprint as well. And so, this is one field that has always been super important for us, and this requires funds as well (so) that you can work on that and trial things, also in terms of travelling and putting more effort into that.

L: On the other hand, the education part was also always a big part of Five Oceans.  We ran lots of projects in schools in Australia but also Indonesia, and this actually inspired me to move ahead and actually work as a university lecturer as well part time in Germany because I loved it so much to see those young people be inspired by the project.

L: Two of my favorite projects were the school projects with the secondary school in Australia where we produced fin keys, and we took the kids on a mini version of our supply chain. So, we did a beach cleanup in the south of Brisbane, and they learned about the waves.

L: It was so amazing by the end of the whole term. I went in every week or every second week, I went into class and we did some other part of the project and by the end of the term, I would ask them (the kids) about their plans for the future, and what they would want to be professionally. It didn’t matter whether they were more into the technical side or marketing, but everyone said, “I want to do this and this, but it needs to be sustainable or it needs to be in the environmentally friendly.”  I felt like this topic just popped up in their minds like, “Oh my God. That’s the future.”

L: I feel like the younger generation is so ambitious about that. I , you can see that all with the Friday Future Movement now and climate change, and how the young generation is actually telling the old incumbents in our society, “You have to change your thinking. You have to change your attitude. It’s time to do something.” That was one of the most amazing parts of our work.

T: I think the video is on YouTube isn’t it where you’re teaching the kids how to make keys?

L: Yes it’s on our website but also on YouTube.

L: One thing to add to the impact question is also what we always thought is the most important part of our work is raising awareness.  I mean, I wouldn’t claim the whole stretching of hands of millions of people towards Five Oceans’ activity, but…

In this space, we were definitely the first ones to do a project like this, and now all the brands have or they attempt to have sustainable products.

L: They attempt to revolutionise or change the way they produce things, and I think we were definitely part of this momentum that was needed to get something going in this really, really slow industry.

L:  It’s interesting. You would see the mindset of a surfer, and then you have this really slow and innovation-adverse culture in the industry. I think it was great to be in that space during those times and people were like, “Oh my God, you’re so right. We need to change what we use in the surfing space.” Because it’s all resin and fiberglass and EPS foam and PU foam, and it’s really not sustainable.

L: And then great projects started to raise from our friends at No Tox for example. They’re doing great surfboards in the sustainable way. And we connected with so many shapers that are now using recycled blanks and using flax fibers. It’s a natural fiber instead of glass fiber.

L: And so I think the awareness on both the producers’ brand side and also on the consumer side is one of the biggest impacts that we can do and where we see lots of potential actually to change things. Because…

“We cannot change the world at once, but I think (by) one step at a time.  You won’t buy Ecofin, and then throw your rubbish somewhere without thinking about it. I think once you stepped into that field you become a much more conscious consumer in any aspect.”

T: Yeah good point.  I asked you about your future impact, but it sounds like you’ve already done an amazing job both in the education space, as well as, changing the industry in some degree – to look at the way that they make their own products. And it sounds like you also have some great things coming up that will continue to test the sustainability factor of surfing products – or something to do I suppose with water?  I’m not quite sure what you’re doing yet, but we can’t wait to hear about the launch.

CONTACT DETAILS

T: How else can people find out more about you and your business?

L: Instagram of course. I think we are on all channels. We are called, “Join Five Oceans.” We’ve got an YouTube channel. I think the most regularly updated channel at the moment is Instagram, but also we’ve got a Facebook page which I think there will be lots of new things coming through of social media channels in the next weeks.

L: We have a great support from the sidelines as well for the social media. So, I’m not 100% involved anymore, but they’re doing a great job preparing everything. Also, the Fiji project – lots of interesting news coming out in the next month.

T: I’ll put some of your links onto our show notes so that people can find you, and when you’re ready to launch, let us know and we’ll add that to the show notes as well.

T: Thank you, Luise, for everything you guys are doing over at Five Oceans. Just by making products out of recycled plastic, there’s a place for those materials to go in the first place. But obviously the educational component is huge, and we need more people like you and Felix and Max helping this process. So, thank you so much for your time today, and thank you for the work that you guys are doing.

L: Thank you so much. Talk to you soon.

Vet Stephanie Stubbe of Anipal

A veterinarian’s vision to make the industry more sustainable

In today’s podcast, we meet with Stephanie Stubbe from Melbourne Australia. She’s a practicing veterinarian who founded Anipal, the first Australian company to make dog collars and leads from recycled plastics.

In ten short months she’s managed to sell out her first order without spending a dime on marketing. And yet this company was never about the money, but a way to champion changes to the vet industry to be more sustainable in their practices.

A vet’s vision to make the industry more sustainable

In today’s podcast, we meet with Stephanie Stubbe from Melbourne Australia. She’s a practicing veterinarian who founded Anipal, the first Australian company to make dog collars and leads from recycled plastics. In ten short months, she’s managed to sell out her first order without spending a dime on marketing.

St

I hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Stephanie Stubbe from Anipal.

COMPANIES, ORGS & PRODUCTS MENTIONED IN THIS PODCAST:

Anipal
SproutX
RSPCA

CREDITS

Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade

All Rights Reserved 2019


PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

KEY:

T: Host Tammy Ven Dange
S: Guest Stephanie Stubbe, Founder of Anipal

ABOUT STEPHANIE

T: Steph welcome to the show.

S: Thank you very much for having me.

T: I find it interesting that we both have some sort of tie back to RSPCA.

T: Now for our listeners not based in Australia, RSPCA is like the ASPCA in America. And I used to be at RSPCA ACT which is the Australian Capital Territory and you’re even working right now at RSPCA Victoria.

S: Yeah I think it’s absolutely amazing we both got the interests in animal welfare and animal protection, and then that has consequently later led us to exploring the plastic space as to how we can prevent that affecting animals and wildlife.

T: That’s right. I think there’s a lot of people that have a common interest between animals and the environment.

T: Let’s talk about you for a second because when I did my research it looked like you just recently graduated from school as a vet in the last couple of years. Have you always known that you wanted to be a vet?

S: Not exactly. I grew up on a sustainable beef farm and animals have always been number one in my family’s life. We were never allowed to have dinner or be fed until all the animals were fed and looked after. So, I guess in my family, animals have always been number one and science has always been really important because both my parents have a science background.

S: And consequently, I grew up always knowing I wanted to get into science, but I also loved languages and I loved to adventure. So, I originally ended up in arts and then quickly realised that wasn’t quite for me. I was studying languages and then moved to science and then consequently was like, “Of course! Vet science. That makes perfect sense.”

T: So you became a vet and you were working as a vet for the last couple of years.

S: Yes.

T: And then the reason why I actually found you was not because of our RSPCA connection. It was because I was looking for a product that I can add as part of my crowdfunding campaign – as I suppose – a prize if people do not want to buy my product but wanted to get involved in some way.

T: And because my product has to do with pets, I was looking for some sort of recycled plastic dog accessory I suppose.

S: Yes.

T: And that’s when I found so much public media around your story. How did you get involved in plastics and how did Anipal start?

S: Yeah, so it’s a bit of a long story.

T: We have time.

S: Yeah, I think so. I guess growing up in the environment and animals has always been at the forefront of my family’s life. We live on the Murry River where it periodically floods. And when the flood waters recede, there is plastic and litter everywhere. So then over the next few months, you are picking up things all around the paddocks so that the cattle don’t eat them, and you want to look after your land. So, waste management has always kind of been at the forefront of my mind.

S: And then we actually went away to Kenya as a family. Just when I graduated vet school, we went for a horse ride in the Maasai Mara. And entering Kenya, you have to make sure you don’t have any plastic bags on you. They pat you down, and they look in your bags to make sure you don’t have any plastic bags on you, or you are sent to prison.

S: They have been so firm in implementing that law which is fascinating. And then when we entered Kenya, and then we went horse riding mile after mile right in the middle of this just amazing landscape that is so pristine and untouched – you just get overwhelmed by the beauty.

S: Then I came back here, and I had a bit of a culture shock back in Melbourne because it’s so busy and there’s pollution everywhere. It just gets you thinking, and then I started working as a vet and quickly realised how much plastic there is actually in our profession, and it can be really hidden as well.

INSPIRATION FOR ANIPAL

S: And you don’t know about it – including dog collars and leashes. And that’s where I really had a shock because I discovered my own dog’s collar, which feels like natural fibre, it was actually made out of virgin plastic.

T:  When did it go from a concern or even an advocate of reducing your plastic consumption to, “I want to do more?”

S: It actually happened immediately. Like that moment I put that collar on Billy, and then I actually went straight to the computer and started googling and researching it immediately when I realised it was made from virgin plastic.

S: I was like, “Well this is absurd. We have so much plastic that’s out there in the environment and its waste streams. We need to be replacing this with recycled versions and just help the circular economy.”

S:  It actually was an instantaneous thing.

T: So, were you just looking to buy a different kind of collar at the time?

S:  No, funnily enough. That was where my science brain came in. It was like, “Oh my gosh, we need to trial if we can make the same product with the same durability but out of recycled plastic.” So, I guess I disappeared down that scientific investigation pathway, and I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I had a recycled product in my hand to know if it could be an equivalent.

T: I’m just trying to figure out from an explorer perspective if you started down a search to say, “Do people make collars out of recycled plastic, and I want to buy one?” versus “I’m gonna make one.” I mean that’s a totally different way of looking at it.

S: Yeah. I had never thought about, “Do I need to buy one?” It was always, “Right. We need to be changing this as an industry as a whole.” I think it was to that because I had been shocked and shaken that much.

I was automatically thinking this is overwhelming, and this is messed up. We need to change.

T: As an industry?

S:  Yeah.

T: Now I noticed when I did some research on your background that you’ve been involved in veterinarian groups even when you’re younger.

S: Yes. So, when I was at vet school I actually became involved in a program called SproutX and that helps ag(riculture) tech start-ups find their feet and go through an accelerated program to get funding and find partners in the industry to help take their ideas to the next level and test to see if it can be validated and if it can be commercialised.

S: So that’s where I worked throughout Uni(versity). I worked for a while there – post uni as well. We had a project that I needed to finish, and then that’s when I moved across into vet medicine when that was done.  So I guess the “trialling something to see if we can solve a problem” had always been a bit ingrained in me. That was just my automatic jump when I discovered this problem.

T: Did you also start a not for profit as well?

S: Oh yes. So, during vet school I got a bit alarmed that so many of us finished the program, and some of us will end up running businesses if we want to make a relatively stable income in the vet industry. It can be really challenging if you work as an employee and so sometimes if you want a bit more flexibility it’s best to become a business owner.

But that comes along with a whole lot of its own stresses and requires a whole new skill set that we actually weren’t getting trained for during vet school program.

S: And so that’s when I went about doing some more research – that scientific element again and discovered that in the US they have a big program that’s run between vet schools over there by their Veterinary Business Management Association. And they provide programs for vet students to be able to gain certification in business skills, and so they can apply that when they finish vet school. Because the vet is in a medical program, but if you are going to run a business that survives you need to have some business skills as well. So, I developed a similar thing here at Melbourne University.

T: OK. Well, that would explain your business savvy as well. I suppose,  also for me doing the research on your background, was recognising that you already had this view that it was never just about yourself – that you always thought of it as “an industry problem, not a personal problem” which is a very different perspective than most.

S: That’s interesting. Yeah. I’ve never really thought about it like that.

S: I guess I’ve always seen us as a bit of a collective and –

If any change is going to be made, we need to do it on an industry-wide level if we’re actually going to have a significant change in movement in behaviour.

T: At this point in time, I’m not sure how you made it through school because you had so many other projects going on. It sounds like you were quite busy.

S: I don’t know. My poor partner – he sometimes says that he has a diploma in vet science.

T: He probably knows a lot right now.

T: It’s true – I know Australia’s market, I’m not sure about the American market – but they’re probably similar that a vet like yourself can go through years and years of school and get paid less than someone who’s in IT who just came out of a really basic program.

S: Yeah.

T: That’s pretty discouraging for vets to stay in as a vet for a period of time, and that’s probably why we have a shortage of vets here in Australia.

S: Yeah exactly.

T: So let’s go back to this business sense because you’ve obviously learned a few things from that program you set up to learn more about running a vet clinic. Was that translatable when you decided, “Yeah, I’m going to start a business. I’m going to learn how to make collars out of recycled plastic, and yeah I’m a vet but I’ll figured it out.?” I mean – was that useful for you to use that information? Was that the foundational skills that you brought with you to start a business?

S: I think developing BAVS – Business Association for VET Students definitely did help with Anipal in regards to – not necessarily the content that we learned – that was more specific to vet practices.  But it was about how you can create a movement, and you can encourage people, and you can plant a seed that can grow.

S; I think realizing that you can do that – if you see a problem and you talk to people and discover that they too feel that problem, and then you test it a little bit and then you can help it grow. It’s learning that – I think gave me the confidence to be like, “Hey, this is worth a shot. This is a much bigger issue, and this is a lot more of an important issue.”

And I think vets, in particular, are at the forefront of this issue and we’re in a position where we really should be helping combat that.

S: I think it is our responsibility a bit. I know that’s saying a really big thing. We’re not causing it. I think it’s on us a little bit to help lead the change.

T:  So, you decided to start a business. It doesn’t sound like it was ever about the money though?

S; No, it’s definitely not been about the money. It’s entirely been, “Can we help transition our industry across, and can we prove that this is a viable alternative?”

T: Yeah and at the same time in order to be sustainable, you have to be able to make a profit.

S: Exactly.

T: So, one of the things I think you told me the other day was that you’ve actually never spent a dime on marketing.

S: No. No. I would have no idea how or where to even go to that. I vaguely know from Sprout X, there’s Google AdWords and there’s Google ads and just things that was taught in the program to our start-ups. But I’ve not actually approached that at all.

S: I think the fact that I’ve still been working clinically four days a week has meant that I’ve really only been focussing on product and product testing and “Can we change the industry? Is the industry receptive?”

S: Pushing my product out there hasn’t been a focus. It’s more been about, “Hey, what do we think vets and the vet industry? Can we do this and try and use it as a proof case that we can do this another way?”

HOW DO YOU MANUFACTURER DOG COLLARS?

T: So let’s go back with your scientific brain to starting this from scratch – because I know from my own personal experience that unless you somehow grow up into this industry, most of us have no clue really how to manufacture something. Let’s walk through this process. Ok, you decided that there’s got to be a better way to make a sustainable collar for dogs. Then how did you find out what to do next?

S: A lot of research and a lot of calls. So I’ve discovered one thing I think I do okay in, and I’m comfortable with is calling up strangers and asking them a lot of questions – and finding out that information in a way where I’m normally calling them because I’m fascinated about something that they’re doing. Then it’s remarkable how welcoming people are to actually talk to you about what they do, what their profession is, and (they) help when you say, “Hey I’ve got this crazy idea. I’m trying to figure out how to do this.” They’re normally really receptive to be like, “Oh, you should talk to this person or this person.”

T: Did you go trying to figure out how to manufacture the collar first or did you go trying to find the material first?

S: I actually went trying to find the material first. First, I discovered how the process of polyester is made – how plastic is melted down and then it’s made into flakes or pellets, and then that is spun into yarn.

S: And that’s where I’d say, “Hey, is there ideally a manufacturer here in Australia or a recycler that does this process?” And then I started calling around a lot of different manufacturers and companies and recyclers, and they all gave me the same answer – that the last fibre spinner in Australia, (the) manufacturer shut down about ten years ago. And I kept on getting that same feedback.

S: And so then I started asking, “Well, where do you guys source your fibres?” And then I was getting all sorts of leads of places where to look overseas, and they really were all focussed on Southeast Asia if you wanted the recycled product. So that’s where I went to next.

S: And then, fortunately one of my friends runs a company in the ag industry which does source some recycled products, as well as, actually virgin plastic products for the ag industry here. And he’s not in fibre at all. He’s in silage wrap and things like that, and he helped me.

(Note: silage wrap is the plastic wrap around fermented animal feed stock such as grass)

S: He provided me one of his contacts who he’s met a million times overseas and works with and helps him out as a really good contact in China. And so, he was fantastic. I’ve spoken with him numerous times, and he’s helped to validate things for me.  I’ve also got third parties involved, and it’s just been really helpful having that point of contact.

T:  So you figured out you couldn’t get the yarn from Australia, and then you found a source of the yarn in China?

S:  I originally found the source of the yarn in China, and then consequently after that I found an even better – well, when I say better one – that I was more comfortable with because they spoke English a lot better – in Taiwan. And that’s who I ended up going with, but originally I found and sourced some prototypes from actually a couple of different manufacturers in China.

S: I’ve actually still got those prototype.

T: Well the good thing is that people generally know what a collar is. They probably did have something already on hand that they can reuse in terms of a mould – I’m not sure if they call it a mould like we do in injection plastics?

S: They actually just sent out the end product, or they’ll just send out filament yarn. I’ve got some actual filament yarn because that’s the next step up to take it after that to try to get more of the product made here in Australia.

T: OK. So keep going with that line of thought. The Filament yarn itself?

S: Yes?

T:  You did your first order with this company in Taiwan?

S: Yes?

MINIMUM ORDERS – Oops!

T: And how many units did you order then?

S: So I don’t know anything about manufacturing and poor Sam, who I still talk with a lot – he was the one who is in the manufacturing space for the ag industry who I called way too many times and asked him way too many questions, but he’s been absolutely fantastic. And so I really knew nothing about manufacturing, but I was like, “Right, I want to see if people are interested in this collar, and I want to see if we can get it to market at a reasonable price point and that is to see if this is self-sustaining.”

S: Then we can order in more product and see if we can make this to help show the industry, “Hey, this is a viable alternative.” Little did I know that minimum order quantity was 100 of each size of each SKU.  I didn’t know what SKU was. I was googling, “What is S-K-U?”

(NOTE: SKU stands for Stock Keeping Unit = 1 item usually)

T: There are probably people listening that know what that is either, but that resulted in how many total collars?

S:  That resulted in 1300 collars and leashes that arrived. Oh my gosh the photos are unbelievable! All these boxes just arrived, and then I just remembered George looking at me (my partner) being like, “Steph what have you done?” And it took up our living room for a very long time.

T: I bet. So that was thirteen hundred in the first order that you’re just is trying to test?

S:  Yeah exactly. I was just trying to test. That was where George was like, “This is where you learn, Steph, about small orders to start with to trial products.

T: Yes, that’s OK. Hopefully it wasn’t too expensive, and it looks like you probably got through most of it.

S: Yeah.  Which you know has been has quite incredible. Where now 10 months in of actually having product on the market, and it looks like – as of my chat yesterday – that I might be out of product. So, they have told me I really need to reorder.

T: So, is that out of the original thirteen hundred (note: edited to correct number) that you ordered?

S: Yeah.

T: OK. So that’s the first lot of shipment?

S: Yeah?

T: And then they’re probably ordering a lot more from you?

S: Yeah?

COMPANY GROWTH PLANS

T: OK.  So, you’re just about to go into the second order and you’ve switched suppliers?

S: So this is where I’m at now in regards to pending on how quickly (we) need a second order, and their commitment in helping me bring the process to Australia more… I’m hoping for the next order to be (with) us importing yarn made from marine upcycled plastic, and then we have a local manufacturer here.

S: George, not my partner George, different George – He’s been amazing. I’ve caught up with him so many times, and he’s been helping navigate with this company overseas that spins marine plastic into yarn – because again we don’t have those facilities here in Australia.

S: What type of exact yarn we actually need to be out of make the product – It’s another language. They talk deniers. It’s very confusing. And so, I would engage George in all those emails conversations with this company overseas to actually work out what specific yarn we want. We got in multiple types from different companies. And George, my manufacturer, was most comfortable and happy with a particular manufacturer. And then that’s where we’re at now. Their minimum order is a thousand kilos of that kind of yarn. So that’s where we’re at now.

S: Do we order that or do we keep proceeding right now until we’ve grown a bit more with our current supplier? So I guess it comes down to now – speed of delivery, costs. And then my heart is in the marine plastics as well. And trying to get things more and more onshore here. And it’s just the commitment of these larger organisations – can we go down that path now or do we wait a little bit?

CERTIFICATION OF RECYCLED MATERIALS

T: How comfortable are you that the plastic you’re actually receiving – that they’re saying is recycled plastic, actually is?

S: So, I’ve had it third party audit which has made me feel a lot more comfortable, and that third party is a U.S. based company that does these kind of audits for very large organisations. And the manufacturer I’m working with actually has and does work with “Ad-di-das.”

T: People in the US, “Ad-di-das” is pronounced Adidas in America.

T: So we’re talking about your Taiwanese supplier at this time. OK. Now if you’re thinking about marine plastic right now for your next order,  is that coming from the same company in Taiwan?

S: No. It’s coming from a company that’s actually based in Spain, and their main market that they provide this product to is the fashion industry. So that’s why it’s taken a lot of e-mails from my local manufacturer to talk to them because the fibre we’re after for our collars and leashes is actually quite different to the fibre that goes into textiles.

S: So, it’s actually been a year-long project. And the amount of emails has been unbelievable to then be able to get the right yarn out here for us to be able to make collars and leashes from.

T:  Okay. So you’re thinking about another order. How much would the next order be based on current demand?

S: Pretty much because this has been a Start-Up, that I’ve only had a very small tiny investment of my own put in it – it would be the cash that I’ve got to date that I would be reinvesting. And growth-wise, if some of the larger companies who are interested – I don’t see how I’m going to actually manage all of that demand maybe without more investment possibly. So, I need to do some numbers.

T:  What did you say the minimum order was for the plastic? The ocean plastic?

S:  It’s a thousand kilos. So that would do us.

T: But you’d probably need a warehouse too?

S: Yes, I would need a warehouse. I think, George our local manufacturer, actually has space there as well. He’s able to help out because his son is a vegan, and he’s really interested in this space as well.

T: It’s important to find good partners that believe in your vision.

S: Yes exactly.

T: So you’re lucky that you found one here in Melbourne.

T: So your business is a Start-Up, but you’re obviously looking at the next phase where it has potential to grow significantly depending on whether or not you have these big buyers that come through.

S: Yes.

T: Originally you didn’t start this for the money though. So you started because of the impact you wanted to make. How do you see your future growth aligning with that original vision?

START UP FOUNDER TO GROWTH CEO?

S:  So this is where I start – actually I’m sure a lot of people I don’t want to hear this, but I start questioning my abilities to be able to take it to the next level because I don’t have a big background in business, and it’s now getting to a point where it requires, I believe, someone who has more experience.

S: That’s where I think we can make the most impact. And I do think we can also move into tole – into white label manufacturing – tole manufacturing, but it’s now getting to a scale where I don’t feel like I’m equipped with the skill set to be able to execute that.  I feel like my strength is trialling new things – seeing if it can be grown, and if there’s appetite, and then enabling something to move on to the next level. I’ve never been at this point before where I’ve I begin to feel uncomfortable because we’re talking numbers and scale and size which is not in a vet’s toolset.

T:  Yeah. The other thing a lot of founders find themselves in this position.

S: Yes.

T: It’s just that not everyone has the self-awareness to be sure that they might want to bring someone else on to manage a company to help it grow. I think in fact a lot of founders stayed too long and into day to day operations to the point that the company is handicapped and unable to continue to grow because they just don’t have the skill set or the knowledge, or maybe they just don’t want to do it.

S: Yeah.

T: You know there’s a lot of task and businesses that aren’t as fun as the Start-Up phase.

S: Yeah. Exactly.

T: So well done being aware of your own interest and capability. I think you’re also probably underselling yourself because you definitely have started a number of things in the past. And it shows us this continuous interest in doing good for something beyond yourself.

FUTURE VISION

T: So without thinking about yourself at this moment in the position that you’re in as the founder and CEO and everything else – what would you like to see your company do?

S:  And honestly and this sounds scary – I would love in five to ten years if the vet industry in Australia in particular, were great stewards of plastic. I would love if the vast majority of products in the vet industry are made from sustainable fibres or recycled fibres.

S: I would love Anipal to help be an instigator of that –  be it as a tole manufacturer for these other companies,  we grow – which currently as one of the large companies we’ve just signed with said they see:

Anipal providing the tools for the vet industry to be sustainable.”

S: And that’s what Anipal is heralding in and that’s what I want to see it herald in more. I want the changes to be big. And I want the industry to really change because I do think in five to 10 years if a company is not showing that commitment to improving the environmental sustainability of their organisation and, helping combat climate change and plastic waste, then that company is going to become irrelevant – I really think in the next five to 10 years.

T: It’s interesting you say that because up until recently the practice has been largely independent mom and pop type shops, and we’ve seen a lot of consolidation in recent times with larger companies buying out a lot of these small vet companies to turn it into a more of a corporate environment with shared services as well. So, they do have more influence and power.

S: Yes

T: The bigger they are and greater responsibility as you say as well.

S: Yes.

T: Is there anything you want to share with our listeners?

YOU CAN CHANGE THINGS AS THE CONSUMER

S: I think it it actually all starts with –

The buyer, the consumerthey’re the ones that are actually able to demand and create change.

S: And it’s a bit like what’s happening with the movement in schools, and what’s happening today actually (at) two o’clock, and I hope to be there – the Climate Strike.

S: I love it how a U.S. politician, I read yesterday, was stated that, “The Climate Strike that Greta has helped form in this world and the movement, it has resulted in the emergence of a whole new political group worldwide and that political group is schoolkids.”

S: And it really has and that comment that had really stuck with me. It shows the power actually of the people and their decisions. And

When they make a conscious choice to buy a product that is sustainable or recycled, they’re helping change and steer business in the right direction.

T: Now by the time we actually broadcast this podcast, we might actually see what the results were from that 20 September event, and see if there has been any push or influence in various countries because the younger people are making a larger voice collectively. And you too because you’re just at the edge of that in terms of generational.

S: Yes

T: And an interest in the environment.

HOW TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ANIPAL AND STEPH

T: Is there a way that if people wanted to reach out and chat with you or learn more about Anipal – where can they go?

S: To do that, they can easily shoot me an email –  jump on the website and you can actually write. There’s a message area that you can write directly to me, or you can shoot me an email at hello@anipal.com.au.

T: We’ll go ahead and put all those details in the show notes. So people, if you want to reach out and chat with Steph about her views about the vet industry, and where they can clean up their act – even by starting small, in terms of providing products like collars and leads that are made out of recycled plastic rather than virgin plastic – then make sure you check out our website.

T: Steph thanks for joining us today.

T: No, not at all. Thank you so much, Tammy.

Royston Kent of B&C Plastics

Royston Kent – A plastics manufacturer for recycled materials

My podcast guest, Royston Kent is the co-founder and CEO of B&C Plastics, a product development and plastics manufacturing company based in Brisbane Australia. Recently, he’s had a change of heart for using recycled materials in his plastics manufacturing company.

Today, Royston’s company is actively recommending the use of recycled plastic feedstock, as well as promoting the circular life cycle opportunities of products.  Yet, this wasn’t always the case.  And even now, it’s quite unusual in the plastics manufacturing industry in general.

In this episode of Plastics Revolution, Royston shares his business journey and why he’s had a recent change of heart that has completely reset his company’s strategic direction – one that is putting sustainability in the heart of all they do.

COMPANIES, ORGS & PRODUCTS MENTIONED IN THIS PODCAST:
B&C Plastics
Five Oceans
MAPET – Food grade PET plastic
Astron
Plastic Bank

CREDITS:
Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade


PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

NOTE: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

KEY:
T: Host Tammy Ven Dange
R: Guest Royston Kent, Co-founder of B&C Plastics

Royston Kent of B&C Plastics
Royston Kent of B&C Plastics

INTRODUCTION

T: Royston welcome to the show.

R: Tammy thank you so much.

T:  I thought we should start off with a little story about how we first met. I was looking for a plastics manufacturer, and I was specifically looking for a one who did something with recycled plastic, and I have to say there weren’t a lot of choices when I did a Google search here in Australia. But I came across a story on your website. It was specifically a case study of one of your clients called Five Oceans. Do you want to talk about that project and how you got involved?

CASE STUDY: FIVE OCEANS

R: Well, I think it was certainly great that some of our competitors haven’t entered the space yet. And you did find us this time. So, thank you for that. I would say that when Five Oceans, Luisa and Felix first contacted us. They had this vision. They’re both surfers and they had this vision where they wanted just to give back. And they wanted to literally take ocean waste and create their own products, and their surfboard fin was just the first of that project.

T: But the plastic wasn’t from just anywhere. That actually was imported into Australia wasn’t it?

R: It was yes. So what they realized was that they do a lot of surfing, surf a lot throughout the world and in rough numbers about 65% of all ocean waste just sits above us here north of Australia in South Asia. And they do a lot of surfing in and around Bali and anyone that’s been to Bali would have seen firsthand the ocean waste that is there, and they generally wanted it to give back and create their products from ocean wastes so they actually engaged with a company – a recycling company in Indonesia. And that is where they actually sourced the ocean waste material from which we then imported into Australia.

T: So an Australian company importing waste from Bali . That usually happens the other way doesn’t it.

R: Yes. It certainly does.

T: I was actually in Bali in September last year surfing myself, and I saw that waste too. So once the waste came to Australia where did it go?

R: The waste had actually been cleaned and recycled to a point where it is now in a pellet form. So as a manufacturer we could now actually process that material and that’s where we started doing our trials of that. At that point.

T: OK. And what product did you create?

R: We created some surfboard fins.

T: Were they targeted for a tourist industry or just anyone in general?

R: Look  that’s probably a really good question that Felix and Luise would be able to answer it a lot better than me. But there was certainly some science and some engineering that actually went into the fin itself because I know the guys were very conscious on how rigid it needed to be. And the more advanced the surfer was, the more rigidity was needed in the fin. So there was some consideration in the actual material and in the actual design of the fin.

T: Were you able to use 100% recycled plastic in that product as a base?

R: We were. Yeah as a base it was 100% recycled, and we did have to add some additives back into it. We did have to add some glass fibre, and we had to add also some impact modifiers.

T: OK. So you said that was just the first of product lines. Have you continued to work with them with recycled plastic from Bali?

R: It’s interesting actually because Felix and Luise, they both contact us probably every month or two months. They’re quite innovative in their thinking, and they’ve got a few products up their sleeve.

R: They actually introduce us to other people that I think have the same awareness – that genuinely want to create products. And if we can reuse and recycle then that’s exactly the same kind of methodology these people are looking to apply. I actually have a conference call scheduled with Felix and Luise today at 5:00 PM actually, and they’re both back in Munich at the moment.

CUSTOMER DEMAND FOR RECYCLED MATERIALS IN THEIR PRODUCTS

T: Okay interesting. I mean we’re just talking about one project for you. You’ve had hundreds of clients through here. What percentage of your clients, say in the last few years, are actually requesting recycled plastic?

R:  Very few. I think that’s to do with probably us as an industry because as an industry, it’s much easier for a manufacturer to source prime material and develop a product around the prime material.

R: And look why is that easier? Because from a processing perspective you know what you’re going to get. You know that if the supplier says you’re going to get this material. You’ve got the continuity. You’ve got the same repeatability from a manufacturing process.

R: So, when the manufacturer has no issues, then the client has no issues in terms of maybe a substandard product going to the marketplace.  What has changed though in recent times actually is recycling – reuse – reduce. We’re seeing that more and more now through the media where people are becoming more self-aware.

R: So, more and more businesses now are opting to look at this as a serious option. We can separate and clean the materials, and we can now get better continuity of supply. So, there are now more materials on offer for manufacturers to consider which obviously we can then consider what products can be made from those recycled materials from Australia.

R: There are there are a couple of companies.  I can give a plug here. Faerch –  they’ve got some new material called MAPET which is 100% percent recycled PET, and they’ve actually just got some FDA approvals for their manufacturing plants –  which means it’s food grade for a couple of their materials.

R: Now there’s also another company that reached out to me from Cairns and they were saying just recently that another company called Ashtron plastics actually has a fully recycled milk bottle, and they’re actually doing some extrusion. We’re looking at doing a collaboration there from an injection molded perspective on manufacturing these parts from 100% milk bottles.

T: Wow. OK. That’s a huge deal because – just to sort milk bottles is hard. It’s been a challenge I know for a lot of councils.

R: Yeah, 100%

T: Before we go into the manufacturing process really deep. I want to get to know you a little bit more. I think that your story is interesting in terms of how you got into manufacturing to begin with and obviously with your accent… and mine, we both didn’t start here in Australia. So, what brought you to Australia?

MORE ABOUT ROYSTON KENT – IN THE UK

R: Really good question. So, I actually I was born in Surrey in 1970. So no hiding my age here, and my family actually moved to Adelaide when I was 1. So we lived in Adelaide until I was seven years old. We then moved from Adelaide to Brisbane until I was 13. We then moved back to the UK and so from the age of 13 to 27, I lived in the UK and I actually fell into the industry in the UK where I was.

R: I was looking for more. I knew that I’d been lucky enough to travel with my family from a very young age and travel the world. So I was very lucky to see that, and I knew there was more on offer than living in the current town Boston Lincolnshire. I knew there was just more to life on offer, and I I was I knew my only way out was to do something other than what I was doing

R: I actually thought my way out was to join the army. So I was actually waiting for my army dates to come through. And I’d been accepted in, and they told me I had a six month wait list.

R: I just actually closed down my first business which was a franchise selling sports equipment that we used to sell to leisure centres, sports centres and youth clubs and so I needed something to do for the next six months. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, her cousin actually worked for a plastic injection molding company, and they were just looking for someone to do some assembly line operation stuff, and I thought I’ll do that just to do something for the next six months.

R: And basically from there, I was taking any opportunities I could to get off the production line because it was just drove me crazy. They offered me an apprenticeship within about three months and it was either join the army or do the apprenticeship and I took the apprenticeship or the training that was associated with that. And that got me into plastic injection molding, and that’s where I started my plastics sort of tech experience.

T:  So how long did you do that for that particular company?

R: I worked in the UK for five years.

R: Yeah five years. My father just passed and it sort of freed me up then to leave the UK and then I convinced my wife and my two and a half year old daughter (she didn’t take any convincing) that Australia should be on our next ports. And Wendy agreed, and it happened very quickly.

R: Actually, because I had Australian citizenship, Wendy pretty much was qualified and so did Meghan and it was just a case of selling our house and applying for a job. I applied for a job and got a phone call actually from our largest competitor at the time and a gentleman called Roger Tonks who is very well known and very well respected in the industry especially up here in Brisbane in Queensland.

R: He is sort of one of the founders for plastic injection molding as an industry in Queensland. And like I said Roger – he offered me a job and he wanted me to actually start on the Monday.  I think he was talking to me on the Saturday, and I had to remind him that I was in the UK. And he said, “Well, can you be here in two weeks?” And I committed to it, and I did. I was there within two weeks. The same weekend, I got offered the job we actually had an offer on a house as well. So everything just fell into place nicely.

T: It was meant to be, wasn’t it?

R: Yeah.

T: So how long did you work for Roger.

WORKING IN AUSTALIA

R: I worked for Roger for eight years eight years.

T: And then?

R: Well, just about the seven-year mark with working for Roger’s company, I had a life changing moment where both my retinas came detached. I was lying in a hospital bed thinking, “What have I done and where am I going with my life?”  And I knew that I needed change.

R: I suppose to frame this a little bit, I had 20/20 vision in both eyes at my last test – better than 20/20 vision. Whereas, just before I actually went in to be operated on, they told me that I had better than 20/20 vision still in my left eye, but my right eye need to be operated on. And they told me that I was going to go blind if we didn’t operate, and there was still a good chance that I would go blind if they even if they did operate well. And so, they operated on me within about eight hours of being at the hospital.

R: And I remember lying in the hospital bed thinking “Wow” – just trying to reflect on the last 24 hours and reflecting obviously on my life.  And I just thought that I needed to see more, do more, participate more or give back more. I was just looking for more, and…

“I made a commitment to myself that as soon as I got the all clear from my specialist that I would do something different.”

R: And almost 12 months to the day, doing something different was acquiring B&C Plastics which at the time was probably an under-managed plastic injection molding company, and we acquired that with Bob Halsall.

T:  So, I’m sorry. I have to go back. My own mind needs to know this. Were you climbing Mount Everest or something when this occurred?

R: No. Look I played quite a bit of football in the UK – so soccer depending on who’s listening and I was a centre half/centre back. So, we did a lot of training in heading the football. So hitting a football is like being punched in the head.

R: So professional footballers actually get their eyes checked on a regular basis for retina detachment and so do boxers –  anyone that has sort of impacts to their head they get checked regularly but at the time it’s a semi pro and just local footballer – that wasn’t the case. We didn’t get our eyes checked. The specialist thought that was probably a disposition maybe for that as well, but that was that’s what caused it. It was playing soccer.

T:  Well, I hadn’t heard that before. Usually it’s high-altitude mountaineers where you hear this occurs to them.

T: So, life-changing experience – you decided to buy a company with a business partner.  And then?

R: Well I should go back just a little bit. So I’m having this conversation with myself about looking for a new job. I actually did get offered a job in Perth when I got the all clear from the hospital about six to nine months later.

R: I thought I was looking for something different, and I got offered a job in Perth. And they flew me over there, offered me the job and I came back and said to Wendy, “I’d like to take this job as the next opportunity to learn and grow.”

And Wendy said, “You know, I don’t actually want to travel halfway around the world again.”

T: Ha Ha! For those that aren’t familiar with Australia, Perth is on the other side of the country. It’s the only major city on the west coast of Australia.

R: It’s about a five-hour flight from Brisbane. So, it felt like halfway around the world to Wendy again. And so I picked up the phone, and I told them I couldn’t accept the job, and I actually was looking in the paper and that’s when we saw B&C Plastics.

R: I had a chat with my good friend, Bob Halsall, and we both said “Okay, let’s give it a shake.”

R: But I remember having this conversation with myself because at the age of 18 or 19, I had my first business where it was a franchise in essence, and it was pretty tough –  I think because it’s cold calling. It’s making your own appointments. It’s getting in front of people –  obviously getting those rejections. And I remember saying when we closed that business that I would never go in business for myself again.

R: So, I was reflecting on this as we’re looking at acquiring B&C Plastics.

T: So, what made you say yes knowing how hard it was going to be?

R: Really good question.  I just think that I had personally more to give, and I wanted to explore the business world a little bit more. And that was certainly the case.

“I just felt that I had more to give. I had more to do. More to learn. More to grow certainly, and that just seemed like a really good opportunity at the time.”

T:  I think about the complexities of manufacturing here. You are an engineer perhaps at that stage?

R: Moulding tech.

T: Moulding tech. Not even an engineer, and you’re taking on a manufacturing company that has designers and toolists. This is not a small takeover. It’s actually pretty complex. How did it go?

R: Look I think we had our bases covered especially between myself and Bob. So, Bob is a toolmaker by trade from the UK, and me having a good moulding tech background from the UK, and again just working in Australia for eight years. I think just between us – and I also had a sales background as well, and I connect well with people.

R: You know there’s a saying that people tend to do business with people they like or want to be like. And that’s certainly the case for me. And I just felt that like my own approach in terms of sales and technician is very much about educating the people. Actually educating is possibly the wrong word, but informing the clients and informing the supplier and aligning values with the actual direction of where I wanted to go.

R: So I think it was okay really. Look – Bob had the design covered. He had the engineering covered. I had the moulding tech skills covered and we had the sales base covered. So we thought that we had most of our bases covered when we started.

HOW DID THEY FUND IT?

T: And, how did you fund the business.

R: How did we fund it? We actually got loans against our homes. We actually got small business loans and with the equity, we put up our homes at risk.

T: Big risk.

R: Yeah, I think it was a risk at the time. Probably, we didn’t really look at it as a risk. We obviously knew that it was, and we had lots of skin in the game, and we were determined. And to be honest, we probably we were too naïve, and we had no business acumen, and we learnt that very quickly.

“The first six months were very, very difficult.”

R: I remember having a good friend coming to see me and saying, “You know what? You’ve got the skill set. You know you can do this. Just keep persevering.” The guy’s name was David Hitchmore.

R: We actually worked together for a number of years, and I remind him of that because that conversation sticks in my mind when he said, “No. Just keep going. Keep going. Persevere,” you know.

R: So the first six months are very difficult you know. I think we lost money for the first two years. Going backwards – (before) I had a good job, I had good hours. Then, my wage halved, my hours doubled, and we worked a lot harder than we probably should have done. And we didn’t have the acumen or the smarts we do now.

T: Yeah I think it a common story amongst entrepreneurs.

T: What year did you start?

R:  We started in 2006.

WHY HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR VIEW ON RECYCLED PLASTICS?

T: OK. So 12 years on, you decided to make some major changes not just with the business relationship with Bob but also in terms of the direction of the company. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

R: So I love nature, and I love getting off the beaten track. And I think most people do. You see this resurgence now. I think 50% of all cars that are bought now are four-wheel drives or four-wheel drive utes.

T: At least in Australia.

R: Sorry. At least in Australia.

R: And so I actually think there’s this momentum now. When you have a look at the industry (the lifestyle industry), the people want to get back to nature more and more, and I was certainly enjoying that. We just noticed that on the beaches, even in remote areas, that there’s rubbish everywhere. And, we can see certainly an evidence of man (let’s say) everywhere or human-kind anyway. We just thought that,

“You know – we actually need to be responsible ourselves here.”

R: And for a long time, I’d push back on using recycled materials in terms of as a business strategy. It was always considered to be like, “We can do that if you really want to.”

And then we just thought hang on, “

You know – one person, one organisation can make a change.”

R: So there’s lots of people out there now looking to make these changes, and I think we just had that self-awareness moment. You know personally, we can make a difference here.

“We can make a difference in the way that we develop product for our clients and for ourselves.”

T: So you made a statement just a minute ago saying, “Well, if you really want to use recycled plastic” – essentially it was what you were referring to. Why is it that manufacturers do not like using recycled plastic?

R: It is really just the continuity of supply. Often, I think that’s the main reason. So as more and more of us jump on board with the “Recycle, Reuse and Reduce” sort of ethos, what we will find in Australia is that we’re going to have issues with feedstock.

R: And so again that will start to change as we start to get people recycling more and organisations recycling, cleaning and reproducing these materials or reusing these materials so they can be repurposed. And we’ve obviously got the globe. You know – the world – that we can actually get materials from as well. We’ve actually got some feelers out looking at that now. It’s really interesting.

T: They’re looking for global suppliers a recycled plastic?

R:  Yes, 100 percent.

DIFFERENCE IN PRICES BETWEEN VIRGIN & RECYCLED FEEDSTOCK

T: So what’s the difference in cost? Because I know that’s been a deterrent for a lot of people to consider using recycled plastic as a feedstock versus virgin plastic.

R: Look I think it’s a great question. Traditionally when people look to use a recyclables, they’re looking to use a recycled material because it’s cheap. So that’s what’s been on the market for a long time. So it means that you’re limited on the products that you can actually put the material into and then offer them. People are just looking for price. So it’s a commodity – parts for something that’s going to get buried in concrete.   

R: Now or what’s actually happening is that more and more engineering materials are becoming available and with the availability of these materials, it’s opening up this whole range of products that we can now develop for. So it’s changing from a price perspective.

R: Sometimes it’s the same as a prime material. Sometimes it’s less. Sometimes it is a little bit more just depending on the complexity of repurposing that material.

T: It’s interesting too because when I was looking at feedstock, I saw that recycled materials were actually costing more than virgin plastic. Was that just an anomaly that I happened to stumble upon?

R: No you’re right. It does depend on the actual material in the feedstock. You know when we talk about plastics, you know there are tens of thousands of plastics. And that’s part of the problem that we have in terms of recycling and getting the consistency of clean feedstock and having that separation.

R: So, it depends on the material of that feedstock, depends on what work goes into separating it, cleaning and reproducing it, and what additives have to go back into it just to give it its properties back so it can be used.  It can certainly affect the price.

ISSUES WITH COLOUR FOR RECYCLED FEEDSTOCK

T: We’ve also talked about color for some of my products that are indoor products. I don’t want them to be black, and we’ve talked about the challenges of getting feedstock that doesn’t have some level contamination in terms of color in it that turns everything into this ugly gray essentially. Is that still an issue, at the moment, here in Australia?

R: Yeah, look it’s probably an issue everywhere because if you have a think about the how many different plastics are out there. And then for example, a lot of people ideally would like a clear because if they can get a clear or natural colour, it can be coloured to anything they like.

MORE ACCEPTANCE OF MULTI-COLOURED PARTS?

R: What’s really interesting – I mean I actually had a conversation about a month ago with David Katz and he is doing some fantastic work with the Plastic Bank, and he actually just met with the Pope (which is another story) just recently at the Vatican.

T: We’ll have to follow up on that story.

R: What he said was that in India currently, he said that previously there’s been this real pushback on color. And he says that what they’re finding now is it’s becoming more and more of an acceptance of having this sort of multi-colored, looking part.

R: And he said the reason for that is if it’s multicolored, then everyone knows immediately it’s recycled. And so people seem to be accepting that more and more, which I thought was really interesting. Now David’s from Canada, and so certain parts of the world are certainly more forward-thinking maybe than others and more accepting of that. So, it would be interesting to see who would really accept that and in what products.

T: Well certainly I know that my own products – some of them are indoor products that you use in your home. And that would be challenging because most people don’t want anything but a white or cream-colored piece of furniture in their house as an example.

R: Yeah. One hundred percent. And so, we are limited on how much clear or natural plastics, and where we can source it.  What will happen is that it will become more of a premium price because more and more people will source it. As you know now, recycled materials is becoming more and more of a commodity now, as well as, becoming a currency you know.

T: Yeah. I mean that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to create demand for a product that might otherwise go into the tip.

T: So, my question then goes back to what we started to talk about, and then we kind of sidetracked on the complexities of working with recycled plastic.

T: You made some decisions as a company, so you (obviously the leader of the company) last year, to change your strategic direction. And I actually grabbed this off your website. I hope you don’t mind. And it actually talked about “Our Why.” So, I assume this is what you consider your mission statement of sorts.

Everyday we believe in pushing the boundaries of discovery through innovation and technology to recycle, reuse and reduce.”

T: That’s unusual for a manufacturing company – especially one that didn’t start off wanting to do work in recycled plastic. What changed?

R: I think it was just that social awareness more and more. Look, Five Oceans actually may have helped us just shift our thinking a little bit there as well.

“We realised from a business perspective that we can make a difference. And so, we literally just started to strategise with that within the organisation.”

R: We had some people come and help us with that strategy, and we put the strategy piece together. We involved our team all the way through it. We’ve been talking to our suppliers. We’ve been talking to our customers and everyone said, “Look, we’re on board with you. Let’s do this!”

So we thought,

“Let’s take the lead. Let’s change our strategy. Let’s make a difference.”

BUT IS THIS STRATEGY CHANGE PROFITABLE?

T: Are you going to have to let some customers go if you’re going down this direction?

R: So what we’re saying with our customers right now is that if we were to base (I believe anyway from the research that I’ve done) just our business on fully recycled materials alone, we don’t know how long we’d be in business for.

R: So what we’re saying to our customers as we look at the projects, “Let’s have a look at the materials that can be recycled. So, if we haven’t got a feedstock available that’s 100% recycled, let’s have a look at ‘Reuse.’  Once the products come to the end of its lifecycle, how are we going to close the loop? How can we capture that material and recycle it and put it back to close that loop?” So those are the conversations we’re having.

T: Okay. So, you’re looking truly at a circular economy – that if you have to start with virgin materials for whatever reason – that you will have a way to take that material and recycle it back into the process somehow?

F:  100 percent.

T: Yeah. Brilliant! And that was one of the criteria that I had in my own business for you. So that’s lovely to hear that other companies are considering the circular economy need as well.

YOUR OWN PRODUCTS?

T: I know you have some of your own projects that you’re working on too.

R: They’re top secret. Ha ha!

T: Yeah well, we don’t have to talk about things.  Can we say – are you planning to use recycled plastics?

R: Yeah, we are. Look, I suppose if you have a look at the horizon – sort of two and three projects – we are looking at our own proprietary products in the lifestyle space, and we are looking at fully recycled materials.

3D PRINTING WITH RECYCLED MATERIALS?

R: There’s also recycled materials now from a 3D printing or digital manufacturing which is on offer as well. So that’s really interesting. We’re happy to obviously injection mould 100% recycled materials for our products. And the other horizon we’re looking at is what can we actually digitally manufacture using recycled materials as well.

R: Now it might not always be the case again we can use a 100% recycled material, but as long as we’re looking at closing the loop when the product comes into its lifecycle, it’s going to fit in with our strategy and our purpose – Our Why.

T: When you talk about laser printing in general, I think a lot of people don’t quite understand how that works. You’re specifically talking about small quantities of maybe customised products when you’re thinking about 3D printing – is that right?

R: Interesting – that technology is evolving, and we are actually heading our way over to Frankfurt in November for one of the largest digital manufacturing trade fairs. And so there’s technology there now that does allow you to actually print or digitally manufacture 3D print in scale. Over the last few years, technology has changed for the machinery and probably more importantly or just as importantly the actual materials themselves have evolved as well. So there is certainly an opportunity in that space.

T: Okay. Well, I’ll be definitely looking for it for my own products. To know that we could do 3D manufacturing could certainly make things faster and cheaper if you don’t have to buy moulds. It is obviously the biggest cost of manufacturing.

WHAT CAN THE AVERAGE PERSON DO TO HELP MANUFACTURING PROCESS WITH RECYCLED MATERIALS?

T: The average person doesn’t know that much about manufacturing, you know. They don’t understand recycling in terms of what they’re doing in their own household bins and how that might impact the materials that you’re getting to put into new products.

T:  Are there any tips or just information you want to share with our listeners about recycled products and how it impacts what you’re trying to do on the manufacturing side?

R: That’s a really good question. I reckon it actually just starts as something simple – it starts at home. You know, so many of us have a recycle bin and so many of us just throw something that can be recycled into the (normal) bin. It goes to landfill. Now, maybe over the last few years, that certainly changed.

We’ve obviously got recycle bins and hopefully now most of the stuff that’s been recycled in the recycle bins is going to recycling and separation stations so it can genuinely be recycled and reuse.

Just starting at home and becoming aware. This is so important. We often think that we can’t make a difference ourselves individually. But often, if we’re making a difference individually, it just we have this this positive effect that just rolls on through the family and our friends and other contacts. So, there’s a really good starting point there.

And I think, just with having that mindset – having that sort of front of mind, it then leads through to everything you think, you say, you do in your life. And if you’re genuinely looking at developing your own products or changing materials on your current products, it just shifts the way that we think – a little bit anyway.  We can sort of influence the end user a little bit – then maybe, as well if we’re talking from a business perspective.

T: Yeah for sure. So Royston, how can our listeners find you if they want to connect with you online? For your website? What would you recommend?

R: Yeah. Look we are up online like everybody else is. We’ve got our website, https://bcplastics.com.au. We’ve got a contact form there, and there are some phone numbers as well. That’s the best way to find us.

We’ve got Linkedin Profiles and some social media profiles. The website and the phone are always the best place and the point of contact.

T: Fantastic. Is there anything else you wanted to share with our listeners before we go?

R: No. Just thank you, Tammy, for reaching out to us. And thank you for putting me in the spotlight here with this podcast.

T: You’re very welcome. I’m sure down the road we’ll talk about it further because I would be very interested in knowing how many new customers you bring onboard that are specifically interested in you because of recycled plastic and also the challenges of the supply of feedstock into the products you’re trying to make for people like me because I know that that’s going to be potentially a bottleneck for us in the future. And what are we going to do about it? But at the same time so many of us are making things out of recycled plastic so that plastic doesn’t go into the tip.

So thank you very much and for your time today, and thanks for thinking broader beyond just making things.

Introducing the “Plastics Revolution” podcast

For the last month, and on top of everything else I am trying to do for the business, I have been working on a new podcast called the ‘Plastics Revolution.’ This has been something on my mind for a while as I knew that this work that we are trying to do at The Refoundry was far bigger than just my company.

In fact, I have met or have been referred to so many amazing people since I started this journey that I felt compelled to share their stories as well. And so, I have embarked on project with no knowledge of equipment or process. Yet, on every step of the way it seems meant to be.

I had a volunteer producer come on board. Interviews have been completed and more are being booked regularly. I’ve also been taking an online course that was starting at the exact same time that I was considering this channel. So the pieces are all falling in place as though it was always a part of the plan.

At this stage, I have no plans to monitise the podcast. Instead, it’s acting as a networking vehicle that is also building my knowledge and credibility in this complex space. I’m not even talking about my own business that much.

So, here I bring you my first episode of Plastics Revolution. The detailed transcript can be found on the website. I hope you like it.