Co-working space

Today was my first day to rent out some co-working space at the Canberra Business Innovation Network (CBRIN) building. My primary reason was to have better internet access for my remote podcast interviews. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really the case today which may have more to do with the neighbouring bushfires than anything else.

View from my co-working space at CBRIN today

Still I decided to give it a go for a month just once a week. I don’t need the workspace when I have a full office at home, but I do think there are many other benefits here including networking and focussed work time where I don’t have to worry about my old cat interrupting me at bad times.

So far, it’s been a productive day!

A walk in nature

There’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of nature. So, over the holidays I decided to take a little walk in nature in New Zealand – one of the most beautiful places in the world. Still, I wondered before I got there if it would have the same issues with plastic waste as other places I have been recently.

This trip sent me to Wellington and then Picton where a boat took us to the start of the Queen Charlotte Track in the famous Marlborough wine region. For five glorious days, we hiked the sometimes difficult pathway to see breathtaking views of the area.

Views from the Queen Charlotte Track
Views from the Queen Charlotte Track

I even had a chance to go out for a paddle where we saw Eagle rays and a seal sunning himself on the back of a small yacht.

Wildlife sightings along the Queen Charlotte Track.
Wildlife sightings

What I didn’t see was a lot of rubbish which was really surprising, especially in the harbours. Instead, I saw just two pieces: a floating plastic bag that we couldn’t reach and a famous bottle where a tree decided to grow around it.

Rubbish sightings on the Queen Charlotte Track
Rubbish sightings on the Queen Charlotte Track

This was incredible given the number of backpackers and boat traffic we saw there. It could only mean that everyone was doing their part to keep the environment clean.

And it was likely the little things that made a difference. All of our packed lunches were in paper bags (and so were offered shopping bags). I was given a recyclable container for my salad which was of a much stronger material than what you normally see in Australia. Bamboo utensils and paper straws were the norm everywhere. We were encouraged to refill our drink bottles from the taps.

I especially liked the reusable coffee cup the tour operator gave us for our daily morning teas. No council in New Zealand recycles coffee cups. So this was a really nice and practical souvenir.

Reusable souvenir coffee cup

While I haven’t had a chance to research their recycling situation in New Zealand, overall I have to say that I was really impressed by how clean this part of the country was during my walk in nature. And they seem to have done this by focussing more on the reduction of plastic waste – a lesson all communities can easily adopt.

Experiment #5 – Mixed plastics

I collected a bunch of bottle caps from the Clean-up Burley Griffin Day and decided to try another Plastic Experiment with what proved to be mixed plastics i.e. multiple plastic types.

They came from a range of bottles and some were really old. So, I really didn’t know what kinds of plastic they were made of. However, since all of my previous experiments seem to melt fairly consistently, I thought I should try doing something with this plastic too, betting that an old Coke bottle lid would be made of something similar to milk bottles.

But I was wrong. I found that the usual 180C melting temperature for HDPE was only slightly melting most of the other pieces. So, I turned up the temperature and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, the results were mostly of burned HDPE #2 and half melted other plastic(s) – maybe PP #5. Furthermore, the higher temperatures actually melted the silicon mould too, resulting to it sticking to the melted plastic and destroying my mould.

Burned plastic and moulds
My burned moulds

This Plastic Experiment is a really good example of why recycling plastics is so hard when there are so many variations of plastic with different properties including melting point – creating mixed plastics to be sorted. I still have a few bottle caps left and may try again, but first I have to order a new mould. Sigh…

Experiment #4 – Microplastics

Despite being flat out the last two weeks with the Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day, I did managed to get one new experiment done around microplastics or Plastic Experiment #4.

In reality, the project didn’t start out this way. Instead, I went to a friend’s house to try to use a mitresaw to see if I could I smooth out the edges of the lumpy larger pieces. However, it turned out that he didn’t have the right tool, and so I proceeded to just use his hand saw.

What resulted from this process was purple plastic dust everywhere – essentially microplastics, which can end up in the water streams if I wasn’t careful. So, as I was sweeping up everything, it suddenly occurred to me that I could melt this dust down again and so I did.

This time, I used silicon moulds that just arrived from the US. The dust fit in there easily, but I quickly realised that there were other things in that mix too like saw dust from wood shavings and various leaves and twigs. I expected that my melting process would burn them, and I wasn’t wrong. The fumes were horrible!

After that lesson, I finally created some space on my balcony to attempt it again outside, and despite the extra particles in the plastic it worked really well. The small shapes held their form even while shrinking per usual, and I could easily get them out of the mould.

There were still quite a few bubbles in the final letters as I didn’t want to risk melting the silicon mould by accident again, but I think it actually gives the shapes some character.

So, overall I was happy with the results of this experiment with microplastics, and I feel really close to creating something that I wouldn’t mind sharing soon with friends.

Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day

A year ago, I started Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day in my home city of Canberra, Australia. As a long time paddler, I was sick of seeing rubbish in every waterway I had ever paddled in around the world.

While I obviously wasn’t the one who put the rubbish in the water, I felt like this important natural asset to our community was worth the effort of trying to clean it up. So, I first checked to see if anyone else was doing somehing about this problem. When I found out the answer was no for most of the Lake, I asked like-minded groups if anyone wanted to help.

Last year, six groups raised their hands. Then, with some support from Clean-up Australia, the National Capital Authority and the ACT Government, this was how the event started.

This past Sunday, we did the clean-up for a second time. We were able to get 138 volunteers and thirty something boats to collect about 104 bags of rubbish plus lots of big stuff that didn’t fit into bags. And afterwards, I took 350+ of bottles and cans to the container scheme to be recycled.

Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day
Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day 2019

Now, to organise this event takes a huge amount of my time and others. Why should I commit to another year of managing this growing clean-up effort when I’m not making a dime from it?

Most people wait for someone else like the government to do something, and therefore just complain about it like a bloke on Facebook did. However, the ones that actually make a difference are the people, like our volunteers, that just go out there and do something.

If more people decided to take on responsibilities like this when they see a need, think how much better the world would be.

Experiment #3: plastic air bubbles

Following on the back of Experiment #1 and #2, this next Plastic Experiment #3 is designed to see if I can remove the plastic air bubbles by blasting the melted plastic with a heat gun afterwards. This idea was given to me by a friend who used this technique with something else.

The results were encouraging for the small silicon mould that I used. Unfortunately, I also accidentally melted the mould in this process too. The difference is very obvious in the green sections below.

Pineapples in recycled plastic

Unfortunately, it didn’t work as well for a larger piece that I tried to make in a baking tin.

Bubbles in plastic

This muffin size piece of plastic weighs about 2k and is made from nearly 100 bottlecaps. As I can see once again, the larger the piece, the harder to control the plastic air bubbles – especially on the top without pressure. Unfortunately the form was also slightly disformed just like my previous square silicon mould test – a product of HDPE’s features when it cools down.

Conclusion for Plastic Experiment #3. Plastic air bubbles will continue to be an issue especially with larger pieces with HDPE if I do not use a pressurised mould. I wonder though whether or not I can use a millsaw to cut the plastic to smooth out the rougher edges? Next test!

Plastic water bottles

Recycled polyester product line research

Since the day I knew that the pet barrier wasn’t going to meet the crowdfunding goal, I have been trying to coming up with another product line that didn’t require the heavy upfront capital costs of a steel mould. It’s not that I’ve given up on the “Stray No More” line. It’s just that I desperately feel the need to get some runs on the board with less investment.

As I recalled many conversations both on my podcast and in other places, it seemed like I should look at textiles – specifically recycled polyester from PET water bottles.

The product? I won’t give away too much yet, but let’s just say that I’ll give Sara Blakley, the founder of Spanx credit for this idea if successful.

How to find a recycled polyester manufacturer?

Trying to identify a manufacturer to get the sample material hasn’t been that easy. There are no companies in Australia that make this material, but at least it would still be made from recycled bottles if I can find a certified version elsewhere.

I found a list of potential manufacturers from Bluesign – a global certification company for textiles, but there were hundreds of companies on there. Where to start? I asked a contact in Paris for advice. She has a business where she provides coaching to would be fashion designers that are clueless about running an actual business.

She suggested that I consider some of the Taiwanese companies due to all of the dramas in China and Hong Kong right now. I do remember Stephanie Stubbe from Anipal saying in the podcast interview that the Taiwanese English was also typically better than in China too. Their websites provided proof of this.

So, earlier in this week, I started leaving messages with any company that appeared to carry a line of recycled materials on their website. My screening question was: do you have a washable, breathable, waterproof recycled polyester material.

I went through 73 websites and contacted 13 companies in Taiwan, S. Korea and the US. Three of these companies responded (all from Taiwan) – two said yes, one said no. Those two companies asked me to send them more specific requirements. Crickets sang in my ears. I had no idea what else I needed, and still don’t.

As I did more research, I stumbled upon a company in Taiwan that also showed a Melbourne office number. Fortunately, a guy named Michael answered, and it turns out that he’s an agent for a bunch of material manufacturers in Asia. He was a wealth of knowledge as a former manufacturer itself, and if all goes well I could have some samples shortly to test my newest product line idea.

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I’m cautiously optimistic, but hopefully I found my teacher for recycled polyester and textile manufacturing in general! Time will soon tell.

Type written page saying New Chapter

Making a better story

I was chatting with a good friend of mine yesterday. We were discussing the art of reframing a challenge or negative occurrence in life into something of better use. In the case of my entrepreneurial path, I told her that I making a better story.

What do I mean? Well, there’s no doubt that the failure of my crowdfunding campaign has shaken my confidence a bit. However, if it was successful, then maybe others would have seen that success as something that no one else could duplicate. That perhaps I had more things going for me like education or experience or luck etc.

I purposely started writing this blog to share the ups and downs of starting a business because few seem to do so. Instead, they’re all looking at it retrospectively and the lows don’t seem so low. Well, I’m showing you a low right now, and truthfully it sucks!

It’s hard to continue to take chances when it’s so easy to go back to a high paying job. However, I know that my true calling is as an entrepreneur, not as an executive working for someone else.

Sometimes it’s easier to be a professional in a shadow career than it is to turn pro in our real calling. When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them. We will have to choose between the life we want for our future and the life we have left behind.

Steve Pressfield in Turning Pro

A good story doesn’t show the road map of a “lucky” person. In fact a true story arc shows false highs and the depth of despair before the “hero” comes out on the other side having faced their personal or metaphorical demons and winning. Of course, this only happens if they don’t quit first. Those stories never get published.

My friend gave me a useful reboot. She reminded me of what I’m good at and what I have done before. Now, I just need to get my mind back on course to move this business past this current low.

Here’s to the next chapter and making a better story.

P.S. For some reason, this Lewis Howe podcast about personal branding and being crystal clear on your purpose really spoke to me today.

5 Ways To Monetize Your Personal Brand with Rory Vaden by Lewis Howes

IS YOUR PERSONAL BRAND MAKING YOU MONEY OR COSTING YOU TIME? The last time Rory Vaden joined the show, he shared some strategies we could use to create influential personal brands – insight that helped me shift the focus of my business and scale it to the next level.

Plastic Milk Bottle Lids melted into cactus

Experiment #2: melt plastic with oven

One convection oven and a meat grinder, please!

After testing a heat gun to melt plastic – specifically milk bottle lids last week, I decided to take it to the next level for Plastics Experiment #2 by trying to shred and melt plastic with a cheap convection oven and a metal meat grinder.

New convection oven

The oven’s purpose is to melt the plastic better. I supposed I could have used my kitchen oven, but I was worried about contaminating it with plastic if I accidentally burned something. I bought the meat grinder to try to find a better way to cut up the plastic as my hands were tired from doing it with a pair of garden secateurs.

The Results?

After melting two buckets of HDPE bottle caps into many different types of metal and silicon moulds, I’ve learned a lot, but still don’t have a viable process or product.

The meat grinder was a waste of time as it just crushed the plastic rather than shredding it. I was ready to try various kitchen appliances next when I decided to first see if anyone else posted their results online. They all said NOT to waste your time and money.

meat-grinder-fail-mp4

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The meat grinder only crushed the plastic rather than cutting it.

I’m so glad I researched this first. From blenders to food processors and credit card shredders – nothing is strong enough to properly shred the plastic apparently.

So if I want to continue down this path, I have to either continue to cut the plastic by hand (UGH!), melt the lids as is (which is guaranteed to result in lots of air bubbles or buy a proper shredder. Out of all of the machines I need, an used shredder is the cheapest. So that may the right thing to do if I keep going.

Plastics Experiment #2:

Let’s go bigger!

Up to this point, I had a been playing around with cookie cutter sized moulds. With Recycled Plastics Experiment #2, it was time to try something bigger now that I had the oven. In the picture below, you can see that the square silicon baking tray failed to hold it’s form when it cooled down.

Failed test of melting HDPE in a silicon mould
Can I make a flower pot?

I was curious to see if I could make some sort of a flower pot using these two metal mixing bowls as a mould below. It came out better than I expected, but looking a bit like an ashtray instead. The unfortunate part was all the air bubbles in the none-pressed edges. I want to see if I can tidy it up with a friend’s mitre saw later.

Pressure Test

I decided to use pressure in this test by clamping two baking sheets together. The funky design was only because I ran out of the purple lids. This turned out pretty good even if a bit uneven. The pressure eliminated most of the bubbles from the sheet. Yay!

What’s creating the tiny bubbles?

In the final test, I wanted to know what was causing the tiny air bubbles in the cactus below. I tried cutting the plastic in different sizes, putting water drops into the mould and using a different colour lid (to ensure it wasn’t just an issue with the green colour lid).

When all of those tests still resulted in tiny bubbles, I cut up two of the little cacti I made earlier, and and remelted them into a metal pineapple mould resulting in no bubbles.

This makes me believe that it’s actually the silicon mould that is causing the bubbles, but I need to get another small silicon mould to double check this theory. It’s probably correct though given how much the large square mould had changed in shape once cooled.

Silicon versus metal mould experiment

Lessons Learned from Recycled Plastics Experiment #2:

  1. HDPE seems to melt best at 180 degrees Celsius (at least in my oven). However, if there’s any leftover milk, coffee, food etc residue, that will burn and usually turn into an ugly brown.
  2. Water and plastic don’t mix. I’d heard that before, but I thought it was because it was harder to cut the plastic in shredders. Instead, what I found was that wet plastic resulted in more bubbles in the end product especially in the bigger pieces.
  3. I don’t have to cut the lids for the larger moulds. They’re small enough to melt just fine. The main problem is that they seem to trap air bubbles as they melt because of their shape. So, if I care about a perfect shape, I still have to cut up the pieces, and the smaller the better to reduce the air bubbles it seems – unless it’s in a silicon mould which guarantees bubbles regardless.
  4. There’s no way to create a perfect flat surface with HDPE (#2) without using force to hold the form into shape while it’s cooling down. The prohibited cost of steel moulds is why I started down this pathway. So far, all the experiments are just confirming what I’ve already been told.
  5. Silicon moulds are by far the easiest when it comes to removing the form inside. In the large shallower pans, the plastic shrinks to make the removal easy too. However, it’s a fight for most other metal moulds.

Final thoughts?

Right now, I’m using these experiments to learn more about the properties of plastic, and to see if I can make something useful without having to spend a fortune on a traditional steel mould.

While, these plastics experiments have been a lot of fun in the process, I am also consciously noting the lessons learned for each test. I have learned heaps already, but I’m still a long way off a viable product. More to do.

Experiment #1 – milk bottle lids

Given the crazy cost of creating my products using the old fashion manufacturing method of injection moulding, I decided to experiment with plastic using even older methods, but that would cost me only my time. My raw ingredient? Milk bottle lids.

Instead of coming up with a solution to a problem where recycled plastic can be the main ingredient, I thought I would work backwards and use a known waste plastic and see what I could do with that.

There’s a charity in town that started collecting lids for a company that makes prosthetic limbs for children. However, they are way over capacity now. So, I knew that there were buckets of lids just lying around, and I managed to grab a bucket from my friends over at Local Press. Most of them were milk bottle lids from the local milk company.

This is the experiment I just did to see if I could make a minimum viable product.

Cleaning and sorting milk bottle lids

More work to do, but a truly interesting process in any case to see if I could replicate some of the things I’ve seen online and heard about, but using my own methods to experiment with milk bottle lids as my plastic source.