Simon van Leuven of Vanden Recycling:

Ensuring quality in recycled plastic material

In this episode of Plastics Revolution, I chat with Simon van Leuven of Vanden Recycling.



Founded in 2005, Vanden Recycling has been buying and selling recycled plastic material around the world.

We talk about how they manage their quality processes, as well as the challenges of exporting materials since the China Sword policy was enacted in 2018.  We also talk about how the company is being impacted now with the Covid-19 crisis.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Simon van Leuven of Vanden Recycling.

Companies, Organisations and Products Mentioned in this Podcast:

Vanden Recycling
Think Beginning Not End podcast

Credits

Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade
All Rights Reserved 2020


Full Transcript

This transcript has been modified for clarity.

Key:

T: Tammy Ven Dange, Host
D: Simon van Leuven, Australian Director at Vanden Recycling

Introduction

T:  Simon, welcome to the show.

S: Thanks, Tammy. Really nice to be invited onto your podcast. I’ve listened to a few episodes. I think it’s great. So, thank you very much for having me on.

T: Well, we met at a conference in Sydney last year, and it’s taken me months, but I finally got you on the show.

S:  Yeah, it was great to meet last year in Sydney. And yeah, it’s always a juggle in schedules, I guess, to get things to line up. But with obviously with the coronavirus, and people working from home and changes to business, I thought it was an ideal time. And yeah, it’s great to be on. So, I really appreciate it.

T:  It’s my pleasure.

About Vanden Recycling

T:  Let’s talk about Vanden Recycling. How did it get started and what does your company do?

S: It’s a good story, actually. Vanden was founded by my brother, Damien. And then he was joined by his good friend, John Carapetis not long after. Vanden was founded in 2005. My brother was overseas studying international business at university in China.

S: With a few other roommates, they stumbled on this idea that people were trading scrap plastic around the world from the west to the east. And there was money to be made in it. And so really, that’s how they started.

S:  Damien and John built that up from a very, very small room in a dorm and have grown it to what we are today, where we’ve now got offices in Australia, Hong Kong, Finland, Turkey, Dubai and the UK.

S: The UK is also the home of what we what we call PE7, which is our processing site over there. So, it really was the vision of Damien and John. And I can’t forget,  David Wilson, who’s our UK Managing Director, and who was an integral part in growing the business from that journey, basically from 2005 right through to today. I’ve been lucky to be part of it from 2013.

S:  Our core business really is supplying recycled feedstock to manufacturers.

T:  Do you just buy it and sell it or do you process it as I know you have a processing plant in the U.K?

S: So really, the core of our business, if we look at it simplistically, it’s a trade-based business of buying and selling plastic. And so, what we essentially do is source recycled plastic, whether that’s post manufacturing or whether that’s post kerbside. And our responsibility is to then find customers who need to use that feedstock to remanufacture into new products. So that’s really our role within that that trade part of the business.

S: And then we do have our processing plant in the UK and that is our only processing plant in the world at the moment.  Their model is slightly different again.

S: It really is about trade and ensuring that we are getting recycled feedstock supply to the manufacturers who do turn it back into a product. It does grow out a little bit more complex than that, but simplistically, that’s what our business is.

S: And we do have some add-ons to that, too, by the way, where we deliver education about plastic so that we’re ensuring that it’s all of the right quality. And we do run collection programs, and we do bespoke collections and those things and bolt on around it. Simplistically, our business is about supplying manufacturers with recycled plastic feedstock.

How to ensure quality recycled material?

T: You’re in such an interesting place to be as the market has changed so much in the last couple of years since a lot of the Asian countries closed their doors to recycled plastic. I actually wasn’t sure if I should talk to you when we first met. I actually asked around first, believe it or not, because there was so much controversy about the way that people were selling plastic into overseas countries.

T: I had to make sure first before we had a chat that you guys were actually doing the right thing in terms of not just sending waste, but actually sending product that was useful to these countries. And I did get that positive feedback.

T: And the more I’ve watched your own podcast, I’ve noticed that you guys have processes in place for how you certify the quality of the feedstock. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

S: Yeah. So I think if we go back a step, the reason a lot of the plastic ends up in Asia is that you really have to think about where the majority of our global manufacturing happens, and it does happen in Asia.

S:  That’s why the feedstock is needed there. What’s important to note in all that time is that people must only sell and sends the right material there. And the reason we’re seeing China shutting the doors and we’ve seen some other Southeast Asian countries shutting the doors is because people haven’t sent the right thing there.

S:  I’ve eye witnessed this on the ground every day to be honest, where I see a lot of mixed plastics, if you want to call them that, being shipped to countries where I know that they shouldn’t be going there. I know that are going there and being imported illegally in some cases.

S: Yes, for us, we do follow a very strict process. And it really starts with us having our own people certify in factories that we work with, ensuring that their licenced, ensuring that they own their own import permits. We actually visit the factories. There’s a full checklist that we go through to do that.

S:  Then we back that up on the Australian side or on the supplier side, if you like, where we have a supplier accreditation system. There’s a process that we follow when we buy commodities. And when I talk about commodities, I am talking about single stream commodities like straight bales of PET or straight bales of coloured HDPE bottles or straight bales of HDPE milk bottles or straight bales of LDPE film being a 982 greater film, which is like a shrink wrap and post-industrial type collection. So yeah, we do have some quite strict controls around that.

S:  We have a process that we use for the way we purchase material that’s very different. And then we also have a loading process that we follow to ensure that the right stuff gets loaded, that it is being sent exactly the way it should be sent and does comply with all of the international laws.

Kerbside versus industrial supply-side customers

T:  What percentage of your feedstock is coming from a kerbside recycling versus from industrial or agricultural waste.

S:  We don’t do a lot in agriculture anymore. A lot of those agricultural films, for example, or agricultural products traditionally did get recycled in Southeast Asia and things like silage wraps and grain bags that farmers use on farms. We do actually recycle a lot of PP (polypropylene) string out of the hay industry, and we still do that now. It’s a combination of recycling a portion of that in Australia and a portion of it overseas as well.

S:  But in terms of how much comes from kerbside and how much comes from post industrial collections. In Australia, I’d say it’s about a 60/40 split where 60% of our feedstock comes from kerbside collections. We’re very specific about the types of commodities will buy from the kerbside collection.

S:  That 40% from industry is generally made up of things like LDP films or post-production scrap which might include things like butter tubs from a dairy or cap enclosures from a bottling factory or preforms from a bottling factory, for example.

100 kinds of plastic material

T: I was talking to Josh Holmes from your team about a charity that needed some help, and he was really interested in buying the plastic lids that they had been collecting. And it just pointed out to me how diverse you guys are. Looking into your business webpage further, it says you can actually buy and sell a hundred different grades of plastic.

T: Now, I know if people count the numbers, it doesn’t go up to 100. It only goes up to seven. And you’ve already talked about PET – that’s number one. You’re talking about water bottles. And you’ve spoken about HDPE, which is the milk bottle you spoke about as well. And you’ve also mentioned PP or polypropylene, which is common in detergent type bottles, thicker bottles. So, 100 grades of plastic – how do you get to that when there’s only 7 numbers?

S: That comes down to the form that they’re presented in. So if you take PET, for example, because everyone’s will be familiar with it. You’ve got a PET bottle, you’ve got a PET pre-form, you’ve got a PET tray, and you’ve got PET skeletal scrap from making that tray and then you’ve got PET strapping. So, you can already see that within each polymer type, the list of different commodities starts to add up quite fast. When you start to add all of them up, you start to get to 100 really, really quickly.

T: Is that because it also has different additives and things inside of it?

S:  Not so much different additives. The plastic is used in different applications. So, it’s a different form of material. If you say a PET bottle bailed and then you might have PET skeletal sheet from further thermo forming industry, that’s a different commodity again.

S: Those two materials might have different properties. And one thing that people forget about plastic and it’s probably really prevalent right now with the coronavirus is you really need to think about what its functional purposes.

S: And so when you start to think about the difference between a tray that holds food, for example, versus a PET bottle that holds carbonated soft drink, the makeup and the properties of those two pieces of plastic are very, very different given the performance that’s required or the way that that plastic is meant to perform to either keep the goods safe or to be presentable to consumers in a safe way.

S: So, the properties of each type are very, very different. And the easiest way to think about that is what is it designed to do? What is its purpose? What is the performance of that piece of plastic?

Sorting plastic material

T:  Well, it’s getting somewhat more complicated than I think most people would realise. When you see some of those fancy machines that people have in the recycling centres, they can pick off the different types of plastic if you have a more sophisticated system there. However, I didn’t realise that they can actually distinguish between a PET bottle versus PET packaging of some sort. Is that the way it’s done or is it actually being done by hand?

S: Some of that is a combination of both optical and hand sorting. Generally, the way they talk about it in the MRF industry is you either have a positive or a negative sort. So, you set the parameters of that particular piece of equipment or the person on the line to positively sort something.

S: So, let’s think of it simplistically. “Simon, your job is to pick a PET bottle.” So, that’s what I do. But anything else, PET that goes past might go further down the line, and that would be known as a negative sort.

S: How they handle trays and bottles in a MRF is very interesting because trays are quite complicated and a complex material to recycle given the performance requirements of those trays versus a PET bottle. In most cases they are positively picking a PET bottle, not so much with the trays because there is a lot of confusion around trays.

T:  And they have the container deposit schemes in most of the states here in Australia now, too. So, I imagine that makes it a little bit easier to pick out the ones that people really want, which seems to be the bottles.

T:  For those people that may not know, a MRF is actually a Material Recovery Facility or recycling centre, right?

S: Yeah. So, when your yellow bin gets picked up from your home, it goes to a material recovery facility known as a MRF. And they sort the contents of that bin. That’s why it’s super, super important that we don’t put the wrong things in that bin because essentially we have companies right across Australia who are sorting that material to try and create value within it so it can go back into the circular economy in most cases.

S: The MRF, the material recovery facility – a lot of people probably haven’t had the chance to go inside one. But , there is a lot of work that happens inside there and that starts from the consumer putting the right thing in the bin in the first place.

T:  We’ve talked a lot about the complexities of this, and I think it’s well beyond most people’s current knowledge. So, it’s really interesting to hear the story.

Impact of the China Sword policy

T: I’m also really interested to know before the coronavirus crisis hit us, what was the impact to your business when China and some of the other Asian countries quit taking a lot of recycled plastic?

S:  We’ve seen this coming for a long time. At Vanden, we started talking about this back in 2013. So, I’m surprised that it all came as a shock to so many companies, and so many companies didn’t pivot earlier because I remember very clearly sitting down with both Damien and John at Christmas one year. And I think it was 2013 and it was just after Operation Green Fence.

S:  The discussion was that at some point something will change in this marketplace again. And, we saw that with the National Sword Policy. We had the 2013 Green Fence. And then around 2017/18, we seen the National Sword Policy come in again. But we made strategic decisions back in 2016 in the lead up to the National Sword. We could see something was going to change, and we decided not to participate in a few markets.

S: One of them was Vietnam. In late 2018, we decided not to participate in the Vietnam market because we could see there was going to be problems because everyone was starting to pile material into there. You could see that container clearances from the wharf were becoming slower and slower and slower. And then lo and behold, there’s a whole bunch of abandoned cargo that is all of a sudden sitting in ports in Vietnam.

S: So, for us, we had to take some strategic decisions early. And, yeah, they did have an affect on our bottom line.  But we had to take the high ground and look at it and go, “Okay, if things change, do we have enough diverse markets?” And so that’s why, to my brother’s credit, he’s always been focussed on ensuring we have enough markets, and we’re active in those markets and not just pigeonholing ourselves to a specific region.

Expanding internationally

T: And because of the growth of the company now, I’m actually really interested to hear about how the company expanded. It is hard to think about basically two guys at university, trying to figure out how to make a multinational company. That’s a hard challenge just a dream about, much less to actually do. So, how did the company start off with two guys at uni in China with an idea?

S: To be honest, it’s really Damien and John. They still show all these same characteristics today. It’s just a credit to both of them, really. I mean, obviously, I’m a proud brother, but I’m just really proud to be part of it.

S:  Those two have an incredible work ethic. They work their backsides off. They’re committed. A lot of people talk about starting a business, and what sacrifices are you willing to make. I’ve watched these two make every sacrifice one can think of.

S: It was picking the phone up, it was hustling, and it was getting deals, earning money, going on the road, living on the road, finding customers, finding suppliers. And in the meantime, they built incredible systems and processes so that the company could grow. It’s one of the things that I really strongly believe in.

Growing through great systems and processes

S: From watching this from Damien and John and David Wilson as well – you can only grow your business when you have great systems and great procedures.  I can’t take any credit for the systems and procedures we have at Vanden. 

S: But to grow our business across multiple countries means you have to have great systems, processes, and then you must invest in your people to train them properly, to use those processes. And that is really how the guys been able to build Vanden across multiple countries.

S: It’s the hustle, the hard work, instilling those values in everyone in the company and then investing in process system and training our own people to understand what we do have in place.

T:  Give us an example of some of those processes that are really the cornerstone of making your international company work.

Example with taking pictures of plastic material

S:  I’ll give you a quick example with purchasing. So, all the material that we purchase, a BDO must expect that material. There’s a specific way that we take photographs, and we actually share that. Everything we do, we try and share it anyway.

S:  We have a specific way that we take photographs and every single BDO must take the photographs in that manner. We present them to our own internal sales team in a specific way, and that’s just on the purchasing side.

S: And then I’ll add to that, once you purchase that material, we have a specific way that we go about the transaction with the supplier from how we contract it to how they must load the container, what documents we require, what photographs they need to take, etc, etc.

S: We have the reverse on the on the on the customer side. And to be honest, probably like every other business out there, all of these systems come from a mistake – they come from when something went wrong.

S:  I really do encourage everyone that when you make a mistake or when something goes wrong, grab it with both hands and look at it deeply and think about what went wrong. How do we fix it so it doesn’t happen again?

S: So, when I talk about the taking the photographs, inspecting the stock – that’s because at some point we may not have done that. And there might have been a claim that the material might not have been as good as the customer was expecting.

S: And so that’s taking an experience and going, “Okay. We don’t want to have that experience again. So how do we future proof that? What systems and procedures can be put in place to future proof that?”

S: That’s just one example of that where maybe everyone can relate to because you’d think taking photos of plastic is really easy. Just walk up and start clicking away. But that’s not the case. There’s a specific side to the plastic that you take the photos of. There are certain things you must be looking at.

S: We have a full manual for every BDO that that works for our company on how you go to site, inspect material and take photos so that our customers, being manufacturers, know what to expect.

T:  Now, just to be clear, what is the BDO?

S:  A business development officer.

T:  Okay. They’re the buyers of the commodity.

Sampling the material

T: Now, when you talk about the complexities of taking a picture, I remember a video I saw you do. And I think this is what you’re talking about where you actually punctured a hole in different parts of this bag to bring out some of the flakes just so that you actually can see what it really was, not just what was on the top of the bag, but what was on the bottom as well. Is that what you’re talking about there?

S:  Yeah. So that one is for regrind. So, if I’m buying from another recycler, for example, and one of my customers wants regrind, there’s a specific way that we sample that regrind.

S: The photographs, you may have seen we have put a video up on how it’s how to take photos, which is a specific side of the bail, and we explain it in there.

S: But the one that you’re talking about, again is another process where, we do puncture the bag because we’re taking samples from the top, middle and bottom. And that’s so we can be sure about the quality of the material.

S: Quite often a supplier wants to achieve the highest price because they’ve put all the effort into making the commodity. They need to get everything they can for it. So, our job is to ensure that the quality is right so that if the customer is willing to pay that right price, they know what they’re expecting as well.

S: So, for regrind, for example, if there was stock on the floor of 20 tons, and there were 20 bags. Our staff need to inspect at least 80% percent of those bags and need to take samples from the top, middle and bottom. And then we go away and do some further testing on that.

S:  Again, it’s all related to ensuring that the customer gets the right material. When you’re talking about regrinds, for example, which is granulated plastic, they might be using that straight away to make a product. And so it’s a very, very important, again, that the material is exactly what they’re buying. And so that is another example of another system that we do have.

T: And I think also it’s a representation of the type of the quality checks that you guys do. It’s not just about saying, “Oh, yeah, we inspect the stuff.” It’s actually having these really special processes that I hadn’t even thought about in terms of how detailed you’d have to get to make sure that your customer is getting exactly what they expect.

Recyclers need to think like manufacturers

S: Yeah. And that’s paramount. Paramount, because one of the big challenges I see for many people that are going to step into the recycling industry right now and for everyone who wants to take advantage of more manufacturers using more recycled content as the demand on that grows – is they need to start thinking like manufacturers and operating like a manufacturer.

S: One of the core reasons we share as much as we do is because we want the entire industry to lift to that standard, not just us. That’s really important to understand that when you’re a recycler and you’re providing material to a manufacturer, you need to understand what performance parameters they need for that particular product that they’re making.

S:  You need to know what the melt flow index might be. You might need to know what the tensile strength is. You need to know this, and then you need to have a system in place that you’re not only testing these things, but you’re keeping a library of samples of the stock that you’ve supplied them to. So, if there is an issue that you’ve got a reference point to be able to fix it.

S: And that’s one of the big challenges I think that we’re going to face in Australia in particular and in a few other countries as well, by the way, is making sure that recyclers start operating like manufacturers because more of this material is going to go to more manufacturers very, very directly.  And so there are some skills, systems and training, that will be required in the middle there somewhere.

Impacts to business because of government export policies

T:  It’s an interesting time for sure for someone like you in this business. When we first met, there was a lot of controversy about a recycling plant in Melbourne that had closed because they just couldn’t make it after they were no longer able to export.

T: And here in Australia, the government has said that they’re going to ban the exports of certain types of material waste, whether it be plastic or paper or cardboard next year. The prices for commodities like plastic dropped dramatically in that timeframe.

T: Have you seen that price go back up, and how do you see your business being impacted once the government’s policies go into effect?

S:  Well, I think what they need to be careful of is again, if I come back to that point of where is most of the globe’s manufacturing happening?  We are very focussed on ensuring that as much of this material that we can recycle in Australia, we are doing that.

S: And also, we’re going above and beyond to make sure we’re supporting as many manufacturers as we can with the right feedstock. We need to be very careful that we’re not going down the wrong path on the export ban.

S: I think, yes, we need to ban waste export. And we need to be really clear about that too, because I think we do have companies that sell to whoever it is for the highest price, and they don’t really care where it goes. And it goes offshore, and it’s not their problem anymore.

S: That’s the activity that we definitely want to stop. But there is some very strong demand, not just in Asia, but in Europe for single stream commodities that we produce here in Australia.

S: And a great example of that is from the container deposit schemes. The purity of the PET bottles that are collected through container deposit schemes are in demand, not just here in Australia, but we have overseas companies that love buying that material because it is very clean and it’s very pure.

S: So look, there will be a point in time where we won’t be exporting any material overseas. But I think we need to be really careful that we still ensure everyone’s got enough markets in the interim while we build the infrastructure that we require here.

S:  What’s going to be super interesting is if everyone’s used up all their capital to survive this coronavirus, then can we still have a realistic timeframe on having all that infrastructure up and running here in Australia? That’s a question that we should be thinking about.

Gaps in Australian recycling infrastructue

T:  There does seem to be a few gaps in the infrastructure. From what I can tell, it’s predominantly from the processing of recycled waste, isn’t it? It’s not like we don’t have enough recycling centres here that are separating material. It’s just that we don’t have enough facilities to actually turn it into something useful.

S: Yeah, exactly. And then adding on to that is making that food grade quality as well to make some of that demand. There’s still a lot of PET for example, that gets imported into Australia because we just don’t have enough recycled PET resin here in Australia.

The impact of oil prices on the recycled plastic market

S:  Another point worth noting here is where the price of oil is going, and how that is starting to affect the polymer market. The price of oil is very low. We’re seeing the Saudis up their barrel production. And if you look into some of that, it’s really to try and knock around the shale oil industry in America. And that’s where we’re getting this price war on oil.

S: Plastics derived from oil. So, there is pressure in the supply chain now where companies are willing to pay more for recycled content. But if the price of virgin materials is a lot cheaper than recycled content, then how long will people sustain that pressure?

S: That’s where I think, particularly here in Australia, will need a few other little tools put in place to encourage companies to use recycled content. And whether that’s with like a GST concession, some other tax concession for using recycled over virgin. They are tools and mechanisms that we may need in place to ensure we keep on track with building this recycling industry here in Australia.

T: That is definitely a challenge. Every manufacturer that I’ve spoken to that wants to do something with recycled plastic in particular has struggled to fight off the buyer, whether it be a retailer, wholesaler or an end user that wants it for a lot less than they could possibly manufacturer it for.

S: Yeah, I had a colleague that I know really well. And he rang me up in November/December last year when the virgin price started coming down. One of his large customers wanted a I think it was a 3% decrease in price because the price of virgin had gone down at least 3%.

S: My colleague explained to his customer, “Well, that’s fine. But I just had to retool my factory to use more recycled content” because recycled material for his particular product behaved and stretched slightly differently. So, there are many complex challenges to move us to circular economy. And certainly, price pressure in the supply chain is going to become more prevalent, particularly out of the back end of this coronavirus.

Impact of Covid-19 crisis

T: Let’s go ahead and talk about the Covid-19 crisis, and then how that’s actually impacting your business right now. All my other guests have been impacted in one way or another, mostly for the worse. Sometimes a little bit neutral, but I haven’t yet talked to anyone that’s benefiting from this. How are you guys going?

S: For sure, it’s had a negative impact on our business. There’s no doubt about that. Of course, they’re still recyclable materials that still need to move around the place. But, the problems been the amount of uncertainty that’s out there.

S: If I talk about my local Australian customers and manufacturers here, there has been a little bit of uncertainty around how much material do they need. Are they still going to achieve the same sales?

S: Because you’ve got to remember, a lot of our customers, for example, are buying product in advance and sometimes it’s a month in advance before they need it. And if it’s an overseas customer, they’re certainly buying in advance between 30 to 45 days.

S: I think the uncertainty is what has caused a slowdown in the recycling supply chain, if you want to put it that way. And again, it’s about pivoting. It’s about trying to keep our teams on task and doing what we can do to keep our suppliers and customers informed, keeping ourselves informed with what our customers requirements are and what our suppliers requirements are to continue to move material.

S:  So, yes, it has had an impact. It’s been difficult to navigate. But I think in terms of volumes that flow down a little bit, I really think it’s just taking it in a week by week, month by month at the moment to get to the other side of it.

Managing an international company during this crisis

T: Yeah, you guys are an international company. And while Australia seems to really have flatten the curve quite quickly. With you having markets in so many places where they’re not in the same position, what are you guys doing to try to mitigate that risk given that if Australia was your only business, there probably is a little bit less risk. Perhaps because you can see what’s going on locally.

T: Given that you’re very dependent on your international customers as well, what are you guys doing to try to help this situation?

S:  Well again, anywhere that we operate, we have our own people on the ground. So, this business is no different to every other business and it is about people and about relationships. And so being informed about what’s happening on the ground means when we’ve got our own people on the ground, we’re able to collect information quite fast.

S: Really, it’s about our team and our people talking to our customers and our suppliers and understanding what is happening on the ground and ensuring we’re on top of it.

S:  But the other part of it really, because we do have this global team, is making sure you’ve got good online tools for your teams to engage with. Everyone’s jumping on Zoom calls and using Google Hangouts and these tools. And as a company, to my brother’s credit, we’ve been using a lot of these tools for a good few years now.

S: We have so many online tools that we all share. We all use and share information fast. And really, that’s what it’s about at the moment, is sharing information fast and then working as a team as best as you can.

S: For example, we use Microsoft Teams internally, and then we have another communication tool we use internally called Yammer. It’s another Microsoft tool where we have a bunch of different groups in there where we’re sharing information quite quickly amongst each other.

S: We’ve got a group for our shipping teams. We’ve got a group for our purchasing staff, for example. So, it is about sharing relevant information fast. And then we have an extremely good library of information, too, and some of that we put on our website. So, to be honest, really, it’s about people.  And you’ve got to be good at communicating with people, particularly now.

T:  Absolutely, the businesses that haven’t had these tools in place, you could see them really struggling with it right now.  And it’s not just a technology issue. It’s definitely just a people issue. So, it’s good that you guys are in a good place right now, at least from a communication point of view. As you say, it is about people at the end of the day.

S: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we’re not experts in any of this by any means. And, we’ve got our own challenges as well. But personally, I’m a people person. I love talking to people face to face. It’s probably one of the reasons I am so passionate about sharing what we do share.

S: And it does make it hard going online. There are people working from home. There are different distractions when you’re working from home and adapting to that. And I think, the quicker you can adapt and have your own little system in place, the way you go to work at home is very, very important.

S: Making sure you switch off when you are at work at home as well. Getting that downtime, knowing that, “I’m finished with this now. I’m gonna go for my run. I’m going to go and have dinner with my family.” And I’m probably not the best example of that. All the but certainly having those parameters at home is it is really, really important as well.

T: Some good advice for our listeners.

Selling plastic feedstock to Vanden

T: If a business, maybe in Australia or elsewhere, might be interested in selling you some offcuts or other plastic that they’re accumulating from their business, is there a minimum order that they have to have in order to work with you guys?

S: Yeah, it’s different in different countries. There are minimum requirements, and it really does come down to the volumes. In Australia, if I talk about that first, we deal with bulk quantities, and we really don’t collect too much less than 10 metric tons at a time.

S: Our average collection in Australia is somewhere between probably 10 and 20 metric tonnes. Here we move full trucks, full loads of material. We do some smaller bespoke type collections, but they are generally paid for, and they’re generally a part of something else.

S: So, we might do some work with a brand or another manufacturer who wants to maybe have their own little bring-back scheme, or they want to collect across multiple manufacturing sites and get that material back in their own supply chain.

S: We might put systems in place where we put equipment in, and then we may run a collection system around that. But in most cases, a lot of those smaller bespoke collection programs cost money.

S: So, in general, when we’re dealing with commodities, we are generally looking at all commodities of at least 10 to 20 metric tonnes.

How to contact Vanden Recycling?

T: That’s good to know that. If somebody is interested, they’re manufacturing, they’re looking at doing more with recycled materials. What’s the best way to reach you?

S: To be honest, it really is our website and our Get in Touch Page. There’s a series of questions that we do ask people to fill out so that we know what they’re asking for.  

S: Some people don’t like a lot of questions. But, I like having lots of questions because then you can go back to that person with a definitive answer about whether you can or can’t help them. And I think that’s really, really important.

S: If you’re in the US, you might be in Canada, you might be in England – the Get in Touch page goes to a central place. We have a team that look at that and then disburse that information to the right office. So, it really is the easiest way. There is no confusion then about who should receive that information once you fill out those questions.

T: Great. I’ll make sure that website is actually in the transcript so people can find it easily.

How to reach Simon?

T: Simon, I know you also do a huge amount of work around the educational space, and it’s not just to businesses, it’s also to industry. But also you have a public profile, and I know you have a YouTube channel and you do interviews and have a podcast as well. If people want to know more about the things you’re working on, what’s the best way to reach out and touch you?

S:  The best ways is to follow me on some of the social media channels that we’re on. I’m active on LinkedIn. I’m active on Facebook, Twitter and then Instagram. On Instagram,  I do post a lot more on the behind the scenes stuff. I do share a little bit more of myself on Instagram and some of the things that I get up to outside of my normal day to day, day to day job.

S: And then obviously the YouTube channel is the home of where all the videos sit. If you jump onto any of those social channels, you can you can find me on there.

S: I do try and reply to every single comment, every single message that I get. And I’m always happy to answer questions. I really love sharing what we do. And, I really must thank John and Damien and David, to be honest, for allowing me the privilege to actually represent our company in the way that I get to – very open door.

S:  And I just hope that with what we share, everyone gets some value from it. To be honest, that’s why we do share so much. We want people to know what really can be done with recycling. We want people to understand that if we want to truly have a circular economy, then we need to start understanding how to handle and treat plastic the way it needs to be treated to be recycled properly.

T: Definitely. And the name of that show is, “Think Beginning, Not End” in case people want to do a search on Apple or YouTube.

S:  Yeah. Thanks for that, Tammy. My podcast is “Think Beginning, Not End.” And again, we try and cover as much as we can and try and debunk some of the things that happen in the industry – open up the doors.

S: Just quickly, one of the reasons that led us to doing content was at the backend of 2018 when all hell broke loose – particularly here in Melbourne with the fires and then with China banning the imports of recycling.

S: We were getting so many calls from news outlets wanting to film and wanting to know what was going on and the industry kind of put up these barriers.  And they didn’t want to let them in.

S: And, I was actually sitting down with John and Damien at the time, and we discussed this idea of why don’t we do the opposite? Because right now everyone wants to know. So why don’t we do the opposite? And out of just doing the opposite, it went down this path of why not show people.

S: I’d get a lot of comments from people saying, “Gee, why are you guys sharing so much of what you’re doing?” And I’ve always had this theory that what we do is not a nuclear secret. And so many people think that it’s a nuclear secret.

S: But there’s nothing complicated, really, about what we do. And that’s why we want to share so much, because if we can help everyone understand by sharing what we do, and it helps lift the rest of the industry.

S: I often talk about bringing people on the journey. Well, I actually want to bring the whole industry on the journey with us. I want to see more people making more content, showing people what actually happens, because that’s going to have a positive impact on the larger industry. And that’s what needs to happen, because we mustn’t lose the trust of the people. And I think that’s what happened back in 2018. And, I just don’t think the industry could afford that to happen again.

T: Well, certainly with you opening your door than it allowed people to say, “Well, you have nothing to hide.” You already had good processes in place. You already had, as you said, moved away from countries where you didn’t think you could do business ethically.

Final words

T: It’s great to see companies like yours out there and to get a sense of what’s it like to be more or less the middleman. We’ve talked to manufacturers on this podcast. We’ve talked to people that buy the material for their customer needs or their own needs. And it’s really interesting to get your point of view, Simon.

T: I really love the fact that Vanden did all these things before it was “cool,” before there was actually scrutiny in the industry and before the public actually started questioning practices of recycling. It’s great to see you guys at the forefront of this.

T: And while things are uncertain right now in this crazy, crazy time. We don’t know how long it’s going to last. And certainly, for international companies like yours, it is heart-warming I think for the general public to know that there are companies like you out there that are trying to do the right thing and have doing the right thing for much longer than the cameras have been rolling.

T: So, thank you for the work that you and your brother, Damien and John are doing and David in the UK and your entire Vanden team. We really need a lot more businesses like you that are playing this role and making sure that the recycled plastic that we want in our products is actually being used in a right way.

S: Thanks for that, Tammy. We really, really appreciate those kind words. We have a saying here, “It’s our Vanden family.” And I have said a few times, I just play such a small role in this. We have many great people in every office, and we just feel it’s a privilege that we get to do what we do every day. And I mean, from my perspective, I certainly feel like that.

T: Simon, thanks for your time today. You take care.

S: Thanks, Tammy.

T: Cheers.

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Tammy Ven Dange

Purpose Driven Entrepreneur Be kind to animals and mother nature!

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