Stephen Webster of Integrated Recycling

Scaling a recycled plastics product manufacturer

In this episode of Plastics Revolution, I chat with Stephen Webster of Integrated Recycling, an Australian manufacturer of recycled plastic products.



In this show, we learn about the origins of the company and how it’s progressed from making posts from the recycled plastic film that was used to cover grapevines to a much greater variety of products now.  This includes their Duratrack railway sleepers and their “in-development” urban noise barriers – both that have the potential to use a huge amount of recycled plastic.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Stephen Webster of Integrated Recycling.

Credits

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

Topics from this episode:

  • 0.00 | Intro
  • 2.00 | About Integrated Recycling
  • 3.59 | No need to wash plastic
  • 5.54 | Starting with recycled vine posts from grape covers – not all ideas work
  • 7.59 | Other products – broad range is important in Australia
  • 9.17 | Customer demand is changing for recycled plastic products
  • 10:50 | Whole of life cost – a business case using bollards as an example
  • 12:38 | Who are their customers?
  • 13.31 | Business changes due to Covid?
  • 17.01 | Sourcing recycled plastic locally
  • 18.31 | Duratrack railway sleepers development – how much recycled plastic could it use? About 31,500 tonnes for Queensland Rail alone!
  • 28.56 | Recycle first policy in Victoria
  • 30.49 | Fit for purpose
  • 32.28 | Buying Australian
  • 33.55 | More about Stephen and Boscastle meat pies
  • 36.54 | Stephen’s greatest challenge and new products under development
  • 39.45 | Advice for customers interested in pursuing recycled plastic options
  • 41.24 | How to contact Integrated Recycling about their products or your product development ideas

Quotes from Stephen Webster in this episode:

“The genesis of the business was the idea of taking table grape vine covers and turning them back into posts for the table grapes to grow on.”

“An idea might be good, but it never it really eventuated. Vine posts are not a big part of our business because the price of the recycled plastic post is in excess of the price of the treated pine posts that are most commonly used in the vine industry. So, we have moved into other products as a consequence of that rather than concentrating on that industry.”

“Products made from traditional materials like timber or concrete, are the ones in which we compete. And we have a strong market in quite a wide range. It probably reflects a lot of what Australia is – it’s very broad, but not necessarily very deep in its markets. So, we have to have quite a wide range to ensure that we can have available to the marketplace lots of different products.”  

 “Recycled plastic products are durable and will outlast the environmental degradation that’s caused to the timber products. And people are starting to take account of the whole of life cost as a consequence of that, rather than just the immediate cost. So, it’s a really important factor because the cost in the cost of timber is not necessarily built the full cost, the environment cost, of the product itself.”

“It’s the labour cost to install that that really drives up that whole of life cost for a timber product compared to a recycled plastic product.”

“There’s no maintenance required. They don’t need to be revarnished or repainted in the way that a timber product would.”

“We take a regional approach. So, we get most of our materials locally around Mildura. And this helps get the circular economy going.”

“Our move into that product (railway sleepers) was really prompted by my experience and of load bearing plastics and finding that our plastic could be formed in a way that could carry loads. I was really wanting to push the boundaries of what we can do with our plastics. And through testing and experience, we saw that there was there was significant market infrastructure that could be available for this sort of product.”

“There were no standards in Australia related to the use of recycled plastic in railway sleepers. So first, the Institute of Railway Technology at Monash needed to write guidelines, and then we made the sleepers to those guidelines that were then tested in the lab and tested in track with a number of Tourism and Heritage Railways around Victoria.”

“The reason that Queensland Rail wanted to do this is that their timber sleepers had changed on average every 14 years.  So, it became economically and environmentally unsustainable to carry on that practise. So, one of the requirements of any alternate material sleeper was to have a design life of 50 years.”

“We saw that load bearing capabilities – that if we could establish it through testing and trialling and give people the confidence that the product can do what we know it can do – then we can create these deep markets that will enable us to recycle a lot of material, but also create a business, create a new industry, create new jobs, create new jobs in regional Australia. So, there are lots of boxes that are ticked through the successful use of this product.”

“We find that we have a large number of customers that come back regularly and that are in a government or semi-government type buyers because they understand the characteristics and the capabilities of the product. It works for them. Yes, it costs a little bit more, but not over the long term. And they realise that, and they value the product and take pride in the fact that they’re using it.”

“There is an education piece required because, you know, early products in any industry may not quite live up to the claims or hopes of them. But later, iterations of it do develop out those kinks. And we know that the products work and are fit for purpose.”

“It (quality standards) are really critical where you’ve got a really highly safety conscious environment. For non-safety or non-critical products, the standards  probably can be less stringent.”

“If there are government procurement policies for recycled plastic products, it’s got to be Australian made recycled plastic products, not products that are bought in from overseas. And the content level of plastic is important to know. Where is that plastic being sourced? Is it reusing plastics that our government desires to be used? And how can they be reused?”

“We’re using all the learnings from the dual track product and creating these patented blocks that can stack and interlock with each other to then put heavy pieces of equipment on for maintenance.”

“And the other big area that we’re working in is we’ve got a research project with University of Melbourne on the development of using our materials for noise wall barriers.”

“We can only talk about the durability, the resistance to environmental degradation, the lack of maintenance required during the term of its service life. And those characteristics are critical in use in its application. We can then support what our product can do in an engineering sense to validate that it’s going to be fit for the purpose that they require. But it’s up to them then to decide how they spend their money.”

“The thinking around what the circular economy can mean to people and that it can have a significant effect on our lives and how we can benefit each other is something that people need to or should just become more aware of. And what great innovation there is in Australia. Take pride in the fact that we can produce solutions in Australia and that not necessarily importing the products from overseas is the best answer just because it’s the cheapest.”

Links & Resources

Other Plastics Revolution podcast guests mentioned:

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Tammy Ven Dange

Purpose Driven Entrepreneur Be kind to animals and mother nature!

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