In this episode of Plastics Revolution, I chat with Paul Klymenko of Planet Ark.
Paul started his career in finance before realising that the only way he could reduce his stress about environmental concerns was to create solutions for it. And so he did so as a co-founder and now the CEO of this environmental behaviour change organisation.
In this show, we talk about how it started, their current campaigns, issues impacting the environment right now, as well as their latest program to be announced, the National Circular Economy Hub and Marketplace.
I hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Paul Klymenko of Planet Ark.
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
1.54 | About Planet Ark – what they support, not what they are against
4.20 | Example of printer ink cartridges partnership with Close the Loop – 45+ million cartridges later
6.25 | Working with the “devil”
7.34 | First stewardship program
10.21 | Who does the recycling and conversion of the resources collected?
12.02 | The hardest part of creating these programs
13.43 | An environmental behaviour change organisation
16.50 | The carrot or the stick
18.52 | How do they prioritise opportunities for impacting the environment?
20.50 | Focussing on the day to day impact
22.14 | Business versus consumer impact
26.23 | People concerns provide ammunition for change
28.49 | Impact of Covid-19 and past recessions/depressions
31.21 | How to continue environmental work during these times.
36.22 | More about Paul
42.26 | National Circular Economy Hub and Marketplace – “I think it possibly could be the biggest achievement in Planet Ark’s history.”
48.05 | How to find out more about Planet Ark.
Quotes from Paul Klymenko in this episode:
‘Most environmental organisations back then were really defining themselves by what they were against. They were protesting. They were saying these are the things we can’t do and not really focussing on solutions. And we thought, “Well, at the end of the day, there’s not much point raising problems if you don’t actually then give solutions for people...” So, we were an organisation that was going to define ourselves by what we supported, what we were for. And also, we were going to provide solutions.’
“We work with businesses. We work with the community to create the solution… And, you know, everyone plays a role – from the manufacturers by providing funding to close the loop, to allow them to collect it and also recycle it and also spend money on R&D to create even better uses for the materials that come out of the recycling process, and to allow us to educate and inspire people like yourself to actually make that effort of taking it because the rubbish bin is always the easiest bin.”
“We believe most people want to make that effort as long as you make it relatively simple for them.”
‘Referring back to 1992, saying you were going to work with business to create positive environmental change back then – it was probably the equivalent of the Pope going out to his flock or the head of the Church of England saying, “Look, we’re going to work with the devil to create this change as well.”’
“We always worked on this principle that we’re a leverage organisation. So, what we’re doing is we find all the partners. We’re a relatively small group of people. We can’t do all these things. But we learnt from the early days the skill of effective collaboration. So, finding the right people to create a system that would make it work.”
“Information is not behaviour change.”
‘It’s quite an interactive process, but we have to say, “Can we get significant environmental improvement? And is that a doable thing?” If I said, “I just created the most amazing thing, but it’s going to increase the price of that thing by a 1000%.” I’ll just go, “Nah, not ready!”’
“Now, the interesting thing is, through this great suppression of economic activity, we’ve seen all these environmental benefits. L.A. having half the air pollution. People be able to see the Himalayas from in India for the first time in 30, 40 years. Dolphins in the harbour in Venice.”
“How can we get those environmental benefits that we all want to have by changing the way we run our economy. That’s really the crucial thing. And I think that can only be done by us becoming a carbon neutral, circular economy. If we achieve that, all the environmental issues – and I’m talking about everything from climate change to ocean plastics to toxic water and air pollution can be solved by doing that.”
“What it (Covid-19 measures) demonstrated to me is that we can move very quickly, and we need to move very quickly to solve our environmental issues, because otherwise, as someone once said to me, nature will solve it for us.”
“I see being circular is also being much more economically efficient.”
‘When people say, “What’s a circular economy?” Well, you have to actually point out what we’ve currently got, which is a linear economy, which is – extract, grow, use, put it a bin and throw it in the ground… But a circular economy is where you keep those resources. You sustainably harvest them and mine them, too. And you maximize the utility in our economy for as long as possible.’
“How circular is the world now? There has been a couple of circular gap reports come out, and it’s less than 10 percent.”
“If you could make things relatively easy for people, you would get much higher behavioural changes than if you make it incredibly hard.”
With this being National Recycling Week in Australia, the common question that is being asked right now is, “Should we still recycle?”
After all the negative media lately on what some shady recyclers have done (i.e. sending contaminated rubbish overseas and/or putting recyclables into landfill as the War on Waste program revealed), it’s not surprising if the general public think it’s a waste of time.
Personally, between my podcast and business, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with quite a few experts in this space and to see recyclers in action. And I can tell you that there are plenty of great companies out there that are doing the right thing. Furthermore, they are making great products from these materials too.
In fact, when interviewing Mark Yates of Replas, I saw the mounds and mounds of rubbish that they were turning into outdoor furniture and industrial products even with high levels of contamination in them at times.
But Australia has Plenty of Land
One common argument to the recycling campaign is that Australia has plenty of land to bury our rubbish. While it may be true that we have plenty of land, how practical and costly would it be to transport thousands of tonnes of waste to such locations every day from metro areas? And think about the additional carbon emissions that would add.
Let’s Burn it Instead
Some say that we should just burn these recyclables instead, but to many in this industry, it’s just like burning money. There were a lot of resources expended to make plastic, and it is still has usable purposes beyond its one-time use.
Furthermore, it practically encourages people to continue to waste these non-renewable resources to keep the incinerators sustainable. Remember, plastic is made from petroleum and cannot be replenished.
But is Burning it for Energy a Better Option?
There are better technologies coming out in this space all the time. However, at the moment, most experts agree that burning rubbish is not a cost efficient source of energy yet. Furthermore, there are still carbon emissions, health concerns and a huge requirement for water with most of these options.
Is there even enough demand for these recyclable materials?
Large recycler, SKM collapsed earlier this year and others are apparently struggling in various parts of the country as the demand for recyclables has fallen. This can mostly be attributed to exports being limited by other countries, but the self imposed export ban by Australia will also add further pressure if that ever gets implemented.
So, should we still recycle?
Absolutely! As long as we continue to make and use plastic, recycling is the most environmentally sustainable and economical way to generate value from this resource.
But it’s important for consumers to know that recycling doesn’t end when you put something into the yellow bin. It’s only recycled when it’s turned into something else, and companies can’t do that unless more people are actively buying Australian made, recycled material products.
Cathy started this business originally as a side hustle to meet her own family’s needs. However, in just two years, her business has also diverted an approximate 62,000 disposable nappies or 3.4 tonnes away from landfill. Her business is making it easier for environmentally conscious families and day care centres to switch to cloth diapers.
Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange Produced by Jonny Puskas Theme Music by Joseph McDade All Rights Reserved 2019
transcript has been edited for clarity.
T: Host Tammy Ven Dange C: Guest Cathy Costa, Owner of Conder House Laundry and Linen Services
welcome to the show.
for having me, Tammy.
T: I found
out about your business through a forum that I went to where people were trying
to convince future parents to go to a cloth nappy. And I know that’s a big
thing right now because so many people are worried about the environmental
impacts of (disposable) nappies or diapers for the length of a child’s use of
T: I understand that you’re the only cleaning service for cloth nappies here in the greater Canberra area, is that right?
T: So tell me how your service works.
C: Right. So we provide modern cloth nappies to
our clients, as well as, doing all the washing, which is the bit that turns
people off the most. So, we happen to deliver nappies twice a week. The client
just checks them at their front door, and we swap them over up to twice a week
and take them away and give them back a lovely clean bag.
C: We also, provide training on their first bag, and we can provide ongoing support for clients for as long as they need really. If they’re having trouble or if they’re experiencing extra leakage or anything like that, we can work with them so that they get a positive experience using the modern cloth nappies.
Cloth Nappies versus Modern Cloth Nappies
difference between the old school cloth nappy and today’s modern cloth nappy,
what’s the difference between the two?
C: So the old school was a terry flat. So it was just like a bath towel, but it was a square shape and you folded them up and clip them up with pins and then you put these plastic pants – PVC plastic back in the day over the top.
C: The modern cloth nappy now is a breathable, waterproof fabric, which is called a polyurethane laminate. It was originally designed for the health care sector, and now they use that as the waterproof barrier on the outside of the nappy. And it comes in all pretty colours and patterns and prints. And it’s really quite cute.
they’ve got all of these snaps so you can adjust them. And some of them have
Velcro as well. But ours are with snaps so that you can adjust them to the
shape and size of the baby. And on the inside you’ve got a fabric that draws
the moisture away from the baby’s skin. And then there’s an insert, which is a
combination of, in our particular case of bamboo and microfiber, that holds all
of the fluids in there and elastic in the legs.
C: So it
looks a bit like a disposable. It’s sort of shaped already like that. So it’s a
lot easier to put on.
T: And it’s also probably more complex to clean.
C: Yes. Yes,
absolutely. Because when I was doing cloth nappies with my children, once you
took off the solids, you just dunked the terry flats into a bucket of water
with Nappy Sand (a
laundry detergent in Australia specifically to wash cloth diapers) in it. But Nappy
Sand doesn’t have sanitizer anymore. So that’s not what we do anymore. And
obviously the modern cloth nappies can’t tolerate the extreme heat. So that’s
where for us, in particular, that the sanitizer comes into play.
T: Yeah. I
think it’s important for people to realise that the modern cloth nappy is so
much different and so cute. It’s kind of
funny that we’re going back to this cloth nappy. I know that certainly when I
was a kid and my brother was a kid, my parents definitely used cloth nappies
and probably yours as well.
T: The disposable nappy, though, is so convenient. The cleaning process (described in) that forum is what made it so hard. Is the process you go through at your service, is that the same process that a parent might go through at home?
Cleaning Cloth Nappies at the Conder House
C: Yes, to a
certain extent. But we’re in the industrial market, so it is technically a lot
easier for us because we’ve got these ginormous machines that can wash 200
nappies in one go. And we’re using industrial chemicals and obviously we’ve got
to meet Australian standards, which is not happening in the home.
that’s okay in the home because they’re putting their nappies back on their
baby. But that doesn’t work for us because a nappy might be used on one baby
one day and then the next week it’ll be used on another baby. So that’s why we
have to meet Australian standards so that we don’t pass on any germs from one
baby to the next, and you get that satisfaction of sanitisation in every single
T: What do
you do differently that ensures that you have that lack of cross contamination?
C: So we’re actually of barrier laundry. So if you picture a big
square room with a wall down the middle and then this ginormous washing machine
sitting in the middle of the wall has two doors that opens on each side of the
big square room and you can only enter one side at a time.
C: So what
we call the dirty side – all the dirty laundry, including the nappies, goes in
the dirty side and then it gets processed through the machine and opens up on
the clean side through the door that’s on the clean side. So that’s how we can
ensure that there is no cross contamination between clean and dirty laundry.
C: And our
van is set up the same as well. We’ve got a vapour barrier in our van and only
clean laundry goes on the clean side and only dirty laundry goes on the dirty
side. But that’s how we ensure we don’t cross contaminate stuff. But the other
mechanism we use is sanitisation.
C: And with the modern cloth nappies, we have to
use chemical sanitisation because we can’t do it thermally because we can’t
wash the nappies to the temperature that we need to get to because they melt,
because they’ve got a waterproof layer on them.
T: And so you’re using chemicals to get rid of
all the bacteria and other things. A lot of people say that the environmental
impact of having to wash cloth diapers or nappies could be just as bad as the
disposal cost or the landfill cost to the environment. What’s your view on
C: There’s always going to be an impact. You can’t
get around that. So it depends on which you consider to be the worst. I
actually consider that washing of cloth nappies to be less of an impact than
the landfill that we’re putting in with disposable nappies. So all of our
chemicals are biodegradable. That’s a necessity for industrial laundries. But
when you think about the landfill, it’s
tons and tons and tons of waste that is really going into landfill.
C: So, yes,
we do use a lot more water, but we wash it 200 nappies in one go. So if you are
looking at people doing nappies at home and everybody doing two washes to get
the washing done, we actually only need to do one wash each time. So we cut
down on water then there. And we also, as I said before, we wash 200 at a time.
So we’re actually economising as much as we can.
C: And then
when we scheduling our delivery runs, we’re also economising there as well
because we are scheduling it in the most efficient route that we can do. So, we
do try as much as we can to cut it down. Also when we’re supplying bags for
these nappies, they’re all reusable, rewashable. So, the bags that our clients
are using to receive their nappies and to drop them back to us, they’re not
plastic bags either. So we cut it down as much as we can.
The Cost of Disposable Convenience
T: I ran
some numbers the other day and tell me this is right. If the average baby uses
about 12 nappies a day, especially when they’re first born, and maybe they need
it up until about age two and a half or three.
It sounds like we’re looking at least 4000 nappies per child.
C: Yeah, probably a bit more actually. I’d say
it’s between 5000 and 5500 – around that figure.
T: Wow. And
so, how many of the cloth nappies would see a child through until they no
longer need it?
C: So if you
would buy them and use them in your own home. Most people usually operate on
about 30 nappies. It becomes a bit of a cult. And families tend to buy so many
of them because they just come in beautiful patterns, and they really like to
show them off. So there are families that have got a lot more than 30, but you
really can survive on 30 if you’re operating on that in the home.
C: And that
can do three or four children if you’re looking after them properly and washing
them correctly and yeah, they really can go quite a distance.
C: And my
nappies, obviously, they’re not per child. But I’ve been using one set of
nappies for two years. Obviously, my set of nappies is a lot larger than what
they are in the home. I’m talking hundreds actually closer to the thousands,
but we’ve been using those for two years. So they get used multiple times a
week because they come and get washed and get sent out again. So, they really
do last a long time.
T: If we’re
talking about two years, and you have them in use maybe twice a week – that is
a significant decrease in the amount of plastic disposables going into the
T: So that
is significant. The biggest challenge, I suppose, is people’s views about
Cleaning Cloth Nappies at Home
heard people say, “Oh, it’s so gross.” I
don’t have any children, but I think about when I used to work in a vet clinic,
and we used to wash all the dogs’ towels and such. And sometimes those had poo
on them as well, but we had a special washer for that. There wouldn’t be any
kind of human towels or human anything else with that. How do people get past
that mental barrier of, “Oh, I got to wash these pooey diapers and in my
washing machine with all the other things?”
C: Well, the
bottom line is there are some families that just can’t get past that, and
that’s where we come into play there because we put in our machine, not theirs.
But in all reality, you’re not creating poo soup at home. You actually are
scrubbing out the solids before you’re put into machine. And yes, there will be
urine in that.
C: But in
the home, they are doing a pre-wash which is just the nappies, and then they’re
doing another wash on top of that, which is generally just the nappies. And you
can put other little things in like bibs and gross suits and smaller items. You can put
underwear in there as well just to fill up the machine so that you get that
correct agitation. But generally people don’t wash their clothes in there
again, it comes down to, “That’s okay in your home when it’s your family, but
that’s not something that we can do.” And that’s why we have to actually use
sanitizer every single load.
T: The other
day when I saw you, and you showed me some of your fancy nappies, like there are
the cutest ones for Christmas and in all the different holiday ones which were
so adorable – I remember you telling me
that since you’ve taken out of the your facility, that now they’re considered
T: And that
you would have to take them back and wash them again because they’ve been
exposed now to outside elements. I thought that was quite impressive to say
that because obviously a baby hasn’t used them, but your view of what dirty is.
C: Yeah, absolutely. As soon as it leaves the laundry, it’s considered dirty in our mind. So anything that comes back used or not has to go back through the same process as if it had been soiled. So again, that’s part of meeting Australian standards and ensuring that we can meet those sanitisation standards, and we can’t spruik that we do when we cut corners – so we don’t.
Solving her own Problem
T: Cathy, I
know that the nappy cleaning service is only part of your business. Do you want
to talk about how you actually started your laundry linen service?
C: Sure. So
it really started off as a side hustle. I set up the business because I have a
disabled adult son who’s severely autistic and intellectually delayed. And I
was desperate for someone to do his laundry – both bed pads and linen, but also
his clothing because we just had so much foul laundry, as you call it. And I
couldn’t find anyone to do it for us.
C: The big
linen companies would only support restaurants and hotels and hospitals. They
wouldn’t just support an individual in a home that just needed a few sheets per
week and a few big pads and stuff like that. And they definitely wouldn’t do
your own clothing. So, I decided I’d set something up because I thought, “Actually,
I can’t be the only person that needs this service.” And as it turns out, I’m
not. So that’s how it really started.
Adding the Modern Cloth Nappies Cleaning Service
C: And then
the nappies just flowed on from that as I sat in in the laundry and I thought, “Well,
what else can I use this wonderful equipment that I’ve now got?” Because it’s
quite a substantial capital outlay to set it up in the first instance. So I was
looking into what other opportunities exist. And I asked my sister, “What about
cloth nappies?” Because she and I used the terry flat cloth nappies on our kids,
and she turned around and said, “Nobody does that anymore.”
C: So that’s
when I sort of looked at the Facebook groups and started just stalking them and
just listening and finding out all about it, and then came to the conclusion
that I’ve got the equipment to do this, and I can do it easily. And it just
provides another option to families who would like to do it, but don’t do it in
the home. But it also provides another option for industry, for the childcare
industry in particular.
T: You called
it a side hustle.
T: And what
I find interesting is that – when did you actually start this business?
C: So, I started this business in November 2016.
Funding this Side Hustle
T: As a side
T: But it’s
not like a cheap side hustle. It’s not like you’re doing laundry in your own house
for someone else.
C: No. It
was a substantial outlay and went and got a loan.
T: You got a
loan to pay for – what kind of facilities did you actually have to create for
obviously we need to set up a barrier laundry and because I need to keep costs
down because I was doing it as a side hustle, what I did is I had my garage in
my house refitted into these barrier laundry. Yes, so I went and got a loan. I needed
building works done. So, I probably spent about $50, $60 (thousand).
T: Just in
C: Just on building works. And then the machines themselves were in the vicinity of $50,000 or $60,000. And then all the other bits and pieces – a trolley. Just a trolley, a linen trolley can cost $1200. So now nothing is cheap in this industry so. So I just did a gradually bit by bit, and as we expand I was cognisant of going too big too fast.
C: But the
way we did it, having it in the in the garage as such meant I didn’t have rent.
So it really kept the costs down for me so that I could continue working full
time in the public service as well as doing this.
T: So you’re
working in the public service?
C: I was at the time, yes.
T: How many hours a week were you putting in this side hustle?
From Side Hustle to Full Time Work
C: Oh, I
don’t know. If you ask any small business owner, they they’ve got to tell you
that it’s just so many. And it got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore.
I had to make a choice.
T: What was
C: And I
ended up leaving the public service. I ended up going on long service leave.
And then I kind of doubled the turnover of the company during that period. And
so I actually can’t couldn’t go back to work now.
T: You’ve got too much business.
C: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
T: When did
you hire your first employee?
C: Oh, that was probably within six months, and it just started off for a few hours a week. And then as the business grew, her time increased. And again, I’m really cognizant of going too big too fast. So, we did it in a very gradual approach, and I’ve now got three casual employees. And again, they’ve all come on really quite gradually.
T: Did you
start off with people (clients) like yourself that were families with children
with disabilities that needed some linen cleaning or was it like you started
thinking right away, “I want to go ahead and look at childcare centres and
C: No, at
the beginning it was about families caring for elderly at home, people at home
with disabilities, et cetera. It was purely focussed on that.
really was the original mission statement. So with the NDIS now, it’s a lot
more affordable. To be honest, without the NDIS, it’s probably not something
that people could afford. And that really has created wonderful options for
them, and they can choose to use us rather than having to slave away at home
for hours and hours and hours.
T: NDIS for
those who are not from Australia, that actually came in about the same time
that you started your business, didn’t it?
C: It did
come in earlier than that. It was about five, six years ago in the ACT
(Australian Capital Territory).
T: Oh, yeah.
Depends on what state.
C: Yeah it
does because the ACT was part of the trial sites, it came in a little bit
T: Okay. So, you already knew that there was a
potential source of income for these families where they had choices that they
could make about how to use some government funding to pay for a service like
what you’re offering?
C: Mm hmm.
T: That was
a great business opportunity because what I saw instead from the outside
looking in was just a lot of people that were scrambling – or charities
especially that were scrambling to figure out how to work within that new NDIS
scheme. It sounds like you found an opportunity instead.
C: Yeah. And
again, it was just purely because I had a child with a disability. So, I knew
what I was looking for, and
I designed the service to be completely around what I would want as a customer.
C: Pick up
and delivery was a major component of that. And that set us apart from other
people, laundromats in particular because they didn’t necessarily pick up or
deliver. And people with disabilities
don’t necessarily have a car or aren’t able to drive. Don’t have the time and
all those things. So that’s why I went down that path.
you’re first starting off though, and you have a delivery service – the
Canberra community is fairly contained compared to maybe some cities – I can
imagine you could end up being on the road the whole time.
C: Yes, it
certainly could. My son John, who is autistic, intellectually delay. He
actually does the deliveries with a support worker. So that’s another part of
our business that whilst we aren’t a social enterprise, we’ve got a bit of a
social enterprise feel and we create an employment opportunity for him.
C: And in
all reality, it’s not really about him earning money. It’s more about giving
him something meaningful to do for four days a week. He actually works for us.
So, he actually does a delivery run four days a week. We don’t do it on the one
day because we need to keep the van available in case we need to get it
T: But is he
enjoying the work? Is he actually fully participating in that?
C: He fully
participates as much as he can obviously. He’s carrying the bags in and out to
clients. He actually comes into the laundry, and he’s engaged the whole time,
and he loads the van with his support worker, obviously under the support
worker is guiding him as to what order we put the bags into the van. And he
then carries them out to the client, and then swaps them over and says goodday.
Some of the clients just love it when he comes to visit.
T: Yeah, I
really do enjoy that. And he stops off every now and then, like for lunch and
he goes and plays on the swing at a local park. He has a great time.
T: I think
we should all do that. That would be a great lunchtime break for all of us I
T: So, you
have now, though, moved on from just clients within the linen service, moving
into the nappy service.
T: Are you
dealing mostly with individual families now or are you starting to build more
of a business clientele?
C: Well, it’s working both ways, really. The home-base
clients is really starting to grow. And the number of those clients fluctuates
because some clients in the home are just wanting for a short period of time
while they get used to cloth nappies, or when somebody buys them a gift voucher
as a baby present. They just use it for that period of time. Others have used
it more long term, so our home base clients really is fluctuating.
Cloth Nappies in Childcare Centres
C: But where
I feel that we can really make the most impact is encouraging childcare centres
to be using them because the figures on their usage of disposables is really
phenomenal. So, we do have a few business clients and obviously that’s where we
are focussing our effort at the moment. I anticipate that the usage of cloth
nappies in the ACT will end up being
regulated, but we’ll see whether my prediction comes through.
T: I think that will be challenging knowing that
there’s some parents that just refuse to move into a cloth nappy, if nothing
else, because the time.
T: And I
think that will be challenging. But there’s certainly a more and more people
that are up taking this from an environmental conscious point of view.
talking about childcare centres, do you have any numbers in terms of what
they’re actually going through right now in terms of nappies?
C: Yeah, I
do, actually. So, generally a room in a childcare centre is about 20
placements. So I have actually crunched the figures on 20 placements. And a lot
of childcare centres have multiple rooms that have 20 placements that are using
disposable nappies. So if we just work on one room with 20 placements, that’s
500 disposable nappies per week, 2000 a month or 22,000 per year that are
all going into landfill. So if we look at what that is:
From a waste disposal point of view, that is 22.5 to 27.5 kilos per week, 90 to 110 kilos per month, 990 kilos to 1.21 tonnes per year. That’s just for 20 placements in one childcare centre per year.
huge. That’s absolutely huge.
C: Hence the reason why I feel we can make the
biggest difference through childcare centres.
T: Yeah, for
sure. And if there is only regulation within the childcare centres themselves,
not within families, that alone would make a huge difference.
C: Absolutely. And you know, minimal impact for families at
home because childcare workers are paid to change nappies. That’s part of their
job description. So, it’s not an impact on the home. It’s also not an impact on
those who are managing people with disabilities at home and still using
continence aides that are well beyond the normal appropriate age nappy usage.
families can make a choice to if they don’t want to actually use disposables at
home. But they’re worried about their environmental footprint. They can choose
to use a childcare centre that supplies cloth nappies.
T: You just said something that made me think
about bigger market there. You were just mentioning about incontinence pads and
C: Mm hmm.
T: Are there
cloth adult type nappies available?
C: There absolutely
are. We don’t supply them. And I’ve definitely used them with my son in the
past. He doesn’t need them anymore. But yes, you can. But without grossing
everybody out, adult poo is very different to a child’s poo. And it’s a lot
harder to clean.
T: Yeah, I think anyone that’s had to change a
newborn will know that even a child’s poo changes over time as well.
T: As I
confess that from my one year old nephew.
T: The numbers you just said for the childcare centres is just phenomenal. I know based on speaking to other people in the recycling industry for plastics, that in Australia right now, there are no solutions for recycling dirty nappies.
T: There are in some countries, and there’s certainly a number of companies that have tried to do it here, and there’s at least one organisation or a company that’s trying to create some sort of recycling process for nappies. But right now, there are basically are no options for recycling disposable nappies.
unfortunately, the numbers you’re telling us right now is something that’s been
happening for years. And it will continue to be a sore spot in the No Waste
goals that both government and individuals have.
C: Absolutely. And each disposable nappy takes 200 to 500 years to decompose in landfill. So we are putting all these nappies into landfill, but then they’re not decomposing in a year. It’s 200 to 500 years. This is an enormous amount.
T: Which is
incredible to see.
T: So, the
kind of customers that you’re picking up now, I mean, there’s certainly more
and more interest around cloth nappies at the moment. And people are getting
over this poo issue to the point that they’re say, “Look, our parents used to
do it. Obviously, we can do it, too. It’s not that big a deal.” And if they
really don’t want to handle it, or they don’t have the time to handle it
themselves, they can use a service like yours.
T: What kind
of growth have you seen in the last, say, 12 months?
C: Oh, there’s actually been quite a lot of growth in the last twelve months, particularly for us. Just awareness of our existence is really been quite a significant thing. And even in the ACT. I’m not quite sure how long Canberra Cloth Bums – that Facebook group you mentioned earlier (note: hosted forum I attended), how long they’ve been running for, but they have contributed significantly to the awareness in Canberra.
got a huge number of followers – 600 plus just in the ACT and there are other
Facebook groups, etcetera, that are really opening it up so that people
understand all about it. But yeah, the awareness is increasing dramatically.
T: So I
imagine that could impact your business as well.
C: Yes, it could. I need to do something about that to be ready for it.
Future Plans for Conder House
T: OK, well,
let’s talk about future plans and future goals. What do you have planned?
C: Now I’m
looking at expansion because as I alluded to before, I anticipate that cloth
nappies will be regulated in the city for childcare centres. And if that
happens, I need to get postured to be able to cope with that, because obviously
it’ll be a demand that I just can’t meet as we are at the moment.
C: There will
probably a few different options. The big linen companies will probably provide
just the terry flat option. But if businesses are looking for a modern cloth
solution, those companies probably aren’t interested in the extra work that’s
going to be required with them.
C: So, I’m
now looking at what we can do to expand not only machinery, but obviously in
facilities. We’re gonna be far, far too big for our little space in my garage.
So we’ll have to look at a warehouse type solution full of lots of machines and
more staff, obviously.
another investment, though.
absolutely. And again, I’ll have to work out how I’m going to fund that. But
again, it will be something that I fund. And again, it’ll have to be a gradual
process and quite well planned and thought out.
T: Have you
thought about bringing on investors?
C: No. Yes, I have looked at it, but I’m hesitant
to lose control of ownership etc. of the company.
T: Yeah, I
think a lot of people that think about investors forget that element sometimes.
C: Yeah. And
that’s what discourages me the most in all fact, in all reality. I’m just not
keen to hand over ownership.
T: Do you think that cloth nappies or the
revolution back to it? Do you think it’s just a trend or do you think this is
something that’s more long term?
C: I think
it will be more long term.
I think people will just realise what we’re doing is not sustainable. We’ve had a good run with it, I suppose. It’s coming to an end. You know, where do we put? Where do we continue to put all this landfill? It’s just not sustainable.
T: And if a
company does come in with a recycling solution, is that going to impact you?
C: I don’t think so, because it just gives the
families another option, which is great. I would say, there are certain people
that just aren’t going to use cloth. It just doesn’t work for them. So those
would be the families that would potentially look at a recycling or a
composting option. But then there’s others that go the whole hog and don’t want
disposables at all. So, it’s just another great option. I encourage it.
T: Well, they always say to refuse, reuse first,
right? Before you try to recycle? Because that’s the best the best option for
the environment in the long run.
T: Would you
like to share anything else with our listeners or do you have any request from
C: The only thing that I really would like to
share is that modern cloth nappies, well cloth nappies in general really aren’t
for everybody. You either want to or you don’t. And sometimes you just can’t.
It’s a personal choice.
like ours give you a different option. And again, as I said before, if you
don’t want to do it at home, but you feel that you need to be responsible in
some way, shape or form,
You can always choose a childcare centre that uses cloth nappies and then it doesn’t have a direct impact on you. But give it a go. You don’t even have to do it full time. You can do it on weekends or you can just do it Monday to Friday. You don’t actually have to do it full time either.
lots of families out there who only elect to do it on a part time basis because
full time basis is just a bit too much for them. Or they just can’t get the
support they need overnight – cloth nappies aren’t absorbent enough for them. So
they use a combination.
There’s plenty of help out there but just go look for it and you can always give us a call and we’ll help you along on that journey.
T: I think that’s a good point. I know someone right now who only does cloth nappies on weekends because their child centre won’t accept cloth nappies. So that was her compromise to say, “OK, while they’re at a childcare centre, they’ll go ahead and use the disposable ones. But when they’re in my house and I have control over this and I could do it, then on the weekends I’ll use the modern cloth nappy.”
T: I know that you’re only servicing people
within the Canberra community. If we look broadly speaking, if somebody who hears
this is perhaps even another country, where can they go for resources to learn
about cloth nappies?
C: So, there are multiple Facebook groups. CCN is one of the big ones and I can’t tell you what that acronym stands for. If all of the top my head. But if you just googled “modern cloth nappies”, you would find a whole lot of information would pop up for you.
T: Or “modern
C: Oh yeah
maybe diapers for US listeners and potentially Asian listeners as well. I think
they call them diapers there too.
T: So what
we could do is put some resources on the show notes so that if people want to
go to some sites, we can give you a couple to start with then.
How to Reach Cathy or the Conder House
T: And then
that way at least they’ll have some resources for them. Locally if somebody
wants to use your service, Cathy, how else can they reach you?
T: Cathy I
think what you’re doing right now is a huge service to start with when you’re
looking at people that had perhaps disabilities and needed some sort of
cleaning service that nobody else would provide, and obviously (you were) scratching
your own itch there.
T: But the
fact is you’ve gone beyond that, and you’re providing a service now that is
actually reducing the amount of dirty nappies that are going into the landfill
is a huge option for the environmentally conscious consumer parent out there. You’re
the only one in this area. Melbourne, I think, only has one too.
service you’re providing right now is the only option for some parents. So,
thank you so much for extending your reach and recognising the environmental
impact you can make within families, but also especially day-care centres to
reduce the amount of plastic that they’re consuming. Because without someone
like you providing these services, there’s a lot less people that could even
think about doing it.
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.
CREDITS: Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange Produced by Jonny Puskas Theme Music by Joseph McDade
NOTE: This transcript has been edited for clarity.
KEY: T: Host Tammy Ven Dange R: Guest Royston Kent, Co-founder of B&C Plastics
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?
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.