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.
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.”
In this two-part series, I’m chatting with David Hodge, the Managing director of Plastic Forests based in Albury, Australia. David entered the plastic recycling business about ten years ago and his business created the first ever commercial process for cleaning contamination from recycled plastic films without water.
Today, the company is truly a circular recycler of industrial, agricultural and even consumer plastic waste, and we’ll explore how David and his team got here.
I hope you enjoy this two part episode of Plastics Revolution with David Hodge of Plastic Forests.
Companies, Organisations and Products Mentioned in this Podcast:
CEO @ The Refoundry – helping Mother Nature by making great products to reduce plastic waste | Host of Plastics Revolution podcast | Paddler of Boats
Full Transcript of Original Interview
This transcript has been modified for clarity.
T: Tammy Ven Dange, Host D: David Hodge, Managing Director of Plastic Forests
welcome to the show.
D: Thank you
very much for your time today. I’m looking forward to it.
T: So, tell
me more about Plastic Forests.
D: Plastic Forests started quite some time ago, like all overnight successes. It probably started more than 10 years ago when there was really two groups experimenting and trying to find ways to recycle contaminated plastic films. And the two groups met and formed Plastic Forests.
D: And so we
began commissioning the factory in 2011 after really experimenting at a lab
scale and then in a preproduction scale. The technologies that we thought would
work in dry cleaning, contaminated plastic films or soft flexible films and predominately
the early days were spent with agricultural films and also post consumer films.
D: And from
there, it was really just running into problem after problem. All the unknowns,
complete failures for quite a number of years of what we thought would work on
an industrial level just failed miserably. And then a number of the original
people that were involved sort of moved on to other things because the
innovation road is one that is not for the faint hearted.
D: I liked it when I heard Rupert Murdoch interviewed during the global financial crisis. And the reporter asked Rupert Murdoch, “How would you define success?” And he said that will be easy. He said, “It would be the last man standing.”
D: And really, that is in most journeys. So we persisted
with the dry cleaning technology. And, it took quite some time. And in many,
many millions of dollars later to have a stable, workable system where, in
essence, what we’re taking is really big pieces of plastic. And some of the
sizes of the plastic can be very large plastic bags where you put like a double
bed in – a very, very large, two meters by two meters type sized plastic bags
or even larger.
grain bags. Grain bags – that’s a plastic bag that weighs 200 kilos, almost 500
pounds, and getting that into a small five cent piece, nickel-sized piece of
plastic that you could then clean effectively on both sides and move it through
multiple machines going from a big piece of plastic to a small piece of plastic
and decontaminating it.
D: So, it moves pieces of plastic around at about 19,000 to 20,000 pieces per second from one machine to the next machine. And hence that was a lot of the very early problems – being able to move from one machine to the other effectively. Where traditionally people would whitewash plastic, and it’s fairly easy to move a trough of water containing plastic in it. It’s a lot harder to move plastic by air.
What are Plastic Films?
break this down a little bit for our listeners who may not be so familiar with
the plastic manufacturing process. Now, when you talk about film, you did
mention some examples of the kind of film that you work with. So, we’ve spoken
about the bags that a mattress may be in. We’ve also talked about a grain bag,
which is more industrial, but very heavy. Are there other types of products
that plastic film is used for?
definitely. People in the house – so that the post-consumer film, which
actually deals with an individual would be everything in your kitchen. So when
if you think about it, you’re going to make yourself a sandwich, the bread bag
is a plastic bag. If you then go and get some sliced ham, that’s in another
plastic bag. If you then go get muesli (granola) bar, that’s in a plastic bag.
If you have some crisps or chips, that’s in a plastic bag, a foil lined plastic
bag. So, all those types of plastics, they’re called soft plastics or
flexible plastics. And that’s at the consumer level what they would use in
D: Then at a business level, we would see it wrapping pallets. So, on trucks that contain cardboard boxes that were being forked on and off a truck. They use a lot of plastic shrink wrap – stretch wrap to stabilise the transport of pallets on trucks.
D: And then you’ve got plastic that’s used in food manufacturing. And again, lots of plastic bags that contain food to keep it safe so that it comes in contact with a surface which doesn’t contain any contamination at all, like in the chicken factory, for example.
Making Plastic Forests Products
T: So you
deal with both industrial and consumer good, soft plastics basically. And then
you’re processing them to some other product? Is that right?
D: Yeah. Where a vertically integrated business so we can take material that’s highly contaminated and then decontaminate it, clean it, and then we can either turn it into resin which I think it’s also referred to as noodles overseas – small chickpea like pieces of plastic. That’s generally the currency of the plastics industry.
D: That’s what you need to put in an extruder. An extruder is designed to melt that plastic and squeeze it through and to make various products, whether it’s a case for your iPhone or whether it’s another plastic bag or whether it’s a shampoo bottle. That all starts off as resin and then gets melted down into the object. So, we’re able to make the resin. Then what we’re also able to do is make a range of finished products.
D: We have a number of different production lines that do that, and we make a number of different products. We started off making sheet products or flat-based products, products like garden edging that were, say, three millimetres thick and then all the way through to underground electrical cable cover, which is a heavy plastic covering. It’s about six millimetres thick. I don’t know what that is in inches, do you?
T: It’s small.
D: A quarter of an inch, something like that for
our imperial listeners. And so that goes over the top of high value underground
assets, predominately high voltage electricity that’s buried underground in
conduits that might be buried 2 meters or 6 feet under the ground.
D: And then, 600 millimetres or two feet above that, there would be this heavy protection layer so that in five or 20 years time, if somebody was coming along with an excavator or a backhoe and they were then digging to put it into another channel or pipe, that they wouldn’t go straight into the high voltage of electricity cables and obviously kill themselves and then cause potential massive danger to other people around them.
Contamination in Plastic Films
you’re talking about the usage of these basically waste materials, I think a
lot of people are not aware of how difficult it is to actually prepare soft
plastic for reuse and you mentioned contaminants before. Can you talk about
some of the contaminants that you might see in the products or I guess it’s
basically plastic rubbish that you receive from various entities?
D: Yeah, it
is. We take on board various sources. Up until the last 12 months, we would
generally focussed on what we call large mono streams. So, a large mono stream
might be, say, in the agricultural sector what they call silage on, which is a
very thin plastic. It’s only about 10 10 microns think. It’s very, very thin,
and they use that to wrap hay bales.
D: And it’s
generally that light green, big bales that you see if you’re driving along a
country road and you look into a farmer’s paddock. You see these big green bales
that are about 3 or 4 feet in diameter. And that particular film contains
things like rocks and obviously hay and seeds. And, sometimes it can contain high
contamination like pieces of granite rock. Or it might have a piece of steel
implements or the like.
D: So, we’ve
got to decontaminate that, and then we are left with a pure almost mono stream.
So that’s all but the LLDPE linear low density polyethylene. And so that’s one
stream of contamination would be like bread bags. So, we work with a bread
manufacturer and all the unsold white bread comes back to the factory, and then
from there they debag it. The plastic bags are cut off by automatic machinery
on a conveyor belt and all those plastic bags are then bailed up and then sent
to our plant.
D: So, the
contamination that we get there is breadcrumbs, bread tags and highly printed
plastic film. It’s got a lot of ink on a bread bag advertising whatever bread
it is. So, it’s not generally contaminants, but a lot of ink. That makes a very
low-quality plastic resin because of the high ink flow on it, but that sits as
the types of contaminates that we’re dealing with there is removing the bread,
removing the tags.
D: Then there’s also the wet customers. So, we
have done a number – like McDonald’s supplies whether it be beef, chicken,
pork. And so when that when those bales come to us, they generally have a lot
of moisture. They might have some fat residues, blood residue, meat residue
that’s involved with a plastic film. So what we’re doing then is we’re
obviously removing that contamination. And then again, we’re left with a very
large mono strain. In that case of LDPE, this low-density polyethylene. And so
we can string stream that up.
The Challenge with Household Plastic
recently in the last twelve months, we’ve been working with a number of groups
to receive plastic films that have come from household. They’re generally a lot
of multilayered films. That we can’t process back into to resin to be then
blown back into film or what have you. So, we use those products, and we
introduce them and we mix them down and we blend them with other generally
polyethylene plastics to make bigger, thicker things.
D: So we brought out a product called a little Mini Wheel Stop. It’s about a foot long. It’s 300 millimetres, about two inches high. It’s got a double-sided industrial adhesive tape. It’s a mixed waste plastic film product, which is we believe, one of the first ones that you can put inside your house and in your garage or your carport.
D: You don’t
need any tools. You don’t need any rock bolts or electric power tools to
install it. You just peel off the double-sided industrial adhesive. You put it
in the correct position. And when you drive your car into the garage, it’s just
meant to be a little bump stop so you don’t hit the kids bikes in front of you
or touch your car up against the wall of the garage.
D: It’s a
nice, simple product, and it forms a practical purpose. It’s a good use of a
waste stream. It’s up cycling it into something that’s going to create some
value and last and not get burnt or turn into fuel or end up in landfill.
D: Yes. We work with the Redcycle program, and we also work with the Plastic Police program and they engage with us in a predominately consumer based films.
T: For those
people that aren’t aware, here in Australia, we have a soft plastic program
through a company called Redcycle, and they’ve partnered with at least two of
the major grocery chains here in Australia. And they allow people to bring
their soft plastic to those grocery stores, and then they collect them and then
pass them on to people like David here to turn them into something amazing.
The Dry Cleaning Process for Plastics
T: David, you just made that entire process sound
amazingly simple. And I know that you have some unique technology, and we kind
of went over it at the very, very beginning. But I think that for most people it’ll
just go over their heads.
talk about the dry cleaning process that you use to clean up this contamination
we just went through, because I know that’s really unique and it just sounds
too simple when you’re just talking about it, but I reckon it’s probably pretty
D: Yeah, we did start that a long time ago. And
the reason why is that people weren’t recycling contaminated plastic films. So
the plastic films that we were getting were predominantly post-production – edge
trim from a company that’s actually making the plastic. So, it’s clean and it’s
in a factory and it hasn’t been used. So that’s the post-production or it was
D: So again,
it was clean in the sense that it had wrapped a pallet, and it was on a truck,
and it might have a paper label on it. But the types of films we were looking at
– this post-consumer and post-food production and post-agricultural production
are highly contaminated. And what we realized was, is that if you’ve got 10
microns of plastic, you’ve got maybe 30 microns a contamination. So, you’ve
actually got more contamination than you’ve got plastic.
D: And what
would happen historically and the reason people wouldn’t recycle the
“flexables” is because, through the wet-wash system, you would overload a wet-wash
system. And there is just so much contamination. There is just so much material
coming off that it was ineffective because then you had so much water then to
remove from the plastic.
D: So plastic and water don’t go well together when you’re trying to make resin and you’ve actually got an end product. So we thought, well, what’s the water actually doing? The water is, in effect, carrying off or removing the contamination. So we thought, well, ask a better question, get a better answer. “Could we use air, heat, friction? A mechanical means to be able to do that effectively?” And that was the question, the journey that we’ve been on to do that effectively.
D: And we
can in the majority of cases. There’s some plastic contaminated plastic film we
can’t. For example, we’re working with a chicken manufacturer, and they had a
honey soy syrup that they would put onto the chicken fillets, and then they
would then sell that through a supermarket outlet – so very, very sticky and gluggy.
D: Our process didn’t work well for something like that, but it works extremely well for the bread bags, which is a dry contamination. It works extremely well with the agricultural because even though there’s moisture there – because the plastic films have been left outside in the paddocks, on the farms – it’s easy for us to deal with.
D: So, yes, our journey does sort of sound simple
if you say it quickly. But to do it in an industrial scale, what we do to have
a plant, and depending again, the type of plastic. Again “soft flexibles” are very hard to shear
and size. So, taking a big piece of plastic and making them small pieces of
plastic, what energy is required in that, what types of machines and shredders
and granulators and the right combination of those machines.
D: And that’s taken a lot of trial and error. But there’s other machinery manufacturers in Europe that after 10 years, everybody will come up with something. They’re able to supply people with off-the-shelf, dry cleaning type systems. It’s just that we were a little bit earlier to the party, and we sort of built up our own system.
T: David, it sounds still very complex in terms
of what you’re doing. And it’s great to know that in Australia we have options
now for soft plastics to be recycled properly.
Why Start a Waste to Product Company?
talk more about you, because as I’ve done tons of research overnight to try to
find out more about you and the company itself. I was blown away with the
amount of information and news articles and videos and things about the
company, but there wasn’t that much information about you now.
must be something in your background that made you passionate about waste
because I could see that you’ve started at least one other waste company or “waste
to product” company in the past. Tell us more about you in terms of why did you
decide to go down this line of business?
D: I suppose it all starts a little bit in your DNA in the sense that my father is Scottish. And so I think the Scots tend to be a pretty frugal nation or personality by nature. And in the early years, I suppose we weren’t rich. And so everything had to last a long way. So I sort of brought up on that “you eat everything that was put in front of you” and this sort of philosophy so you don’t waste things.
D: So, I suppose later on in life – we live by the water here in Sydney, Australia. And, I find it upsetting if you go swimming and you come across plastic bags, or you go swimming and there’s a chip packet or a bottle that floats past you. So, I suppose even in early days, (I was) picking up pieces of plastic and putting them in my board shorts. And then when you come back to the beach, you put them in the garbage bin where they’re meant to be. They’re not meant to be in the ocean floating around.
D: So, I suppose that, and then back in 2004, I met Mike. And Mike was really passionate about recycling waste from a farm perspective. Michael’s from the bush…
T: Who’s Mike?
D: Michael Wentworth. Mike’s absolutely keen in all the engineering side of things. He’s with me and with Plastic Forests. And he does a great job in doing the engineering. I’m not an engineer, and Mike’s not an engineer per say, but he’s a lot brighter than most of them. He comes from a mechanical background, and the way in which he thinks and looks and solves problems is brilliant.
D: So, we’re
a good combination in that regard. Where we’ve very much got the same ideals
and goals and drives, and we can communicate about them obviously the way the
mechanics of it works. But we’ve got different strengths in the business, and I
let Mike concentrate on his strengths and he let’s me concentrate on mine.
How did they fund Plastic Forests?
T: When you
talk about the amount of innovation and development for this business, it
sounds like it must have taken a while to get off the ground. I’m just
wondering, how did you fund this company?
D: Well, that’s me. And it’s been a lifetime of savings have been poured into it. And there are many millions of dollars have gone into it. We’ve been very fortunate where we’ve received co-funding from the New South Wales government Waste Less, Recycle More program. And that’s funding which has come from the collection of waste levy.
D: So here
in Sydney, Australia, I think it’s around AU$134 per tonne that you have to pay
if you’re sending product to landfill. And the New South Wales government
collects I think around AU$700m – $900m a year. That then goes into the
consolidated revenue, and a portion of that goes to run the Environmental
Protection Agency, and also amounts are set aside for co-funding of
D: It’s a wonderful program. And by having a higher total dumping fee, that makes it more attractive for businesses to recycle. So for example, in America and many other countries around the world, they have these incredibly low landfill disposal costs, US$15 a tonne. And recycling can’t work with those economics.
D: If you
look at Europe, they have very high landfill rates. They also have legislation
where you just can’t take certain types of waste to landfill at all. So
therefore, you are forced from a government perspective to recycle.
Eliminating the GST on Recycled Plastic
T: David, I was reading some of the articles that you’ve written or have commented on, and you also are proposing or maybe you’re just suggesting that government really think about this “Buy Australia” movement, which would help some of the problems that we’re having around the plastic industry.
T: You specifically spoke about not having a GST or our basic tax on any goods that are made here in Australia and suggested that would help some of the problems. Do you want to go into that? And then also think about any other policies that you think government might be able to help with the plastic waste issue here in Australia?
D: Yeah, I believe the government’s the biggest
business in town by definition that they sit across all the all the other
businesses. And I did propose that if we made recycled products. This applies
to any country in the world, because we’ve all got to deal with our own waste,
because we can’t export waste to third world countries. We can’t be economic bullies
on a global sphere.
D: And we
sort of say, well, we’re going send a million tonnes of plastic to some country
which doesn’t have their own infrastructure to deal with their own waste
properly. I just don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think it’s reasonable. And in
the end, if you’re in a schoolyard situation, you’d be called a bully for doing
D: I think
the world has realised that now because of the closure of China to seven
million tonnes of recyclables. And what we’re seeing is that the closure of
Vietnam and Malaysia and Indonesia and all these other countries. There’s just
so much waste. And I think what it’s done is just opened everybody’s eyes so
quickly to the problem that there is no way, and we have to deal with it.
D: So that’s a start obviously, but everybody’s got to look at reducing consumption of materials. They’ve got to look at using things which last more than once, and getting to buy a more permanent solution.
D: Like when you go shopping here in Australia now, when you go to a supermarket, you’re not issued with a single-use plastic bag anymore. The supermarkets and grocery stores are incentivising you really or penalise you to bring your own bag again and again and again. If you do need a bag, well, then you’ve got to pay AU$0.15 to buy each bag.
D: And those
bags generally are a more heavy duty, 35 micron plus plastic bag, which is
designed to last. The next time you come shopping, you can use that that heavy-duty
plastic bag over and over again rather than a 10 micron bag or an 8 micron bag
that you would only use once.
D: There are a range of incentives. Obviously
making something GST free would be from a “Recycled Landfill Diverted” (or) “Recycled
in Australia” type product that would assist enormously in selling those
products to the consumers here in Australia. And that’s sort of avoiding doing
things like putting tariffs.
D: Once you start putting a tariff on something – and in any great tariff war and things, saying that’s not going terribly well between America and China right now. So, I think we need to avoid that situation. I’ve had numerous conversations with politicians, and I think taking the GST off these types of products is going to be too hard, which is a little bit sad.
Proposed Tax Incentives to Buy Recycled Waste Products
D: So, one of my other proposals that I’ve made to our politicians in this waste and environment space is – Australia has a tax-deductible scheme and a tax-incentive scheme for the film industry. So if you make a motion picture film in Australia, if you spend AU$100, there’s three tiers: you get either AU$116 or AU$130 or AU$140 as a tax deduction.
D: And we
really need industrial solutions. So, if we have a look at the product mix that
Plastic Forests does, we do consumer-based products because we want people to
be engaged and filled with hope. We do industrial based products and we do
D: So, one
of the industrial products that we’re just releasing right now, it’s called
industrial dunnage. A lot of people don’t know what dunnage is. It’s very hard
to explain. So, a dunnage or a block or a pack spacer. And what this product
is, is that if you make a sheet-based product – so if you make drywall or you
might gyprock, they don’t traditionally put these on a timber pallet per say to
be transported around. (Instead), they just put a block or this pack space in
between the sheets of plasterboard or drywall and then a forklift can drive in
and lift it up.
we’ve done is, is that we’ve developed one of those that’s made from a waste
plastic mixed films. It will last 10 times longer than then a tree. And they
generally cut down pine trees for this, and they cut down billions of pine
trees. I saw a figure the other day from the US, from Texas and a recycler
there. Three to four billion trees a year go into packaging, transporting of
D With our products, with this I-90 plastic dunnage looks like an I-beam that will last so long and is weather-proof which is really good. But when I go up to a publicly listed, building materials manufacturer in Australia and I say, “How many of these do you buy a year?” And they go, “Well, we buy 2 million of those.” And these are very big numbers. But the problem is that they’re buying timber straight out of the mill at the lowest price and plastic, by its nature is a lot more expensive than cheap timber.
D: So, we
can be so efficient in our manufacturing, and I can have all these benefits. We
can sit down from an economic point of view.
But what going to really help them bring it over the line is if that company – if they spend a $1m buying this product, then they get a $1.3m tax deduction. What it means is that they’re going to be able to afford buying our product because of the tax deduction. And then what happens is that the Australian Tax Office has a full record of what everybody’s doing.
Why Not Rank Companies According to What
D: Then we can create this new public ladder, so to speak, that the ATO, the Australian Tax Office, can produce every year – these are the Top 100, the Top 1000 Companies around Australia that are purchasing locally made, locally sourced, manufactured, recycled plastic products. That whatever it was, plastic or whatever that was going to landfill has been diverted.
D: So, the beauty with that is, as we all know, if you’ve got the top 100 public companies, and you now have a new gold standard or matrix or a ladder, it gives the C-suite in these corporations something to aim for where they want to be better than their competitors or people can then start turning this into a competitive marketing advantage.
Rolling out Chief Sustainability
D: I was at a circularity conference in Melbourne the other day, and Australia Post now has a C-suite position, which is a Chief Sustainability Officer is now sitting next to the Chief Information Officer (and) the Chief Financial Officer. So, Australia Post is taking that position that seriously now. And I would like to see that really rolled out. And we need that in all these very large publicly listed corporations. And this would be a great matrix that could be reported upon each year publicly.
T: I totally
Government Procurement of Recycled Products
T: Have you
seen much traction in government at all in terms of their own purchasing power?
D: I have heard that, through a number of the
other plastic recyclers that have products that more council-orientated.
D: Replas/Repeat Plastics in Melbourne. They do a great job. They make fantastic products. They’ve been (doing it) a long, long time. And their manufacturing processes is great, their products are great and their marketing is great. They really are a gold standard globally on how you manufacture recycled plastic products. And they’re doing incredibly well with the infrastructure and so are the other guys.
D: When I
mean infrastructure, I mean infrastructure into council procurement. I think we
need to see more of that at a state government level. But don’t forget, it’s
also very hard because it’s not the government’s role or job to design new
D: That’s what Plastic Forest’s role is. That’s what Repeat Plastics (now Replas) role is. We’ve got to make the products. We’ve got to make sure they fit for purpose. We’ve got to be able to produce them at the best economical or the lowest cost, because that’s what manufacturing is about. You want to produce a product fit for purpose at the lowest price. And that’s what really the industrial warfare is when you think about it.
D: If I can make my cars, faster, better, cheaper than you can and then I market them better – that’s the end point of it, I’ll have a better business. So, that’s what we’re trying to do as well. I mean, you can’t just live on green dollars and green welfare.
Big Stick or Carrot Policy Approach
D:. It is
required and needed and pushed – and we’re talking about the levers of
government. The government, like we’ve seen in Europe where they’ve sort of
said if you don’t have recycled content packaging, we’re going to put a 30% tax
on your product. So that’s a big stick approach.
D: So, governments
can take either a big stick approach or they can be a carrot approach. So
obviously, that tax deductibility that I was talking about – that’s a carrot
approach as opposed to getting up there and mandating. But I think it’s not just
government. I think product stewardship programs – there’s quite a number of
those and they work well.
D: We’ve got here in Australia the container deposit system in many states. And I think South Australia was the first state in the world 40 odd years ago that put (I think) 10 cents on a bottle of soda or a bottle of soft drink, and when you returned it, you got a 10 cent rebate for it. So, we’re seeing that sort of roll out across Australia, and that works well.
D: We see it with the Drummuster Program, which is an agricultural program where the suppliers of agricultural chemicals got together and formed a group and they all contribute X cents per litre. And once the farmers buy the chemicals or the washing liquids and things that they would use on their farms, that they’re taken back to a collection point where they’ve already been rinsed. The collection point is paid to manage it. The collector come, he’s paid to manage it, and then the recycler is given a rebate fee to recycle it. So, all those systems work when it’s paid for upfront.
D: We’ve got
quite a number of systems right now where what happens is that the farmers are
left with 10 tonnes of plastic films. There’s no infrastructure built. There’s
no where to take it. There’s no way to process it. And so because there’s no
economic value in it. So we’ve just got to make sure that these stewardship
programs are designed well.
There’s quite a number of stewardship programs and they all work. And I think we need to have that with flexible films as well.
What’s feedstock waste does Plastic Forests use today?
T: For your
own business, David. What percentage of the feedstock waste that you bring into
your company to make other things is from industrial versus consumer or even
agriculture for that matter?
D: Well, it’s been changing. It was predominantly
food manufacturers and agriculture. Now we’re seeing more post-industrial
agriculture. And I suppose the fastest growing segment is the consumer segment
working with the Redcycle and others to bring in these consumer plastics.
D: And what Plastic Forests is really doing is
back ending those programs and partnering with those programs where they’re
running collections. They’re running training. They’re running that consumer
engagement, and Plastic Forests’ role is to take those plastics and to turn
them into usable upcycled products.
What is Plastic Forests making?
T: And so on the other side of the supply chain,
what percentage of your own products are either feedstock pellets or industrial
type products or for the end user consumer?
D: We’ve taken a real strategic change about 12 months ago, and that was because with Operation National Sword from China and the closing of China, it created a lot of upheaval in the recycling space. It created a lot of upheaval in the plastics industry and a lot of people were vertically integrated.
D: So, we really
took a move away from just making basic resin feedstock. It’s a commodity item.
It’s just like buying petrol or gasoline. When you drive down the road, you
generally go into the garage which has got the least cost petrol. And that’s
what happens with resin.
D: And so
with Asia being on Australia’s doorstep, they have much lower energy costs.
They’re probably 70% lower than Australia, much lower labour costs – probably
80% less in Australia. And then you’re looking at making a commodity item. So,
we decided not to do that.
D: So, we
were making resin. We still do a little bit. The absolute majority of it we use
ourselves now, and we’ve moved into that. And my aim would be 100% end product
manufacturer now because that’s the place where you can create the most value,
because every time you’re touching it, you’re upcycling it from resin into garden
edging, garden pegs or root barrier or the Mini Wheel Stop.
D: All sorts of products that we’re developing up for consumer engagement allows us to create more margin, and that margin is what we need in a high cost manufacturing environment that Australia is.
T: Yeah, I
looked at that myself for my own products, and I realised that if I was going
to make any kind of product, how much larger the margin needed to be to justify
the cost of manufacturing here in Australia as well as using recycled plastics.
So, I totally understand where you’re coming from.
talk about the future a little bit. What kind of plans do you have in progress
or perhaps things you might want to give us some sort of a hint about? What are
the plans for a Plastic Forests?
D: What we’re trying to do is we’ve built this
enormous plant. We call it a super site. It’s on five acres – around 20,000
square meters with about 6,500 square metres of buildings with a lot of high
voltage power there. It was a big industrial factory back in the 1970s. So, one
of the main buildings is quite old. But, it’s just a big shed for us to do what
we want to do in it.
D: So, we’ve
got a number of production lines. We’ve got a drycleaning line. We’ve got one
sort of resin manufacturing line. We’ve got another project to put another one in.
We got one we call Our Little Sheet Line, which is what we’ve been using since
D: And then
we’re very fortunate again with the help of government assistance to Plastics Forests.
We put a project together with the New South Wales EPA, and we’ve got a very
large sheet line. This came out of (what) was supplying plastic fuel tanks to
the Ford Corporation in Melbourne, but the motor industry in Australia shut
down in 2017 due to obviously the high cost of manufacturing that we have here
D: And we’re very fortunate that the company that owned that very large production line – so sits on around 600 odd square metres. It’s a big bit of equipment and it took eight, big double trucks to bring from Melbourne up to Albury. So the factory is located on the east coast of Australia in between Sydney and Melbourne on the major transport route. And so that line’s been commissioned up and that will make a range of larger, thicker (products). It’s a multilayered machine, so it can make very complex high value plastic sheeting. So we plan to bring that on line next year.
D: Then that will make Marine ply(wood) substitutes. So, rather than using timber for marine ply, it will do the underground electric cable cover and make a range of other sheet products, hoarding products. Hoarding is what goes around a building. So, we’ve got that and also more consumer engagement products. It is what we want to work on because we do like that consumer engagement.
It’s not recycled until it’s made into
D: There’s a lot of people feeling very hopeless. And if you have a look at the essence of recycling, we feel pretty guilty in our modern age, and we feel some form of relief of that guilt when we put it in a recycling bin and wheel that recycling bin out each week. And we think, “Well, at least that’s going for some good.”
D: And I think where people become very disillusioned recently is that it’s taken a generation to train everybody to do that (recycling). And that’s what we must do. But we’ve got to support that through. And whilst economically it’s been the best thing to export it to another country which can process it cheaper. Now that we can’t export it away, we realise that, “Hey, look, we all want to do this. We all want to recycle.” Ninety percentage plus of population wants to recycle.
D: We now
need to have that infrastructure here locally. And most importantly, we’ve
got to buy recycled content products. If we don’t buy it – when you talk
about my plans for Plastic Forests, we can have the biggest and best, the
We can have millions of dollars worth of equipment, but if nobody buys what we make because it might be 5% more, 10% more, whatever the price is from whatever product range it is, than obviously we won’t be in business.
Keep Plastic as Plastic
D: That’s the hard, hard cold fact why the waste industry should have a look at them – why they’re not spending tens of millions of dollars building recycling plants in Australia. While some of these waste companies have plastic recycling plants in Europe and other countries. They’re not building any of those in Australia. They’re really on this pathway and this commitment of waste to energy.
D: And I’m pretty fearful that the amount of push in the flow from the industry for easy solutions will sort of interrupt the waste hierarchy where we’re all trying to obviously reduce, reuse, but then recycle and repurpose. I think that there’s going to be a fairly strong push into the waste to energy space as the quick fix, and I hope that doesn’t happen.
D: But I’m sort of seeing signs that that’s what is happening. And I think we need to make sure that there is enough legislation to protect the plastics and to protect these other materials from ending up in the fire. Because, look, thermal recovery, waste to energy – it has a place. But it’s the last stop. It’s not the first stop for convenience and economics. It should be made the last stop.
T: Why do you think it should be the last stop?
D: That should be the last stop? Because, if you have a look at it – just take plastics for example. That’s what we’re experts in. You’re talking about a billion dollars plus to make a plastics cracker like Shell’s building one in America I think up in Pennsylvania right now. And these are enormous. It’s going to make 1.6 million tons of new virgin plastic. It costs a lot of money to make plastic.
D: If you
look at virgin plastic, it’s a couple of thousand dollars a ton. And, we might
then process it into a plastic bag, and then it comes $4000 a metric ton
equivalent. And then:
We use it for five or 10 or 20 minutes or a week in wrapping up a piece of food. So, you’ve now got an item which has gone from $4000 dollars worth of value to minus $300 dollars worth of value, and it’s only because it’s in the wrong place.
D: So what
we’ve got to do is we’ve got to make sure that the resource is not a
misallocated resource. It’s still a resource. We paid for it. And just because
we’re finished with it doesn’t mean it’s lost its value.
D: And so what we’re trying to do, and again at it’s core at Plastic Forest – how do we repurpose it? How do we bring that value back? That initial high value? Plastics is enormously convenient. It’s an enormously wonderful product. We can’t live in our 21st century without it. It’s in our iPhone. It’s in our toothbrush. It’s in our cars. Plastic is not going away. So therefore, what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to look at how we handle it responsibly.
D: I say to
people all the time,
Just imagine if the Romans had invented plastic. And what would the place look like now two thousand years later with the amount of irresponsible (behaviour). We’ve been irresponsible really within one generation by what we’ve done.
D: So really,
the best thing that China has done for the globe has given everybody a big “eyes
wide open” event where we’ve gone, “Hold on a minute. We just can’t send it
away. We can’t.”
D: And the
petroleum industry really needs to take a long, hard look at the economics of
producing so much plastic. The problem we’ve got right now is that we’ve got a
finite resource – oil. We’re not rediscovering or replacing it. I believe we’ve
reached peak oil where we’re not finding anymore, producing anymore of it.
D: And with
America’s been on this fracking frenzy for 10 years. They’ve spent over US$180
billion. The issue that we’ve got today in the US is that a barrel of oil’s US$50
or US$60 US dollars, but it costs US$90 to US$150 to frack a barrel of oil. So
therefore, the only way that the petroleum companies can recover or create any
value to keep the economics of it going is to build these massive virgin
plastic factories and just keep producing this.
D: Like the
world uses around 300 million tons of plastic every year. And right now,
there’s another 140 million tons of virgin plastic factories being built. So,
there’s a 40% percent increase in our plastic production. And really, we
should be winding it all back. We should be saying this is a limited resource. We’re
not going to keep finding oil wells. They’re running out of head pressure,
which means they’re running out of oil under the ground.
D: We’ve got
all this multi directional drilling and this is all really just contributing to
our attitude as people on the planet that we’ve been living a limitless life
in a world that’s got limited resources. And that equation just does not
add up once everything’s gone in that magical hole in the ground. There’s
nothing left in that magical hole anymore, and yet, we’re going to keep living.
And it’s sort of like, we’ve got our children and our children’s children and really
what we’re doing is we’re stealing from the people we love most, which is
D: If you think
what we do as parents and how much energy we put into our kids, and we’re
putting all this energy and all this care and all this love and attention into
them, but we’re destroying where they’re going to live. And that is why we’ve
all got to stop. And we’re all going to pause, and we’ve all got to
It’s not about being green and being a tree hugger. It’s about being responsible. We can all do that, and we can all take tiny steps, big steps, corporate steps, government steps. We’ve all got to be going the right way because we’re all sort of live on this beautiful blue green planet. And there is no Planet B.
T: David, based on what you just said there, I
completely agree with that, and I think most people do agree about the challenges
that we do have in plastic. I like your mission statement where you said your
goal is to “keep plastic as plastic at its highest level, and in the process
make the world a better place.” It is probably a good way to summarise what you
Impact – Real Circular Space
T: I’m wondering with Plastic Forests, what kind of impact would you like to see with the company?
D: I’d like to see products that we make reachable to everybody. We’re talking with a number of national retailers now. I would like to see them engaged with the products that we’re making so that the people can feel a sense of hope and purpose and the reality is that they can. And I think the large corporates can use that as part of their communications.
D: So, for the retailers, that would be great. We’re working with a number of very large Australian public companies. And what we’re doing, and what we’re talking and advising them and helping them with this is to create a sustainable competitive marketing advantage by being the first one into the space to look at the circularity.
D: One of their building materials companies we’re working with is CSR Building Materials, and they have a division called Monier, and Monier make roof tiles. They’re concrete roof tiles and terracotta roof tiles. And once they’re made at the factory, they then have a large plastic heat-shrink hood to put on them. They go out to the building site and then obviously they’re putting the roof on, and at the end of it there’s these very large plastic bags. And if you’ve ordered 20 pallets, there these 20 large plastic bags.
D: So what CSR Monier are is doing there, is that they’re taking those plastic bags back. They’re baling up those plastic bags, and then they come into Plastic Forests. Then, we’re cleaning them and we’re turning them back into this plastic donnage – plastic pack spacers that we’re making. And then CSR is purchasing that, and it’s going back into other building material divisions and replacing virgin timber. So, this is a wonderful example of circularity.
D: What I
want is for them to step forward in building materials space and get into it, and
to be seen as doing the right thing. And it’s one of those things that it’s a
self-perpetuating thing that if people sort of say, “Well. my customers are
asking for it.”
D: Actually that’s the way it started with Monier. The customers started asking for it. They said, “Look, you’re sending us these wonderful building material products, but it’s coming with all this packaging.” And they said, “Well, we can’t reduce packaging, otherwise the product will get damaged. But what we’ll do is we’ll come pick up our packaging. We will offer you that as a value-added service.” And that engagement – that’s fantastic.
really trying to be an enabler and obviously offer advice. I mean, it’s not CSR’s
job to be a plastic recycler. They’ve got to come to us. It’s not their job to
think of products, but we can help them with ways in which to manage the
collections, what type of equipment they need. And then moving forward, assisting
them with their corporate sustainable goals. What other areas, what other
divisions, where can we help? What else can we make this engagement? And that’s
what I find enormously exciting.
D: So I see
Plastic Forests moving into what I call the real circular space. I’ve
got another saying, and that is that we’re professional doers not
professional talkers. There are so many people talking about green this and
green that and recycle this and circularity that.
The way we’re doing it, we’re real in what
we’re producing, and that’s fun and fulfilling. And it’s creates an enormous
amount of reward for us personally. And that’s what motivates us all to do it.
Message for our Listeners
Do you have anything you want to say to our listeners?
D: I think the big thing there is that,
Keep Recycling. Reduce the amount – when you go to the shops. Have a look at what you are actually buying because your dollars speak volumes.
D: If there were two products on the shelf and one was made from recycled and one was made from virgin material. And if the retailer only saw the one with recycled content selling and the other one just sat on the shelf – the retailer will send the message back to that producer and that producer won’t be making it.
The dollars we spend is really the how we vote.
D:So I would say to you or to everybody to make sure they reduce first, look where they spend and actively look at what you can purchase that’s made out of recycled materials. I say that again, if we’re producing in Australia- 103 kilos. So that’s almost 240 pounds a year of plastic per person.
D: So the question – have I bought 100 kilos this year of recycled plastic products? I’ve got a household with five in my house here. That’s 500 kilos. So that’s 1100 pounds of plastic. Am I buying 1100 pounds of recycled plastic products a year? The answer to that is no, I’m not. And so if I’m not, very few other people are as well. And so, we’ve got to actively look at ways.
D: And that’s why the government is so important with the infrastructure. But as individuals, don’t leave it up to the government. The government there – they’ve got to do their bit and they’re trying hard. And we’ve got to put pressure on government as individuals for them to behave and to do our wishes.
public servants – the politicians have been elected by us. They’re in power
there to represent us. So, we’ve got to make sure we give them the message of
what we want, not what they want. Or sometimes, unfortunately, the world works
in the best interests of the dollar and not necessarily of the people.
D: But I
think the people really need to stay on the politicians for them to continue to
help and assist the industry and to actively engage and not give up hope to move
forward and doing the best we can as individuals.
T: So, keep recycling and when there is a recycled product option – to consider that first.
D: Absolutely. And this sort of thing might be a
little bit extra, but it’s worth it because if we if we don’t – the alternative
is terrible. Sydney’s facing a problem
where all of our landfills are filling up. They’ve all got a limited life of
only X number of years left.
D: I mean,
one of the world’s biggest cities, Mexico City, many years ago ran out of
landfill. There were 20 million people or plus living in Mexico City, and they
were trucking their waste there – 5000 trucks a day travelling 100 miles (160
kilometres) to take their waste out of Mexico City.
D: And so, again, we have to pause and think, “Why are we doing what we’re doing? Why are we buying what we’re buying? Do we really need that new thing? Can we buy a secondhand thing?” I think it leads into this whole area that:
Manufactures historically have made our consumables only last for a short period of time so that we would then go buy another one in one year or two or three years. The same with fashion.
we’ve got to have the latest fashion, and we’ve got to keep changing fashion
all the time. I think we’ve just got to slow that down a bit and look at the
value and look at what our parents or grandparents did. They just didn’t go.
They bought one refrigerator, and they had their refrigerator for life. They
didn’t consume as much. And I think that in this modern age, we’ve been led to
believe that if we consume and consume and consume, that will then be happy.
And I think we’re finding out the reality is that’s not the case.
How to reach David and Plastics Forests
T: David, last question. How could people reach
you and Plastic Forests if they want to know more about your company and even
thank you for that. If they want to know a little bit more about me from a
professional point of view, I’m on LinkedIn and I’m
pretty active on Linkedin. And if I find some interesting articles, I don’t
over bomb people on that. I’ll post them there.
D: If it’s consumers, we’ve got a website which is www.plasticforests.com.au, and we’ve got an online shop there as well. So, if people want to buy recycled products, they can go there. Or we’ve got other pages. They have information in relation to the types of plastics that we recycle. There’s a whole range of information there online.
T: Do you do
any private label work for other businesses?
D: No, we
don’t. But if somebody approaches us with a particular product that they would
like manufactured, we would engage in a conversation.
T: Okay. So,
I will put all those contact details into the show notes so people can find you
and find Plastic Forests.
thank you so much for your passion around waste management, waste reduction,
making sure plastic retains as a valuable resource as it is, but used in a
higher capacity rather than turned into landfill or perhaps energy. Thank you
for the work that you’re doing with governments to talk about policy changes
and things that they can do to enable a better recycling process. Thank you for
taking waste that really, very few manufacturers will take and can process – to
turn it into something valuable. So, we really appreciate the work you’re doing
for our community and in our environment too.
D: Thank you
very much for your time today. And we will “keep on keeping on,” as they say.
In this 2-part series, I chat with Mark Yates, the founder of Repeat Plastics, now called Replas in one of the most educational and insightful shows we’ve done yet involving the plastics industry.
Mark unintentionally entered the recycled plastics business 28 years ago when he decided to make something with the plastic packaging waste that was being generated in his father’s gum factory.
Today, Mark’s company is one of the very
few in Australia that makes products from mixed plastic waste. If you ever wanted to know what happens to
the soft plastic that the grocery stores collect, this is the show for you.
I hope you enjoy this two-part episode of Plastics Revolution with Mark Yates from Replas.
Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange Produced by Jonny Puskas Theme Music by Joseph McDade
All Rights Reserved 2019
T: Host Tammy Ven Dange M: Guest Mark Yates, Founder of Repeat Plastics (now Replas)
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
T: Mark, welcome to the show.
M: Thank you.
T: Thank you for joining me. I’ve actually been interested in your company and the work that you’ve been doing since I found out that you were a partner with Redcycle. A lot of people here who might be listening may not be from Australia or might not be familiar with the Redcycle program. Could you talk to us about what that is?
The Redcycle Program
M: Okay. So years ago, and I don’t know how many years ago – it would be eight or nine years ago, a lady by the name of Liz Kasell came to us with a harebrained scheme of collecting all the green bags, the polyprop – the woven polyprop bags – the carry bags that were handed out. And so she went to Coles and developed a system to grab those bags back in a one-off type collection.
M: So her
first venture into that area, I’d say, was at the front of your Coles
supermarkets. There was a supermarket market trolley with a great big green bag
draped over it. And so it was to encourage people to bring their broken bags
back. And we got that material, and it only produced sort of five or six
tonnes. But that’s a hell of a lot of bags. We got that material and made
products out of it.
M: She then
started to push our products into schools and into areas because she could see
the synergy between the education of young people and getting them to learn to
recycle. And the spin off with that would be they’d hopefully educate their
parents. So, she worked on a group of products that were well usable in schools
as she pushed her products into schools. And then they were returnable into
these collection systems. And it really grew from there. So she worked with
that one collection with the supermarkets that worked well.
love that. The supermarkets pushed Liz it to go further, to give them the
answer they needed, which was to be able to put “recyclable” on their
packaging, which is a bit of a side story.
M: I think
there is a regulation or a form of governance that to be able to put recyclable
on your packaging, 86% of the country has to be within so many kilometres of a
collection point. So, to legally put recyclable on something. It has to be recyclable,
which makes sense. Doesn’t it?
there, the supermarkets expanded, kept pushing Lizo to increase her presence
and Liz set up the soft plastics collections with Coles first up, and now it’s
with Coles and Woolworths right across Australia. She’s holding back on any
more supermarkets at the moment because like every attempt at recycling in the
past, the emphasis has been on collection and not on what to do with it. So,
she can see that at the moment, she’s got a lot of plastic .But a lot of
projects she’s been working on over the years is starting to come through to
really use bulk amounts of that plastic.
T: So Liz came to you with a material, basically.
And was she purchasing those products from you or were you just taking the material
and using it for your own products?
M: The idea was to supply us with the material, yes. And it was actually quite a good material that was sought after by us. It helped a lot of the poorer materials we got work better. But she wanted the whole system. She wanted it from front to end. So she’d also go out and push our products into schools and councils and the like or any partners that she had in in the program.
The Truth About Recycling
M: It is such a good idea. Now every supermarket or every Coles and Woolworths has a collection point and a lot of them – nearly all of them have one of their products in the front of the supermarket. So you get the connection. If I put this in here, it turns into that. And that’s what’s missing with a lot of recycling.
M: When you put your stuff in your yellow lid in at the front of your house, there is no connection. It goes in that and it’s gone. And that no connection or collection has is come back to bite us in the bum, hasn’t it? It’s once it goes in that bin it’s gone, it’s recycled. Well unfortunately, no.
T: And now we’ve had a lot of videos or newscasts recently that have shown a lot of mixed plastic going overseas or it actually going to landfill.
Working with Mixed Plastics
T: Let’s go back a little bit now because I thought it was important to talk about how we’ve kind of met because I was interested in your company, because there’s not many manufacturers that deal with soft plastics for recycling. I’m not sure – is there even maybe one other one I’m thinking about here in Australia?
M: There’s a
few that deal with soft plastics, but they’re all single polymer. So, there’s a
few that recycle ag (agriculture) film, and add it back to films, which is a
hard one. There’s not a lot in this game. The “rigids” are pretty easy. The
machinery is pretty simple to chop up.
T: So that’s the hard plastic (rigids).
M: Yeah, your laundry detergent bottles and the like.
T: So as far as mix plastic go, there’s really not many that would be doing what you’re doing?
M: There’s a handful if that.
How did he get into the Recycled Plastics Industry?
T: So let’s go back to how you got into the industry, because I think that this will explain a lot about why Liz would pick you. And that is important too, because for those people that are not from Australia, this is a significant program within the two largest grocery store (chains) in Australia. So, I think it’s important to go back to this process about why she picked you, and why you said yes. But I reckon it has to do with your past. So how did you get into the recycled plastics industry?
M: That’s a very good question. I used to work
throughout Asia a lot when I was (young). I did an electrical fitting
apprenticeship. So the first job out of my apprenticeship was commissioning
environmentally friendly heat treatment plants all over all over the world, but
mainly in Asia.
M: So I had to project manage the installation of
these plants and the commissioning and it was basically fly out on a Monday,
fly home on a Friday night, spend the weekend at home and then out again. So
being young, and I was gonna say single, but my wife would kill me for that.
Just being young and wanting to see the world or having a taste of seeing the
world. I really enjoyed that for a while. But like any job like that, whoever’s
done that sort of work, it’s very tiring and very hard.
M: So I
needed something to do in Australia. That’s basically it. So my father owned a
rubber manufacturing company, which was a dying industry, just like the auto
industry at the moment. But, my dad had a small factory, and he let me use as a
corner of a small factory and pushed me towards doing something with the
plastic waste he generated.
M: He had some customers that had some products that could possibly be made out of recycled plastic. So I fooled around with some of his equipment and some ideas that I’d had – a very simple idea. Probably the biggest asset was not knowing anything about plastics – not even knowing they were recyclable at the start.
M: So the first plastics I got, I found an old oven on hard rubbish and dragged that into the factory and heated the plastics up in an oven on a tray, and just like you see on YouTube now with a lot of the project stuff that’s brilliant out there. It simplifies it down to the Nth Degree. And that’s how it started. Very simple. Melting plastic in an oven, pushing it into a shape and then working from there and then trying different plastics.
M: And eventually, I knew that an oven wasn’t quite
good enough to manufacture from. So I went to a plastics company and said, “I
know they make such a machine.” I didn’t know the name of it. “I need to melt
plastics.” So, they put me on the path to buy an extruder, which was a huge
investment back then – a very old extruder that just happened to work straight
away, which was a great start.
T: What were
the first products that you made from your recycled rubber?
M: It was
recycled plastic that was wrapped around the rubber.
T: Oh, OK. So
was it wasn’t even the actual product? It was packaging.
M: It’s packaging way back then. The first product we made was a foot, an up-stand for asbestos removal bin. So it was just a lump of plastic that had to be shiny, that had to hold a great big steel bin off the ground. And so there were these feet and they’d throw the asbestos in this plastic lined bin, close it all up, put the steel lid on, spray everything with the sticky tacky substance and then dump the whole lot down the tip.
M: I can
remember – I got the dye sorted and I
got the first order. It was for a couple of thousand units, and I started
working in an afternoon and 30 hours later I turned the machine off. I worked
straight through to get the order done. I was that excited to get the order
done. Shipped the product. Customer was happy and the first cheque I ever
T: Oh no!
M: I didn’t
get any money for the first product. So possibly
I should have quit then, but I’m glad I didn’t.
T: So that was a different kind of machine than most of things you’re doing now? They’re injection moulding, aren’t they?
M: They’re a combination. So, we use all those stupid ideas from the start combined them to be able to handle the rubbish plastics we use, the mix polymers, the contaminants and everything and get a reasonably good product, a product that’s fit for use at the end.
T: Oh, okay.
So, because you’re processing the waste, you’re using the extrusion process to
create the feedstock basically for the other products? Is that right?
there’s a few processes. We went along that the path that we needed to engineer
the mixes of the plastics to suit the end product. A lot of people spruike that
you can throw anything in and we can make a quality product. Well, you can
throw anything in and you’ll get an anything product. And for some products
M: Like a wheelstop
that sits in a car park, that doesn’t have to be that strong. It’s actually got
to be fairly soft and malleable. It’s held down. It’s not going to bend in the
sun too much. So a product like that can handle total mixes of anything, you
know, and it can be a lot of soft plastics or a lot of rigids or whatever.
M: But we went along the path. We’d process to a minimal point. So, we wouldn’t put too much energy in the front end. We’d densify the material in various forms, and then we’d mix. So, we’d get different supplies that we knew vaguely what they were and knew their characteristics and then we’d mix them to suit.
M: So it’s like if we make a park bench, it’s not going to bend in the sun, which was a problem in the past. There used to be black benches out there, and they’d be very expensive – some of the first ones. And you’d go along a month later, they’d all be bent and look terrible.
T: I’m looking around your office here and you have bollards and other things. I mean, when you’re dealing with the consistency issue of mixed plastics, meaning that you can get just about anything. I mean, I saw downstairs when we were going through, you had different bails. So you can control what percentage of what, but we also looked at some of those plastic bundles and some of them had wires sticking out of them and such.
T: I don’t know how you can possibly control your quality process when you’re not really sure what you’re getting at the end. I mean, that’s the number one reason why manufacturers have told me up to this point they don’t like working with recycled plastic.
M: Yeah. You’re spot on there. We solve the quality problems by blending. So, if we’ve got what we’d call a bad mix, a very wide ranging mix, we’d only add that at a certain percentage to our end product. We’d also add other plastics that have strong characteristics that bind all the bad stuff together. But probably the biggest help was we design the machines to suit the rubbish plastics.
M: So we just design it differently. We didn’t go along standard injection moulding procedures because we didn’t know them. I didn’t know how to run an injection moulder. Actually, I still have trouble running an injection moulder. We build the machines ourselves. We put our own software in them. We put a Simplified Operating Systems on them, and it works.
T: So that’s interesting because we’re talking
about someone who was experimenting from the very beginning with your oven,
with wrapping or packaging, and creating your first product. You’re still doing
that today, like 20 something years later.
M: I wish I could get some of the ideas out of my head that I still have. That’s the frustrating bit. It does hold you back a lot. We’ve got to run a business. It’s gotta to be sustainable in every sense of the word. We’ve got over 50 employees. So we have to come up with their wages every week. That’s the number one priority. We have to make money. It sounds wrong, but that’s the way we’re here. And that’s the way we’ve stayed here. Whereas a lot of people in the past have come and gone.
T: Well, I think that’s the big thing about any sustainable environmental focus. There’s a lot of social enterprises out there that aren’t making it. And you’re a company that’s only working with recycled plastic. Is it all from Australia?
Let’s talk about dirty nappies
M: It is all from Australia. Although we have
played with imported stuff that we couldn’t get in Australia with a view to
starting up in Australia like disposable nappies – dirty, disposable, nappies.
T: I feel like going down that rabbit hole right
M: It is a
rabbit hole. Believe me.
T: When we
talk about disposable nappies or diapers, that’s a big push right now. In fact,
probably two weeks ago I went to a forum where they were talking about trying
to get people to go back to cloth nappies because of this environmental issue, and
the number of diapers or nappies that a child will go through in their time.
Are you actually working on something like that that you’re happy to share?
M: I can share a little bit. It is a rabbit hole. It’s a pet (peeve) ever since having kids myself – Kids of my own and seeing the absolute staggering amount of waste that comes from disposable nappies. Although we did have a cloth nappy service. So they dropped them off and picked them up, which was a bit of a luxury.
M: I’ve followed a company, a Canadian company
that had set up plants around the world, and they seem to always get them 90% right.
They had one set up that I visited in the Netherlands there that used to do
mainly hospital waste. So it used to process ten tonnes an hour of diapers and incontinence
nappies. I worked with them to get some of their finished product out here to
trial it. And it worked great, actually worked really well in our process.
worked with a company in Melbourne called My Planet, which was around 12 years
ago. They actually started up, got the process running here in Melbourne, and
then the company got bought out and it wasn’t core business. So, the company
that bought them out shut it down.
M: Now, there’s another one recently, probably five years ago I called, Relive It. They won an award, got some money or got together some money, got rights to another process, the same Canadian company’s process and tried to start up here. They nearly made it, but I think they failed because they were trying to go too big, too quick. They trying to generate tens of millions of dollars to set up a plant and couldn’t quite get it there.
M: And now
there’s someone in that space now with a technology from Italy. It’s actually
in conjunction with – I don’t think I’m telling stories out of school here – it’s Proctor and Gamble and an Italian family
have got together to develop a process.
M: And it’s
not rocket science. We’ve been washing cloth nappies. It’s the same way. You
just wash it and you separate everything at the end. And if you can separate
the plastic, separate from the pulp, separate the super absorbent polymer
that’s in nappies nowadays – you’re on a winner. You’ve just got to do it in a
model that works that you can make money and be there for the long run. So
watch this space. It’s quite exciting.
T: I think there’s a lot of people that will be very excited about this. It is a moral dilemma for people that are trying to reduce their plastic consumption and every couple of hours are having to take a dirty nappy off. So, I think a lot of people would be very interested.
Supply versus Demand for Mixed Plastics
T: The question
I have then is – because most the products that I’ve seen here have been
largely outdoor type products or industrial type products. Australia’s a fairly
small marketplace compared to some places. And with the environmental interests
that a lot of people have now, more and more people are using those bins at the
supermarkets to put in their single use plastic. How are you doing in terms of
trying to match the supply that you’re receiving of all these various
materials, even potentially nappies and being able to sell something on the
back end of it?
M: Yeah, it’s a good observation. It’s not working at the moment. It’s changed so dramatically over the last 18 months. We’ve gone from having to employ probably around 30% to 35% of our staff to get out there and sell the product to now not being able to make enough product and build equipment quick enough to meet the demand. So…
It’s really spinning around now that people understood that there’s more to recycling than just lifting that yellow lid in and putting stuff in the recycling bin.
M: An announcement today was – lots of councils got together, and I think it was in South Australia – I’m not 100 percent sure of this one. But they’ve brought in another procurement policy to really hammer home they’ve got to buy recycled. And that is the answer. And that will give hope for start-ups and other people that they can afford to invest in this industry because it’s not a real easy or cheap industry to invest into. Some of the capital costs for equipment are phenomenal.
Plastic Railway Sleepers
M: But actually there’s a lot more. There’s a big light at the end of the tunnel now, and there’s some huge projects that are just coming to fruition, like the plastic railway sleepers, that have been out in the States for the last 15 years or more than that. We developed one here 17 years ago, which got passed. They were developing them in the UK and the States at the same time. And the States has been making them for that long and putting them in track. We’re a bit slow over here. We didn’t realize. But a product like that will soak up thousands of tonnes of material, which we need to soak up tens of thousands of tonnes.
Plastics to Roads Projects
other ventures starting up at the moment, like the plastics to roads, which is
a which is a great one if it’s done right. There’s a few people around or a few
companies around that are just throwing plastics into roads, and it’ll become
an aboveground landfill. It doesn’t,actually increase the lifespan of the road.
So it’s it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
M: But there are companies – can I mentioned
companies names, is that right?
T: Yeah, absolutely.
M: Companies like Close the Loop that have been again in this space for – oh Steve Morris was playing with this nine years ago – plastics into roads, adding their toner collection that they get from Planet Ark. And they’re just at the top of the hill. They’re just getting the large orders they need to put the investment in to get it happening. And the spin off with that is the technology they’re using here will be taken to the States and also help with the same problems that they’re having in the States.
A bigger problem in America
T: I actually think the States are a lot worse off. My family is from the US, and I just spent a couple weeks there visiting in various size places in terms of population. And just some information to share – it probably won’t get into this podcast – But my great aunt, who is 92 years old. She lives in a very small town in the middle of Kansas. She can’t drive anymore. So she asked me to drop off recycling to three different places.
T: So I did that. But I got to the last place where they are hand-separating everything right there in this drive-through warehouse of sorts. And I asked the guy working at the warehouse how things were going. And he said that since they can’t export this anymore, they’ve gone from six regional centres for recycling to just that one because everything they’re grabbing now is worthless pretty much.
T: At my
parents’ place, which is a little bit bigger, and that’s in Arizona. They used
to accept every single kind of plastic – one through seven, which I’d never
seen a recycling system like that before. And that included paper, glass,
whatever. As of this month, they are no longer allowed to recycle anything
without paying a weekly fee. And now, even if they pay that weekly fee,
kerbside pickup only will pick up clear or white plastic, cardboard – so no
paper, no glass, but metal. And that’s what they’re going to (in terms of
recycling systems) if they were to pay for it, which they can’t with a pension.
So I actually think America is in a worse position than Australia at the moment
maybe just because the size if nothing else.
M: It’s probably a polite way to put it – There’s a lot of potential in the States. But there’s also some technologies in the States that are brilliant, like the trex decking material, which is why they only collect that clear soft film to go into products like that, which they they sell it out here now.
M: It’s such a great engineered product, a great use for rubbish plastics that if you do get it right, you can make a difference. And the numbers they put through that plant. I know they sell half a billion US dollars now here of the product. I used to be able to recite the volume of plastics that would go through at that.
M: But they do it the right way. They used rubbish plastics, and then coat it with a virgin surface – that’s what you see, and that’s an engineered surface so they can guarantee it. And the rubbish plastics and wood flare will just hold up the nice surface that you see. So that’s a bit of a hint, too, to anyone who wants to get into it. It doesn’t have to be big, black and ugly.
T: No, but
if you have a couple million dollars sitting around first. Right? I mean, investments
in manufacturing, period, whatever it might be is not a small task. And the kind
of work that you’re doing right now, Mark, is pretty incredible because you’re
not just buying off the shelf equipment to be able to do the things that you
want to do. You’re actually creating your own machines.
M: Yeah, that’s what I find enjoyable about my job. I get a bit of a free reign to look at technologies all over the world and make sure we’re up with the best. So things like the latest buzz word is Industry 4.0 and AI. All those buzzwords are something that was going to happen anyway. They just put a name to it. We get to look at all that and grab the best bits and incorporate it in our processes.
M: But still, you have to do it yourself. And
you’ve been able to create this capability in-house, which has to put you in a
position to do more with recycled plastic than just about anyone here in
Australia. Maybe even other places too.
M: The idea of recycled plastics in that way, yeah, we can do more. It’s a bit of a dilemma with us. And we sit a bit above “waste to energy” in this field. But once we mix the polymers, it can only ever be a mixed polymer product from then on out. So, we’re really careful not to grab single polymer streams because a single polymer stream should go back to single polymer products. So, if you’ve got a plastic bag, it should go back to a plastic bag, and it can be done. It just needs a bit of an investment and a bit of a push along or pull along.
M: So, we
sit in a space where it is maybe not so limited because all the multi-layer
films and that sort of thing, which are a problem to recycle – not so much for
us. But if you want to turn a stand-up pouch, the multi-layer films that are
involved in a stand-up pouch – back into a stand up patch, you’ve got no hope.
T: Could you just, for our audience that aren’t
as familiar with plastic – could you explain, first of all, what’s a film and
then what’s a stand-up pouch?
M: There’s probably not much difference. A pouch is made from a film, but it’s a very thick film. A film – it’s your standard plastic bag or your old shopping bags. It is basically a single polymer and very soft and “scrunchable” is the word we use. A stand-up pouch, which is a very easy thing for producers to manufacture. It’s a great way to get the products on the shelf. It’s very cheap.
what’s a good example of a pouch?
M: The squishy yogurt containers that you just undo the top and squeeze them straight into your mouth. A lot of products that used to be sold in rigid plastic. So rigid plastics are things like laundry detergent bottles, coke bottles, sauce bottles, all that sort of things are going to stand up pouches where they can because it’s cheaper. There’re properties they can put in those multi-layer films that help the products last longer that are stronger for the lighter weight. So, there’s good things about it and bad things about it.
M: Some of the polymers they add to stand up pouches, there’ll be layers of nylons and PETs. And in our processes, it’s not a huge issue because those sorts of plastics have a higher melt point. So, they’ll sit in our products just as discrete particles. Whereas a film, a plastic bag, if you can’t melt it, you can’t blow it into a plastic bag or if it’s a wrong polymers.
T: So, once
again, let’s try to do technical-ise this conversation. When we talk about polymers,
we’re talking about basically a type of plastic. And when you’re talking about
the variations of plastic and those issues, it’s basically because every kind
of plastic has a different melting point. Right? So, if you’re putting it
through a melting process and they’re all melting at different levels, I
suppose – would you get some that might burn and others that might still be in
a solid state of some sort?
M: Yeah. If
you are doing a PET product, and you had a lower melting point, it could
degrade when you get to the temperatures you need to run PETs. And the nasties
in this field is the PVCs which turn into a gas – a chlorine gas which tend to
rust your factories unfortunately.
unfortunately hurts people too.
M: Yeah. Although
you never seem to have a cold when you run PVC machines. Cleans your right.
T: Oh no!
T: The PET
we talked about too is plastic bottles essentially like for water bottles.
M: Yeah. And
clothing. All sorts of things that doonas and doona filling. That
sort of thing. It’s everywhere. The seats you sit on have PET in them, and
there’s fillings and that sort of thing. But yeah, our process we run at
temperatures that the lower melting point products melt and then the higher
melting point products sit in there as discrete items.
T: And you could do that because by the time that
you add the extra recycled plastics to harden it or whatever properties that
you’re adding to it, you don’t notice?
M: Yeah, you’re right. It comes in as a percentage of the finished product. So, it’s a small percentage. Now our tolerances can handle percentages of contaminants be them paper, liquid paper board type products, timber.
What about colour issues?
T: Most the
plastics I am seeing in this room, they are all solid colour. Sometimes when
people think about recycled plastic, they think about more of a speckled – I
guess it’s probably more the project type plastic that people are doing in
small shops. Is colour an issue for you?
M: We have a hierarchy. So we start with- we do a lot of white products. So, we need either natural or white supplies and material for that. So they’d be more post-industrial or very well sorted post-consumer plastics. Luckily for us, the white products from our factory, any rejects or any scrap goes to yellow products.
M: In a yellow product, we can use natural or white and or yellow, and turn them to yellow. And then we have a hierarchy – from yellow, we can go to green, blues, browns, black. So, we have a spectrum of colours. And and as they go through our plant and become more contaminated, they end up in the holy grail of recycled plastics which is a big black, ugly product.
Circular life cycle of his products
T: So, you’re actually doing a circular life cycle of all your products too then?
M: Yep. Within our plant, nothing gets wasted. We don’t throw much out in our factories. In fact, here’s not really anything we do throw out, although you could walk out the front, see a big bin there full of maybe broken office furniture or something. But other than stuff that’s every day, we don’t take in any product and then lose anything. We pay for the materials, so why would we want to throw it out?
T: Yeah. So, you find a way for it.
curious for your own recycling. I see you might have recycle bins there. And I
notice you even have a soft plastic bag here for your own soft plastic use. You
said you had like 50 employees. Do you have bins for them too, and it literally
goes right into the process?
M: Yeah, it’s probably the most efficient way of recycling. It would be pretty hypocritical, although I have caught my wife now and then grabbing a bag of soft plastics and heading off to the supermarket.
It’s a pretty efficient way of recycling isn’t it, when we recycle our own plastic?
T: That’s right. And certainly part of the ethos.
M: Yeah. We try to spread that right through the company for sure though. It is hard. As everyone knows it’s hard to stay on top of it, and it is hard to educate people. That’s the hardest thing.
T: Well it’s probably getting easier right now with
M: It is. We don’t make it easy with all these
different plastics and different varieties of every plastic. If you look at the
plastics and just a soft plastic or any of the plastics have different melting
points. Any single polymer has different melting points, different colours,
different additives. You can end up with thousands of different plastics or
varieties of the seven or eight main plastics to try to do something with.
comes first: product or material?
T: Are you finding that
you’re receiving a feedstock, and then you’re trying to figure out what to do
with it? Or is it you have an idea of something to create, and then therefore
you’re sourcing that material? What comes first as far as the chicken or the
M: The chicken or the egg? That’s a good one.
It’s normally a combination. I’ve got material we’ve trialled over the years.
It hasn’t worked for some things. And then years later I’ll think, “Hang on a
minute. That would work well in that product.” So, we’ll grab that and use it
in that product or vice versa.
M: We’ve got a product – the
seats are a good example again. We have to have a certain amount of
polypropylene in that seat, which has a higher melting point and is basically
stiffer to make sure when it’s there in the hot sun in central Australia, it’s
not bending. So, we make sure we source sources of polypropylene, like the
hospital scrap material you saw there, which is a very high melt flow film and
polyprop. When you melt that down, it’s very stiff and brittle. It would be too
brittle if we used it straight. So we blend it.
gowns as feedstock?
T: That’s interesting,
because the hospital material I just saw downstairs were actually like gowns
and such. Are we talking about the same one?
M: Yep. It’s what they call a
non-woven fibre that feels soft to your hands, but actually it’s thousands upon
thousands of little fibres that aren’t soft at all. If you melt that stuff down
T: Because I’ve always thought about #5 or
polypropylene to be more like the laundry detergent plastic.
M: Or your take-away
T: Yeah. Something harder
than that. So, I did not realise that you could also get a soft version of that,
and that’s what those gowns are made out of?
M: Oh, your hospital gowns, your hospital
curtains, the food industry – all the overalls, hair nets, masks, all that sort
And it makes sense why that would be a really
useful substance for the industrial type products that you’re making.
M: Yeah, it’s a great binder.
And other thing when we used to make white posts for the sides of the roads, we
couldn’t add too much of that plastic because the road authorities wanted the
post to bend and not break. So, if we had the stiffer plastics, the post would
break when a car hit them. If we had the softer plastics like stretch wrap,
they’ll bend over.
T: What are your top selling products right now?
Are they what I’m seeing in the room like the bollard type things or the
railroad sleepers we just spoke about?
M: Unfortunately, the railroads sleepers – we’re
not big enough to handle that. The company that’s running with them, at the
Recycling, are backed by a
very large company, and they’ve got the money to see that project through.
They’re well along the way to getting them specified and bought in a commercial
M: We’ve had sleepers in the
Billy railway line for 10
years now. And just recently they’ve put Integrated Recycling sleepers in the Richmond station down here, which is a proper mainline
track. So it’s really good to see that’s finally happening.
Popular Replas Products
T: And I’d say your most popular products then
right now are? You don’t have to answer that question if you don’t want to.
M: No, no. Luckily, all our
products seem to rise together. The seats are huge at the moment. A lot of
that’s because Coles and Woolworths have them in the front of each store so
people can see the connection with recycling. And then kids – I don’t know if
it’s kids or just being out there. Schools are starting to say, “Well, why
aren’t we using them? You know,kids should be sitting on recycled seats.” And
universities use them. So that seat and furniture market is rising.
– we can’t keep up with those. We do a lot of infrastructure products for watermains
and valves and hydrants around, and marker posts for the sides of the roads. As
infrastructure grows around the country, that’s expanding. And no doubt
there’ll be 10 products we’re asked to make next week that we can’t make as people
are starting to realise that they have to start purchasing recycled to increase
So much going on. It’s interesting to think
that you’ve been in this business for 20 years.
M: Twenty-eight years.
T: Sorry. Twenty-eight. Wow, that’s
closer to 30. Twenty-eight years. And finally, people are starting to get this
message. Finally, after all these years of trying to sell the story, that
people needed a deal more with recycled plastic in terms of buying products
from it, they’re finally hearing this message, Mark. How is that affecting your
M: It’s putting pressures on the other way now.
Now we’re struggling to keep up. It’s exciting times, that’s for sure. The
potential is everywhere, all around the world. The potential is there. And
Australia is not unique.
company in Europe has grown 30 percent year on year for the last two and a half
years. Another friend’s company in the UK has grown 15 percent year on year,
and those sorts of numbers were unheard of. When we first started, of course,
we were growing fairly rapidly because it was all new getting the right
products in, and then we had a bit of a levelling period. And now we can’t keep
up as well. It’s crazy times. It’s frustrating actually that we’re knocking
back material every day.
we still recycle if a lot of waste is now going to landfill anyway?
T: And I wondered about that with our prime minister here in Australia recently said that we’re not going to export any plastics anymore. Not that many countries wanted it anymore after the changes started happening last year with China. I mean, what’s your view about plastic right now in terms of it going to landfill? Because before it wasn’t visible to us, but it was.
T: Now, everybody’s trying to recycle. Is it still worth it for people to do that or is it right now we are at a crossroads where there’s not enough demand or processors or manufacturers or something that this amount of plastic that we are putting in the bins right now clearly will good to landfill until that market catches up.
M: It’s a great question. The infrastructure is
there. It would be a pity to lose that infrastructure because whatever Channel
News showed a picture of a truck dumping the stuff in landfill, Now there’s
still very valuable commodities in that recycling bin. The milk bottles – people
can’t get enough of those. That’s sorted. The PET bottles – can’t get enough of
M: I’m not that much across
paper and cardboard. So, I don’t know how that industry is travelling. The
glass is a bit of an issue. But the infrastructure’s there. It would be a pity
to go backwards because one or two media outlets showed a picture of a truck
dumping a few loads down into landfill. And even if it’s more than a few loads,
even if it’s for the next six or eight months while the industry catches up, it
would be a pity to lose that infrastructure because of all the negativity on
T: Because, you just lost
here in Victoria – this is the state.
Melbourne is the major city here – just like two months ago, one of the major
M: 40 percent.
T: Yeah. Just closed down.
And they were also looking after Tasmania’s recyclables I think or at least
part of it. That tells me that there’s still not enough buyers if they went
M: Yeah. It’s gonna be a hiccup for a while.
There definitely isn’t enough buyers. The States are pushing plastics all
around the world. Europe is pushing plastics all around the world. We’re trying
to push our tiny bit of plastics. Lucky we’re on Asia’s doorstep. But now it’s
got to be dealt with in-house. We’ve got a process it here which will take
time. There’s so much movement in this industry. My mind just boggles. There’s
some big plants that have just come online and that are setting up. So we’ve
got to keep the infrastructure going because these big plants require those
materials – that feedstock we’ve got.
M: There’s a lot of talk on
the contamination in recyclables. Well, I was just speaking to someone
yesterday who pointed it out. We used to buy kerbside rigids and manufacture
out of that material because it’s easy. But then when we couldn’t buy the
hundreds of tonnes required that the big boys were moving, we sort of got
squeezed out, and the Chinese were paying a higher price.
we used to buy kerbside rigids, there was a 40 percent loss. So, we’d pay for a
tonne of material to go through a wash plant to get rid of the contaminants and
only 600 kilograms that come out.
M: Now, you can imagine China
accepting millions of tonnes of material, the amount of rubbish that would have
generated – the 40 percent of those millions of tonnes. And unfortunately, in
the not so environmentally aware plants, the best way to get rid of that
material is straight out back into the local creek. I think that’s what
Indonesia’s had to deal with too, at the moment.
M: We handle those contaminants by just
enveloping them in plastic and they’re still sitting there. But when you go
bottle to bottle recycling you, it’s got to be nice, clean plastics.
T: Yeah, because it has to be
food-safe, and that’s certainly a bigger challenge.
M: So, yeah, there’s a lot of
talk on the quality of the materials. People are lazy and I’m lazy. Everyone’s
lazy. Who wants to wash out a sauce bottle before they put it in? We probably
need to get the quality up at the second bite – in volume, in big controllable atmospheres
that can handle the waste and dispose of it properly.
T: So, the person on the street, they can start
doing better recycling in terms of what they put into the bin. Our local
council actually told us we didn’t have to clean it, but they wanted us to
recycle. That’s obviously changing now that things are being done local, or is
it just because we don’t have the machinery up that can properly clean things?
M: I think the thing that everyone’s got to
accept is that there’s different systems for every single shire, house,
whatever in Australia. Some people can handle things like lids on bottles. I
believe they should be kept on, and then they sorted out and sold as a
secondary raw material.
People who want to do the right thing need to figure out what the right thing is.
probably need to call your council, although I’d rather councils were more
proactive and got above all the noise and said, “In our council, you put milk
cartons, you put whatever milk bottles, you don’t put this, you don’t put that.”
I don’t have a clue what our council wants or doesn’t want. And it changes. And
let’s accept that and get it right.
Plastics Start at the Design Process
T: The other thing that I
found that most people don’t think it’s a problem, but it seems to me that (it
is)…since the products I’m trying to make personally are mostly a single
plastic – although we’re looking at some mixes as well just to harden the
plastic up a little bit – the milk
bottles are a good example where you have a #2, high density polyethylene
T: Sometimes it’s a #1 PET,
but the lids are often something totally different and a totally different
colour – which it seems to me without being a manufacturer or a processor that
that would cause at least a plastic difference or contamination of colour, and
as well as two different plastics if you left the lid on.
the process that you’re going through for your industrial type products, you’ve
found a way to work with that mixture. What about other products that maybe
they do need a single? Is there something we could do in the design process
with the actual packaging that would make your life easier? Would it make it
easier for other manufacturers and processors because they’re not mixing
M: Yeah. Not so much Replas’
life. We’re pretty right with all those variances. But you’re right. If the lids
were the same polymer as the bottles, which is impractical in a lot of cases,
you’re not going to have a PET lid on a PET bottle. But you know, if they got
rid of – I hate to say it again, PVC containers, and there’s no reason for
them. If they went to a natural (colour) lid.
Issue with Black Products for Recycling
One of the
crazy things is one of the big companies has figured out how to detect a black
product by adding a black master batch. Now we’re talking about the colour
hierarchy before. So if there’s lots of black products in the waste stream, all
you can do is make black products out of them. So, the simple thing I think is
don’t make black packaging products, just don’t do it. And then you’ve got a
bigger field for your recycler.
T: So that will be things like garbage bags?.
M: Garbage bags are going down
the tip anyway, aren’t they. So they
don’t matter. But Coca-Cola have a black lid on one of their
T: Oh, yeah.
M: It should be a natural lead. You know, they
all should be natural. Your milk bottles should all have a clear lead.
M: I think there’s a company
here in Melbourne. I think it’s Earth Choice. And I was at a talk a couple of years ago, and the CEO
of that company stood up and said, “We decided to make all their packaging out
of recycled plastic because we didn’t know we couldn’t.” What a great company.
M: They make a PET container
out of 100 percent recycled PET. This is years ago because they didn’t know
they couldn’t. So they design their dyes to make it out of that. Their lids are
all natural (colours). So they were different polymer, but it just makes so
much sense. Like you said, get it right from the start and you’ll open your markets..
T: Let’s start with the design. It helps
everything else, doesn’t it? Interesting..
M: It is simple at the end of
T: And some of that’s going back to the future,
isn’t it? That some of the things that we’re trying to do now in terms of going
back to cloth nappies and reusable containers? You remember the days when the
Coca-Cola bottles were reused?
M: And milk bottles got
delivered to your doorstep. Even the foil leads were recycled.
T: That’s right. And you
didn’t see a lot of plastic then.
T: What was your view on
polystyrene? Because I noticed that like things like yogurt containers are
that. But everywhere I’ve gone, in terms of asking questions about that
particular plastic – it’s #6, right?
M: I told you, I know nothing about plastics.
T: Well, I say this just
because I know that when people – like the average person, when they’re
sorting, they’re looking at the bottom of the container. So they’re trying to
understand it as well. But I think that #6 is the polystyrene. And I notice
that even yogurt containers have that, but most councils won’t take a #6
because it’s just too hard to recycle.
polyprop container (#5) looks the same as a styrene (#6). Work is being done
with a recycled label, and there’s a lot of work to try to get to the designers
to standardise on our materials. But good luck with that when you got marketing
M: One thing that irks me is
we had a supply of white plastic and then it had a tiny little tinge of light
blue through it. And then one week it all changed. There was a dark blue line
through it. So all of a sudden, all the plastics we were getting in couldn’t go
to those white colours at the top and then roll their way through. They had to
go straight to the blues or darker.
M: And I asked the company,
and I better not mention their name because we’ve dealt with them for a long
time, and don’t want to lose them. You know, “Why?“ They said, “Well, the marketing
department realised that colour blue wasn’t our corporate colours.” And this
was inside four layers of packaging. So, by the time you’ve got it, you’ve
already bought the product.
T: So it didn’t influence your decision on
buying the product.
marketing said that that colour blue is our corporate colour, and that’s what
we’ll have. I said, well, do you realize what’s happening now? Too late now.
about government regulations for packaging?
T: Well, it sounds like the conversation then is
also with the packaging companies and trying to recognise these issues.
Government could also help with some regulation. The only thing we seem to
really make a lot of in Australia is food products.
M: Yeah. It’s a huge market is in the food
that’s where there is some control, I suppose, in terms of how things are made.
And it’s also food products are largely the ones that are using the scrunchable
plastic that you’re getting.
T: So it’s interesting that some of the biggest
things that we could influence here in Australia – because that’s where it’s
actually being made rather than imported in – is also one the plastics that’s
causing the most harm in terms of what’s going to landfill if you’re (Replas)
not picking it up.
M: But that, again, is a can
of worms, because although we make a lot, we also import a lot. So if we’ve got
regulation for our industry that’s onerous and costly, how do we keep to keep
up with the imports?
T: That’s true.
M: There is no answer.
There’s no silver bullet. There’s just a myriad of answers, and you hope that
people can get across it at the end. You know, that when they design things, they
design it for recyclability in mind.
T: How much power does the
M: Well, they’re the ones
that buy the products. It’s educating the consumer. And I get so confused, I
get totally confused and am probably aware of a lot more things than most
people in the packaging game. It is does seem to be too hard sometimes. Way too
hard, I think.
M: India had a good bit of
legislation a couple of years ago which really nailed anyone who wants to sell
a product into India, that every bit of packaging has to be low density polyethylene
T: Has to be?
M: Yes, has to be. Now they can produce it, and
they do. There’s a company in Melbourne that produces low density single
polymer packaging, that has enough barrier to stop the inside products from going
bad. The problem is it’s thicker than all the other packaging, so it’s more
expensive. So, it can be done. And the way India brought that in, it got the
big packaging companies scrambling to get their engineers to figure out how
they can change packaging, not because they wanted to, but because they had to.
T: Yeah, based on government
M: Government policy and the size of the market.
What about the Biodegradable materials?
T: Are you being impacted at
all by the biodegradable stuff that’s coming through? That is not exactly what
you think it’s gonna be.
M: We again, if we had biodegradable is in our
products, it’s not going to make a huge difference. I’m so confused in that
area as well. Yeah, biodegradable, degradable. It’s just another minefield.
It’s the same with all the stats. It’s just all white noise to me now. I figure
I’m better off not worrying over all that. (And instead) trying to find new
products, developing new markets for recycled plastic, and I’ll do better than
talk about all the stats, the plastics in oceans, the number of fish there are.
Well, I think you’re in a unique position
because you’ve created this. You have the ability to take whatever rubbish we
give you through the grocery bags or the hospital bins or whatever else people
are throwing at you. Because you’ve created these products and blends, that it
doesn’t matter as long as there’s not too much metal or as you were pointing
M: Coins are hard. Frustrating too because you’re watching that
money go through the other end when it’s on you, and you’d like to take it out
in the front end.
T: But you’ve figured out a
way. So, of course you’re not paying attention to it because you’re just like,
“It’s all rubbish. We can still use it.”
M:. It’s very hard. And a lot
of people in this industry get dragged into the dozens of conferences that there
are and the same talk. As I say to other friends in this industry…and we all do
know each other. We don’t collude.
A good friend of mine says, “We’ve got a 70/30
rule. We can talk about 70 percent of our business and help each other. But
that 30 percent is off limits.” The 30
percent is the collusion part and also losing our IP (intellectual property). So, it’s a fun industry at the moment. It’s
going nuts. It really is.
Whole of Life Costs for Products
T: Well, hopefully all this effort that you’ve
been putting in for all these years is really going to show itself and also
teach other people how to think about rubbish in a different way. I’m sure that
there is a lot of councils and governments and cities and wherever they might
be should be looking around their neighbourhood right now, and they’ll probably
see more wood than anything. And that shelf life of the wood products aren’t
going to last very long where you have these recycled plastic products. And
what are you looking at in terms of life?
M: We’ve had product out there for 25 years, so
we know it’s 25 years minimum. 40 years
plus, and even then you’re going to lose a tiny bit of the surface.
Plastic lasts forever. That’s its attributes and it’s also its problem, isn’t it?
T: So, if governments decided
to go ahead, invest in it now, even though my may or may not cost more at this
beginning, it will have a longer life?
M: Whole of life. If they look at whole of life costs, it wins hands down.
What could we make out of recycled plastics?
T: So, you’re also making playground equipment?
M: We do some componentry. We
really should move into that area a bit more. But probably the thing that’s
kept us out of playgrounds and talking to playground engineers or salesmen,
again, is that kids like bright colours. And we can’t produce bright colours
unless everyone changes all their plastics over to natural to clear (coloured) plastics
(for their recycled feedstock). Then we could turn out some very nice bright
colours, but then the sun would get to them. Although some of the playgrounds
we’ve done look right in the greens, in amongst the gum trees. They look quite good. So you sort of wish
people could see through our eyes.
M: It’s an occupational
hazard everywhere you look. You think that should be plastic. That should be
plastic. It’d be nicer if we were struggling for feedstock, and it wasn’t as
much plastic out there. That would be a good thing. Unfortunately, that’s not going
T: Is there anything you want to share with our listeners?
Watch out for the green wash cowboys
Yes, probably one concern. It’s great all the
media exposure and the government giving out millions of dollars to help our
industry, which is good and bad. A big concern amongst our industry is that the
wrong people get a hold of the money, and that it’s wasted. That it’s thrown at
projects that really it shouldn’t be thrown out. And it gives our industry a
M: We’re worried about cowboys coming in, and
you can do so much damage if you put out a recycled plastic product and it
fails. So, if you make the wrong things out of recycled plastic, you’re going
to damage the whole industry. We need to be careful with the cowboys coming in.
T: And that they know what
M: Yeah. And that the
products are fit for use.
T: So what could the average consumer do? Iis
there a way for them to know what might be a trusted brand other than your own?
M: Again, the greenwash is phenomenal. It’s so
hard to wade through all the absolute rubbish that’s spruiked out there. Yeah.
I can hand on heart, say our brand is good. There’s a few others out there that
are good. I should name them now.
They’ll kill me for not naming them that. I’ll leave that.
M: Just do a bit of due
diligence – especially councils. Make sure it’s Australian recycled plastic.
T: Not imported.
M: Make sure the company will
recycle their own products.
Circular. Yeah. So we’re not just making above grand landfills. Yeah, a bit of
T: Is there a third-party certifier
M: There’s a million of them.
T: Okay. So no one that we just say is the expert
M: Yeah. Green. This tick. That tick. Again, its
stats and perceptions that kill the industry. A bit of due diligence. Look at
the company. See how long they’ve been around. That doesn’t mean new companies
aren’t doing the right thing, but maybe just have a good look.
T: Already you’ve diverted 80 thousand tons of waste from the landfill. Do you have any kind of goal?
M: Yeah, I have a personal goal by 2030 to be doing 30,000 tons a year.
T: 30,000 tons a year?
M: Yeah. And that still won’t be a big part. And
I’m not gonna go into stats about how much plastic there.
T: No, I was just thinking.
Thirty thousand tonnes – is that enough
to fill a football stadium?
M: I’m not gonna say that. It’s a lot.
lot. It’s probably something like that, though. That’s huge.
M: Yeah. I could get online and Google that…
T: There’s no need for that.
All right. So, I think that’s a really good goal. I will put any of the
companies that you mentioned that make it in the podcast – We’ll go ahead and put them into the show
notes so people can find them.
T: How can people find out
more about your company and if they want to reach out and say hi or connect
with you? What are the best channels to do that?
M: It’s really simple. Put in
recycled plastic products or you go straight to our website, which is replas.com.au. We’re pretty well up there on the Google
rankings. So, it won’t be hard to find us and a few of our competitors right up
T: Okay. We’ll put your
website on your show notes too. Mark, thank
you so much for your time today. I’ve learned a ton, and I bet our listeners
have too. I really appreciate the work you’re doing in taking the rubbish that
no one else will take and turning it into something amazing. And I hope that
you do reach that goal because that’s so much better for the environment if you
M: That’s great. Thanks Tammy.
Thanks for coming along.
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.