Chris Todorovski, right, with City of Yarra Councillor Geoff Barber at an industry function

1 April 2014 — Chief executive of Southern Cross Recycling Chris Todorovski used to be an accountant and was part of his way through a masters of business administration before he noticed far more interesting opportunities in recycling.

Today his business employs about 100 people, half with disabilities. Within 12 months that number could be 50 per cent higher.

So what’s going on?

According to Todorovski it’s all part of the fast growing waste recovery industry – and the potential is huge.

Todorovski specialises in managing clothing bins for charities, but he also recycles mattresses and ewaste – or electronic waste, such as old mobile phones – for local councils.

He currently manages 1200 clothing bins, mostly in Victoria, but also with some in NSW, and collects about 7500 tonnes of waste clothing a year.

There’s no problem tapping the income stream from this waste, he told The Fifth Estate this week.

Todorovski says mattresses and ewaste can be recycled and with clothing there is a significant market to process cast-offs and send them overseas where they are either reused, or in the case of about 15 per cent of the clothing, turned into industrial waste.

And even though there are competitors in the business, there is so much more recovery of waste to be made.

Right now, he says, there is 145,000 tonnes of potentially recyclable clothing still going to landfill.

But the biggest challenge in his business is getting access to the stuff.

For this reason, Todorovski is on a mission to help educate property owners, facility mangers and local councils into supporting his industry’s efforts.

It’s not easy. Clothing bins suffer from a bad image and poor management. They work best when there is only one supplier that takes full responsibility for the bins and when the bins can be placed in a highly visible location instead of hidden away in car parks.

This is why he recently turned to media to help promote Sustainability Victoria’s Best Practice Guide for Managing Litter and Illegal Dumping at Clothing Bins.

The guide should be national, he says. It could assist with property owners and managers and provide some guidelines that will give comfort that the bins will be managed correctly.

There’s a strong social dividend as well. Half of the company’s staff come through Australian Disability Enterprises and the work is badly needed as Australia is facing strong losses of jobs that can be managed by people with disabilities.

“Our aim and our frustration is to try to get more waste out of landfill and to create more jobs – at least 50 in the next 12 months,” Todorovski says.

“They’re struggling to get work for people at the moment. Packaging and other traditional work has gone overseas.

There are very few jobs these people can do.

Using ADEs means “paying a bit of a premium”, but it’s worth it, Todorovski says. He mentions that the company ploughs back around $500,000 into communities through sponsorship, including the Keep Australia Beautiful campaign and various employment programs and donations.

So how did this business come about?

“When I was doing my MBA I saw an opportunity in outsourcing facility management and I got involved working in the industry,” Todorovski says.

From there he noticed another trend – that charities were struggling to manage clothing donations and keeping their bins free of illegal dumping.

Another item at the top of the wishlist for Todorovski is that more councils would support recycling of items such as mattresses and ewaste.

“Some of the councils are supportive and we’re spending a lot of time trying to educate others. Right now our efforts are going to that.”