Upcycling business Plastic Forests, which turns contaminated plastic films into new products, is in expansion mode and about to commence operations at a new Albury-Wodonga “super site”.
Managing director and founder David Hodge said the new factory would employ up to 30 people, with many existing staff expected to relocate from the current facility in regional Victoria.
Currently, the company is in the process of moving three production lines of plant and equipment, with full commissioning in August.
The company has developed a dry-cleaning method for recycling contaminated food and agricultural plastic films, which it then remanufactures into a number of product lines.
Products include garden edging and Green Mongrel brand cable cover, which is being used nationally on the NBN rollout, and to protect other essential services such as underground electricity and gas lines.
“It is a fantastic use of the waste plastics we receive, as the cable cover lasts for hundreds of years in the ground,” Mr Hodge said. “Previously, this plastic had no option other than being buried in landfill.”
The plastic film comes from many sources, including up to 180,000 used bread bags weekly from Tip Top’s bakery in Sydney, and crop protection plastics from farmers and regional council landfills. Currently, many farmers burn their agricultural films as there is no easy means of disposing of them for recycling.
Plastic Forests also upcycles plastic bags that have been used for manure and returned by consumers, as part of Australian Native Landscapes’ consumer recycling program. In turn, ANL, one of the country’s largest organics recyclers, acts as a distributor for the garden edging.
“No one in Australia could clean or accept the returned manure bags, so they were sent overseas,” Mr Hodge said.
“ANL had to clean and brush every bag first to remove the dirt, and employed someone to do it by hand. Now they don’t have to brush off the dirt and the bags are not sent overseas. They are baled up, dry-cleaned by Plastic Forests and turned into garden edging, which is then sold through nurseries.”
Some of the contaminated plastic is also turned into resin pellets and sold. Australian manufacturer Cromford Films buys the recycled pellets to produce builders film, which is used to protect homes during construction. So far it has manufactured enough for around 1300 homes.
Plastic Forests’ new location in Albury means that all of the food producers in the Murray Goulburn region are within the potential collection catchment for plastic film recycling.
“We already service a number of large food producers,” Mr Hodge said.
Some of the company’s new initiatives, including enhanced Sydney collection, a new polypropylene recycling line and a value-adding blow film line have been supported the Environmental Trust as part of the NSW EPA’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative, funded from the waste levy.
The new site will also position the company to source films from both Melbourne and Sydney by utilising back loading with freight carriers.
“The transport economics is good.”
Following the move, the company also aims to work with more local councils in the area to divert plastic films from landfill and upcycle them into garbage bags and bin liners.
“There has already been interest from Unilever and George Weston Foods, among others, in ordering the planned new product lines,” Mr Hodge said.
The company has been recognised with a number of awards, including Most Innovative Australian Manufacturer in 2015 and a second Innovation Award from Moira Council.
In April this year Westpac named the company as a Top 20 high-potential Business of Tomorrow winner.
“This award was recognising our business practices and model rather than purely environmental factors,” Mr Hodge said.
“We have a sustainable business model, and we are not relying on green dollars. Our value-added manufacturing approach that upcycles rather than recycles also generates more margin.”
The strategic alliances that have been made with companies including Tapex and ANL are also creating value.
Mr Hodge said the company would like to be able to offer all of its customers a circular economy option.
“So if we take your waste, you get back a useful product.”
The motivation for tackling plastics is because they are a “generational problem”.
There is no such thing as throwing it “away” when it comes to this waste, he said.
“Man is the only creature that has made some things nature can’t deal with. Plastic is everywhere.
“It is not just about the economic bottom line – it is about creating a better future, starting now.”