Lisa Fox

7 July 2014 — Co-founder of collaborative consumption network Open Shed and former lawyer Anna Fox has joined another former lawyer at TerraCycle, the US-owned company storming global markets to recycle products others leave behind.

According to general manager Australia & New Zealand for the company, Anna Minns, a former criminal lawyer, Ms Fox has come on board as an account manager.

Ms Fox founded Open Shed with husband Duncan Stewart in 2010, who will continue to run the company, after seeing a TED talk on the topic, The case for collaborative consumption.

Ms Fox was previously a community ambassador for Fetch Sydney, a community advisory board member for Planbig to advise Bendigo and Adelaide banks, and co-founder and director of Foxhound Developers, which launched the Diggers Guide app about the Australian Army.

Her legal work has included legal policy officer for the NSW Department of Justice and Attorney General Department, the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department, and government lawyer with the Department Employment and Workplace Relations.

Ms Minns, who was similarly inspired to leave her legal work to study environmental science, met the operators of TerraCycle while in the US and discovered it had been looking to set up in Australasia for some time.

The company, now four months old, has three full-time staff including communications manager Ausseela Thanaphongsakorn.

It concentrates on “challenging waste streams” and recently notched up 1.5 million cigarette butts sent to recycling, Ms Minns said.

“We recycle them into all sorts of things – plastic railway sleepers, outdoor furniture, shopping pellets, industrial products.”

Technically everything is recyclable, Ms Minns said, and most materials do not need a complicated technical process. The company uses local manufacturers who use a formula provided under licence.

So that means the barriers to entry are low?

Yes, but there are no competitors at present, Ms Minns says, because the difficult part of the process, where TerraCycle has the advantage, is in the collection systems.

Right now the company is targeting dental products.

Participants go online, order a collection box and then when it’s ready the box is posted back to a collection point, free of charge.

Manufacturers of the original product invest in the process to prove themselves better corporate citizens.

Cigarettes are a favourite target because of their toxicity to the environment (something people smoking them might know given their toxicity to human biology).

The other major problem is that they don’t decompose because though cigarette butts might feel soft and organic, they are cellulose acetate plastic.

The next major target is confectionery wrapping, Ms Minns said.