Endeavour Award winner profiles – Plastic Forests

Quietly chipping away since 2010 at a task many experts believed was impossible, Plastic Forests launched last year and has achieved many successes since.

The problem of contaminated plastic film is one that many thought too difficult to tackle. Only 4 per cent of it is re-used, the rest of it ending up in landfill.

Getting it back to a usable quality is achievable, but requires great effort and a lot of water. Each kilogram of film treated needs about 6 litres of water to be wet washed.

The low rate of recycling is explained by the uneconomic nature of doing so. Among other things, Plastic Forests has been awarded the Most Innovative Manufacturing Company for being the first company – in the world – able to recycle dirty film (landfill rescued) at a commercial scale. 

"I think if you're going to be advanced you have to be in front of the pack, and if you're going to be in front of the pack that means you've got to ask 'a better question,'" David Hodge, the company's director, told Manufacturers' Monthly after claiming the award.

"[And] if you can solve an existing problem better, better than anyone else globally: then you're going to be at the front, added Hodge.

In only a short amount of time, they have gained several clients – some of them big multinationals – for which they treat plastic back up to a reusable standard.

The company not only provides a service to manufacturers, but is a manufacturer itself, with its GreenMongrel range of underground cable covers and garden edging products distributed through Tapex. These are made from film using PF's in-house process. 

It also manufactures other high value products such as garden edging, builders' film, garbage bags, and plastic resin pellets for the plastics industry. All made from previously unrecyclable plastic film. 

The Most Innovative winnery began five years ago as a small team of inventors, chemists and manufacturers with a promising prototype process for dry cleaning plastic film.

The process was refined the next three years to remove the many contaminants that were in the plastic waste, anything from metal, food or glass, down to the micro-contaminant level. 

Problems were separated through chemical engineering to their macro, micro, and molecular levels, said Hodge.

"By being able to do that, in a functional way, was part of the steps to the solution," said Hodge.

"Not one thing – but the steps to the solution."

Trials for producing underground cable cover and garden edging from cleaned plastic film began in 2013. Trials was undertaken to develop a product that could meet Australian Standards. 

Production commenced at the beginning of 2014, with a national distributor in place. However, in June 2014, the advanced waste treatment facility decided on another use for their contaminated plastic film, and this supply of mixed municipal film ended. 

Prior to the Endeavour Awards, they had received other honours during their brief existence, including being contacted by the United Nations Division of Technology, Industry and Economics Environment Programme, and being named in the top five waste management stories (world-wide) in 2014, by Eco-Business magazine. 

On the country's potential in advanced manufacturing, Hodge said there's no reason why it can't flourish. We just have to ask the right questions and then go from there.

"I think we've got a bit of an attitude problem," he said, referring to ideas about Australia being unable to produce competitive manufacturing businesses. 

"I think that we ask really great questions and we come up with really great answers and great outcomes."

(Pictured: David Hodge, director, Plastic Forests, and Nick Lobianco, General Manager, SEW Eurodrive.) 

Plastic Forests

0405384030

plasticforests.com.au