While most people are looking to get rid of their plastic waste, Brad Scott cannot get enough of the stuff.
- Precious Plastic is a free, open-source recycling project providing communities the tools to reduce waste locally
- The process is labour intensive but more Australian businesses are starting to look into it
- Brad Scott says he has been contracted by major companies to create products for them using plastic waste
“We want as many bread tags and polystyrene as you can give us… that’s our limiting thing at the moment,” he said.
It takes Mr Scott roughly two hours and 1,870 bread tags to make one bowl. On a good day he will make 18 bowls.
In a week, that is upward of 150,000 used bread tags going into homeware, not the landscape.
From humble beginnings, experimenting in his studio in the South Australian seaside town of Robe, the former corporate boss from Queensland is now being targeted by major companies around the country looking to repurpose their waste.
“I can’t make enough, demand’s so high,” Mr Scott said.
He said the first to come calling was Country Road, at the end of 2019. Then it was Nescafe.
“If it goes ahead the idea is that [Nescafe] have all the pods they’ve made out of plastic collected, send them to me, I recycle and make them into a box, and they send them back out to customers or cafes to put their pods in,” Mr Scott said.
While melting down plastic waste and recycling it into everyday items may seem like common sense, Mr Scott is one of few in the country actually doing it.
Precious Plastics and the Dutch connection
The machine Mr Scott uses is inspired by the Precious Plastic project, the brainchild of Dutch industrial design student Dave Hakkens.
Mr Hakkens started the open-source project in 2012 with the mission of giving people around the world the tools and resources to reduce plastic on a local scale.
“He basically wants everyone to make their own plastic recycling machines and start recycling plastic,” Mr Scott said.
“If you see the plastic as a resource and not a waste and a problem then it’s a completely different thing.”
Mr Scott used the free information, codes and drawings to build his own recycling station in 2018.
“Since then I’ve taken it to a different place, and that’s really what (Precious Plastic) want you to do — they want you to get the general gist of your recycling and go whatever way you want,” he said.
Mr Scott said it was worth remembering he was one man in a shed operating home-modified machines made of donated kitchen ovens and car jacks.
He said it was something he’d had to be very open about with the major companies wanting to collaborate.
That he knew of, he said, he was the first to build a machine in Australia, and the first to make a business out of one.
There are now 10 or so that he knows of in the country, including this Maragaret River start-up turning bottle lids into surfboard fins.
While Mr Scott built a bigger shed and hired an extra employee (his wife) last year to help keep up with business, there was only so much he could do with the technology available, he said.
Monash Uni makes its own Precious Plastic
While it is easy to use a lot of plastic quickly, it takes time to create safe, quality products.
At the same time Mr Scott was getting started in his shed, Monash University was establishing its Precious Plastic program.
Project leader David Butler said until recently the machines could not take the volume of plastic required to establish a sustainable business.
“As far as people developing these machines into something that works for their business…(it’s) not something we’ve seen an awful lot, but we have seen a lot of people express interest in wanting to implement it.”
Before melting down the plastic, it has to be cleaned and sorted by colour.
“If you start with a very large batch of unsorted, uncleaned plastic, then most of your work would come in at the sorting and cleaning stage,” Mr Butler said.
Australia’s plastic waste opportunity
Another thing stopping businesses from jumping onboard could be the country’s dependency on offshore recycling, Mr Butler said, although he added this was changing as Australia limited the amount of plastic waste it processed overseas.
Mr Scott believes it is a matter of time before more start-ups take the leap.
“We can actually start small-scale manufacturing, we can de-centralise a lot of our industries out of cities and make them into small country towns and provide small businesses for country towns, revive the whole place,” Mr Scott said.
As far as the technology went, Mr Butler said, the capacity for recycling was developing.
“The machines that are coming out (now) have a great capacity so that means we’re able to process more of the plastic that’s getting dropped off,” Mr Butler said.
Plastic recycling hubs in every town?
Mr Butler can imagine a future where Australians drop off their waste at local recycling hubs, from where it is transformed into products.
“Instead of having to put their waste in their bins they can take it (to a hub) and kind of see a newly realised product there and then.”
He said the next challenge and opportunity was creating food-safe products with the recycled plastics, finding ways to ensure the quality of the plastic.
“Currently we can’t really say exactly where the plastic is coming from, so we can’t make a new product and say that it’s food safe,” Mr Butler said.
“I think that would unlock a new range of potential.”
Mr Scott said his products have been food-safe tested and certified, taking the guess work out for consumers.