While Cairns’ economy relies on tourism, there are a number of local businesses that are coming up with innovative ways to boost jobs and expand the city’s economic potential.
We live in one of the most beautiful and pristine environments in Australia. As visitors from Australia and overseas flock to our region to experience Mother Nature at her best, many local organisations and businesses are putting their energy into reducing the city’s carbon footprint in order to protect our most important natural assets.
Backed by the support of local people and businesses, a new business has been formed that has the potential to be the turning point for recycling plastic in Far North Queensland. ReGen Plastics, the new venture by the people behind FNQ Plastics, has taken the first step in creating the first recycled plastic manufacturing facility in Far North Queensland.
Owners Colin and Lesley Van Staveren have recently purchased an extruder, a machine that produces a recycled plastic panel that is versatile for use across multiple industries. The 21m-long machine is capable of producing 60m of 200x50mm of durable high-density polythene sheeting per hour. The panel produced can then be used in a variety of items including stripping, fencing, deck railings, window frames, flooring, walls and roofing, to name some of its uses.
The machine is fed plastic pellets made from milk bottles. Unfortunately, the pellets are currently unavailable locally and are sourced from Brisbane. Colin and Lesley’s goal is to run a self-sustaining wash-and-recycle plant so they can source plastics from this region and not have to freight them in from elsewhere.
“The $366,000 extruder is stage one of proof of concept and received $183,300 in funding from the Australian Government under the Regional Jobs Investment Packages,” says Colin. “Stage two is to have a self-sustaining recycling facility to take plastic waste from the region to shred, wash and pelletise it.
“The recycling plant will not only reduce waste that is helping to clog our landfills but will also create new job opportunities for locals.”
Colin and Lesley were originally working towards securing an investment of $4m for the recycling facility. However, to be able to demonstrate a viable business model in an industry that has certain challenges, they needed to have a product to show investors the potential of recycled plastics and the possibility of creating a new high-value marketplace within this sector.
“We’re really excited to have the extruder,” says Colin. “We are now one step closer to being able to demonstrate commercialisation and offer confidence to potential investors of the full processing plant. There is huge opportunity to create a successful business and generate multiple employment opportunities in this vital industry.”
Plastic waste in North Queensland is currently sorted and freighted to facilities in south Queensland and further afield to be processed and, in turn, North Queenslanders then purchase the recycled items and freight them back up.
“This incurs freight costs and generates emissions that could be reduced or eliminated,” Colin says. “The growth of recycling infrastructure such as a processing plant in our region will create opportunities to recycle high-grade plastic items into products that have multiple uses.
“Our plastic waste can no longer be exported to China uncleaned, and we simply do not have the infrastructure as yet to process this ourselves. Lesley and I strongly believe it’s time more consideration was given to investment in this industry before we are drowning in our own waste.”
Colin, who has been in the plastics industry for 31 years, took over FNQ Plastics 12 years ago and had two apprentices working with him in a small 400sq m factory. Today, with Lesley, they employ eight, moved into a 1100sq m facility and are recognised as Far North Queensland specialists in custom designed plastic fabrication.
“Most things we make at FNQ Plastics last 25 years and is typically recycled or recyclable after that,” he says. “We don’t make or use single-use plastics.
“Plastic is one of the most adaptable resources we use. It’s unique in composition, allowing it to be recycled time and time again. This is a material that we can continue to extract value from and reduce unnecessary waste.
“What we want to do with the recycling plant is create a circular economy. Our proposal to establish a plastics recycling plant that can handle all plastics (except PET and PVC) and extrude them at the end into finished products to retail back to the consumer.”
During his three decades in the industry, Colin has been constantly looking at innovative ways to utilise plastic with an environmental focus and an end goal of reducing waste in landfills.
“I’m always learning,” he says. “The most exciting thing about plastic is there’s always new things to learn and do with plastics.”