Meet the couple turning plastic waste into useful, long-lasting items.
Do you know what happens when the recycling truck tips your bin upside down and drives away? If not, you’re not alone. It’s actually a big problem with waste management in Australia. The whole process is kind of opaque.
“People get confused,” says Kayla Mossuto, one of Precious Plastic Melbourne’s co-founders. “They think they’re recycling, but what they’re actually doing is collecting. We’ve done a really good job of collecting rubbish in Australia. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the resources to process all of that recyclable waste.
It’s a problem that Precious Plastic Melbourne is trying to solve – and solve at scale. The project technically comprises 40,000 people in over 400 workspaces around the world. Kayla and Piers are part of the solution, and run the local Melbourne ‘chapter’, which started in 2019.
So how does it work? Well, the business operates across three pillars.
The first is education. From hands-on school incursions to corporate workshops for the likes of Nike and Swisse, Kayla and Piers spend a lot of time teaching people about the importance (and more specifically the value) of quality recycling. This requires a bit of a mental leap, in some cases.
“When it comes to tricky-to-recycle or low-grade plastics, many industrial recyclers are technically ‘downcycling’,” Kayla says, “creating low-quality stuff that generally can’t be recycled again. It no longer sits within the circular economy, and has reached its final iteration. Things like roads, where they’re adding a variety of materials into the mix. And we do need all types of recycling, but we wanted to show people you could also create outcomes from waste.”
The second arm of the business is manufacturing – actually making those high-value end products from waste. Precious Plastic Melbourne uses specially designed industrial machines to turn discarded plastic into all sorts of useful things. Combs. Carabiners. Bricks. Garden tools. Jenga blocks. Plates. Plastic sheeting. Artwork. Basically anything that can be produced with injection moulding, extrusion, or compression processes.
For high value recycled plastic products, look no further than Precious Plastic Melbourne’s recent collaboration with fashion retailer Country Road. Working together, PPM and Country Road released the Rooks range: beautiful dishes made from 100% recycled bottle tops.
It’s a reminder that recycling, when done properly, isn’t really about disposal. It’s about creation. That’s the bit that’s been missing from commercial recycling: companies see it as a chore, or a cost, rather than an opportunity.
The last part of the business might be the most exciting, at least from a sustainability point of view. Through Precious Plastic Melbourne, organisations can buy their own machines and become, for all intents and purposes, community recycling centres. These range from little bench-sized shredders and extruders– specifically designed so that even school kids can use them – all the way up to semi-industrial machines.
In other words, if you want to start your own business selling recycled plastic what-have-yous, now you can.
“Schools are a big customer,” says Piers. “But we’re also seeing a lot of small businesses with waste streams starting to realise that all that plastic they’re discarding can be recovered as a usable resource!”
Piers and Kayla call these operations ‘micro recyclers’, and this is how Precious Plastic Melbourne intends to scale its impact. “By sharing recycling tools and technologies, we enable others to do what we’re doing,” says Kayla. “To open up micro-recycling workspaces or factories, start new businesses, run workshops, and create their own positive impact.”
There are a few challenges for this model. Cost being the big one. Materials, energy, shipping and labour are expensive in Australia, and Piers and Kayla have more or less bootstrapped the entire operation. “We don’t have finance or investors or backers,” Piers laughs, “We’re also not engineers or plastic experts or anything like that.”
In the wake of the recent publicity around stockpiling issues within the soft plastics recycling industry, Piers reckons there has been a silver lining. “At the very least, these issues have gotten people to think differently about their plastic usage,” he says. “It’s no longer enough to throw something in the recycling bin. Consumers are looking to reduce their plastic consumption, and more brands are innovating to design out waste. And at the end of the day, we want to know that our recycling is actually being recycled.”
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