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Fit for purpose

Seeing opportunity where others see roadblocks is second nature for Repurpose It CEO George Hatzimanolis. He shares his vision to revolutionise Australia’s organics recycling industry.

George Hatzimanolis has always been a forward thinker.

When the construction industry was heavily reliant on natural resources about 10 years ago, George challenged the system.  His Victorian resource recovery company Repurpose It, makes quality usable products from what was once considered untreatable waste.

Repurpose It is built on George’s ability to see things differently and view waste as a resource. Now the chief executive officer is positioning the company to be a leader in Australia’s organics recycling sector.

Organics represent Australia’s second largest waste stream, after masonry, according to Trevor Evans, Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management.

Recognising the importance of the growing sector, in September 2021, the Federal Government launched a $171 million fund to take 3.4 million tonnes of food and garden waste out of landfill each year and return it to soil.

“Food and garden organics are a huge emerging market,” George says. “Food and organics in landfill are significant greenhouse gas emitters. The opportunity to divert that waste stream from landfill is something that excites me and it’s something we’re positioning ourselves for.

“In any business venture, timing is really important. For us, we’ve timed this really well.”Repurpose It’s 150-acre Epping site has previously been declared a site of strategic importance in the state’s resource recovery. 

It’s the home of Australia’s first construction and demolition washing plant facility, built in partnership with the Victorian state government.

recyclingThe $8.5 million plant treats residual waste and processes it into materials for the civil construction industry, with a focus on reducing the reliance on excavated materials. More than 70,000 tonnes of CO2 are diverted from the facility each year and that number is growing as the company invests in advanced resource recovery technology.

George, and Repurpose It, now aim to divert all organic waste from landfill to ultimately eliminate the state’s waste problem. A new 3000 square metre organics facility being built on site will be the first in Australia to use best practice depackaging technology from Europe.

A transfer station and decontamination building are under construction at Epping. Composting tunnels are expected to be operational by the middle of 2022.

At completion, the organics facility will process 200,000 tonnes annually of packaged and unpackaged food waste into bio pulp, which will be fed into anaerobic digestors to create renewable energy.

“Unfortunately, a lot of food waste is contaminated. Having a way to deal with that is important,” George says. “We really see an opportunity to deal with more challenging products.

“One of the main advantages of the Epping facility is it will deal with packaged and unpackaged food waste. That type of depackaging doesn’t exist in Australia.”

Repurpose It has secured an organics contract with the City of Whittlesea, and as more councils take on Food Organics and Green Organics (FOGO), George sees it as an opportunity to grow. 

Creating a closed loop

However, he’s not just investing in resource recovery. George wants to ensure there are sustainable end markets for the products produced.

In July, Repurpose It acquired organic landscape supplier Bark King, giving the company a direct-to-consumer market. The acquisition expanded Repurpose It’s geographical footprint, with two new sites in South East Melbourne, and Bark King’s distribution networks.

George says it gives Repurpose It a touch point from receiving waste right through to distributing the resources recovered to the end consumer. 

“It’s not about securing more organics. The Bark King acquisition is specifically because we wanted an avenue to get products back out to the community. We see the importance of end markets – it’s unique to our approach.”

Uniqueness is embedded in Repurpose It’s foundations.

“I was thinking from a different angle as people in the industry back then,” George says of Repurpose It’s beginnings. “It used to pain me that the industry was so reliant on things so harmful to the earth. Understanding there were things like glass, and all these other waste resources out there, opened my thinking. 

“When I went overseas looking for world best practice, I looked at how they’ve been dealing with the resource shortage industry a lot longer than Australia. I could see some approaches were a lot more ahead of where we were as a country.”

RepurposeItGeorge continues to find opportunities to bring best practice to Australia with an emphasis on investing in areas that are for the “greater good” of the environment and local community.

“Our social impact, economic and environmental impact is something that’s important to me,” he says.

“We always look to drive a better outcome. What is the impact more broadly to our community, the people we engage with and the people we service? They’re the values instilled in the business.”

To that end, Repurpose It has established partnerships with the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Outlook Environmental Services and St Catherine’s Primary School.

The company is building an education centre at Epping to share its knowledge with school groups and is establishing a Memorandum of Understanding with Melbourne Polytechnic to drive onsite educational courses.

As part of an innovative relationship with Foodbank Victoria, Repurpose It has committed to providing one million meals for people in need. It will also take packaged perishable food from the hunger relief charity to turn it into soil and renewable energy at the organic’s facility.

“We’re effectively taking the facility off the grid,” George says. “It’s something we’re really excited about.”

A social conscience

The renewable energy will initially power the Repurpose It Epping site, but George says there is potential to trade biogas with a neighbouring company.

He admits there is some community fear about Waste to Energy but believes it’s important to look at the work being done around the world and what is being achieved.

George says younger generations understand that resources are finite and are demanding more action to protect the environment. He’s also seen a huge shift in sentiment from 10 years ago when industry was “very confined with specifications”.

“I’ve never seen a push as much as I have in recent times to change things. Major road authorities now have a dedicated division to look at getting more recycled products.

“It’s a huge shift from when I started. It makes me feel proud of the industry and excited to see where we’re going.

“There’s a lot more consciousness now about recycled content and taking accountability for our waste. As we ask more questions about where our waste is ending up, I think that’s a huge step in the right direction.”

George says he has a “clear vision” for the Epping organic facility and sees an opportunity to establish a reference point for a business that has a significant impact on its local community.

“A business that is sustainable from every aspect of its operations – its contribution towards the environment, material flows, end markets, its growth – that’s where we’re heading as a business. 

“Leaving something for the next generation.” 

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