Nothing wasted: Smart Recycling and CEA

A JCB telehandler moving mulch

Smart Resources Group Managing Director Ward Petherbridge discusses circular solutions for pallets, and his vision for a fully self-sufficient recycling facility. 

When Ward Petherbridge joined his father Geoff’s waste tip business in 1997, he brought with him a background in environmental science, and a vision for a versatile and adaptable recycling facility.

Within a few years, Ward had started Smart Recycling – a dynamic, multi-purpose recycling business, which now forms part of Smart Resources Group. Smart Recycling occupies three sites across Melbourne – depots in Brooklyn and Epping, and a primary facility in Dandenong.

The Dandenong site – the original tip site that Ward’s father bought in 1982 – has grown into the sustainability-centric shared facility known as the Waste Converters.

Three other businesses share the Waste Converters site with Smart Recycling: EcoCrush, which specialises in concrete recycling; EcoDynamics, which specialises in mulch products for landscaping; and Commercial Tippers, which specialises in green waste and construction and demolition (C&D) waste.

Ward is Managing Director of Smart Resources Group, and oversees the operations of the Waste Converters site, where he explores every opportunity to reduce waste and get the most out of every resource. This has led Smart Recycling to develop its niche in recycling timber pallets and packaging waste.

“We recycle about half a million pallets a year,” Ward says. “And in conjunction with EcoDynamics, we convert about 25,000 tonnes of timber into other products.”

Initially, collected pallets were mulched, but the business gradually developed its process into a circular system, repairing, and even manufacturing new custom pallets for the brick and tile industries. Now, the whole operation is driven by a dedicated smartphone app, Smart Pallets App.

“We have 20 vehicles that collect pallets all over Melbourne,” Ward says.

“We populate the app with the delivery location data, collect them once they’ve been used, and then repair and reuse them.”

Smart Recycling has developed a circular system for pallets, including collection, repair, and remanufacture.

Powering support

Ward says his company’s relationship with equipment distributor CEA began about five years ago with the purchase of a JCB telehandler.

“We started using the telehandler to bag sand for our brick and tile customers, as well as for pallet deliveries,” he says.

Ward says CEA’s service and support network across multiple brands has led to subsequent purchases – his business having since added a JCB loader and an Atlas Copco QIS-125 generator for use in the site’s biofuel production.

“We have a biomass boiler, which uses wood chip as fuel,” he says. “The Atlas Copco generator is dedicated to running our shredder, as well as a new stacker we’ve recently purchased.”

The heat from the boiler is used for pallet heat treatment kilns and timber drying kilns. Ward says his facility is Australian Quarantine certified, meaning timber packaging from Smart Recycling can be sent anywhere in the world.

“This is a process that every other heat treatment facility in Australia is using gas for,” he says. “We believe we’re the only ones in Australia using biomass.”

This is just one example of Ward’s ambition to find solutions for any material passing through the gates of the Waste Converters site.

“There’s always more timber available in the waste stream than there are markets for it,” he says. “So, we like to diversify.”

Ward says his team continues to experiment not only with various biofuel mixes, but also exploring uses for the ash generated in the process – including blending it with aggregate and making it into road base.

“We have our finger in a lot of different pies,” he says. “Which is great for when one area of the economy is quiet, we’ve usually got something else that’s still ticking along – diversity has really been the key to our success.”

Keeping it circular

“Nothing goes to waste” has become something of a mantra for Smart Resources Group and the businesses operating at the Waste Converters site.

Ward says of all the material processed between the four companies, only five per cent residual waste is sent to landfill.

“That residual is predominantly builder’s waste – a mix of strapping and plastic that’s contaminated with dirt or other material,” Ward says.

“In the future though, I can see that going into waste-to-energy facilities like the one in development at Maryvale.”

The site also makes use of one million litres of rainwater catchment for toilets and water trucks, as well as 100 kilowatts of energy from solar panels to power the majority of the pallet recycling operation.

“With everything we do in the business, it’s all about trying to achieve best practice – it makes economic sense as well as environmental sense,” Ward says.

“We also have our own wastewater treatment systems onsite because, as an old landfill site, we’re not on mains sewerage. We use our greywater for watering our substantial boundary of trees.”

Ward says the 35-acre site is surrounded by a 20-metre planting strip, stretching several kilometres.

“We put in another 2500 trees this spring,” he says. “It’s an industrial site, but we still try to make it as presentable as possible. A waste facility doesn’t have to look ugly.”

Always evolving

Ward says his aim is to operate both Smart Recycling and the Waste Converters site in a way that leads by example for both his staff and the industries they serve – something evident in the big plans he has for the business over the next few years.

“We’re looking at putting in a new fully automated, robotic sorting, dismantling and repair line in 2024,” he says. “We’ve designed a building to fit the line, which will be fitted out with 750 kilowatts of solar, as well as charging stations for electric vehicles.”

Ward hopes providing free charging stations will incentivise his staff to consider making the switch to electric vehicles.

“That’s a really important part of the design,” he says.

“We want to make sure free charging is just part of working at Smart Resources Group – a great incentive both to come to work, and to switch to a more environmentally friendly vehicle.”

This additional solar energy will also allow Ward to repurpose his diesel-fuelled Atlas Copco generator as a back-up generator for the site.

“Our ultimate aim is for the site to be completely independent – produce as much of our own power and water as possible, and for any residual waste streams to be used for biofuel,” Ward says.

“I’d really like the site to be a bit of a role model for how it can be done. And once we achieve that with one site, my aim is to replicate it.”

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