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Olympic Polymers, Telford Smith making a mark in plastic film recycling

plastic film recycling

Daniel Leeson likes fixing issues. By his own admission, the Managing Director of Olympic Polymers sees problematic materials as a challenge.

It’s that never-give-up attitude that has the post-industrial recycler breaking new ground with material “nobody else wanted”.

Daniel and his business partner have developed a way to clean and process the tonnes of contaminated irrigation tube (T-tape) left idle on farms around Australia into plastic resin. The end-product is so clean it’s suitable to remanufacture down to 30um garbage bags or other film products.

The success of the T-tape process has opened the door to a new market. Daniel says Olympic Polymers is working with Dairy Australia to recycle silage film back into a film with 30-40 per cent recycled content.

“The wash plant has changed the way we’re doing things,” he says. “We’ve gone from a company that was just recycling industrial film, to now recycling all different plastics.

“We’ve taken a problematic material that nobody knew what to do with and it’s put us into a new market where we’ll be able to grow.”

The T-tape process has been a two-year project with plenty of “trial and error”, Daniel says. He drew on nearly 15 years’ experience in every facet of the business to make it happen. And it was his love of a challenge that got the ball rolling.

Daniel initially said no when a tube manufacturer approached him and asked if there was anything that could be done to recycle the tonnes of irrigation tube just sitting in paddocks around Australia. But the problem kept niggling at him. It was while he was working on another recycling line that a plan began to form.

plastic film recycling“We have a contract with a bottling company to receive bottles of water that are damaged or too thin,” Daniel says. “We were getting seven to eight tonnes of water weekly. Everything was recyclable – the bottle, lids and labels – except the water.

“I thought we could use the water supply to try and wash the T-tape.

“Now we store the water and use it in the wash plant. Everything is recyclable. We’re very proud of that.”

Daniel and his business partner began a trial process with equipment from Telford Smith. They used various materials and plant set-ups before finding the best way to clean the T-tape. Within the past 12 months they’ve purchased TELFORD SMITH washing plants and mechanical dryers, a ZERMA ZHS-2000 heavy duty shredder for central recycling and a ZERMA wash granulator to expand the line.

Daniel says for any granulation or shredding equipment, Telford Smith is the first name that comes to mind.

“Telford Smith is one of the most highly recommended machinery manufacturers in Australia,” he says.

“When we were doing this project, we needed specific items. Telford Smith were happy to modify and adjust one of their machines to do what we needed it to do.

“They do a lot of research to know what products are on the market and they don’t skimp on metals or size. Telford Smith equipment will give you the strength and reliability that you need. Being Australian made makes the decision a lot easier.”

Daniel praised Olympic Polymers’ Operations Manager Rod Dodd for playing a key role in the trial process. He says there were a few hiccups in the early days because of contamination and water density or there were silicon problems.

“The tubes are out in the farm for two to three years in direct sunlight, so they tend to try and break down,” he says. “We had to rejuvenate the plastic to get it right to blow it into film. 

“But now we’re running material through. We’re getting tube in one day and it’s going out the next.”

The biggest hurdle now, Daniel says, is transport costs. Most of the T-tape is from Queensland and South Australia, with some from Perth. Getting it to Olympic Polymer’s Victorian facility is expensive, particularly for a family-owned business.

“Without government funding or a stewardship, it’s very hard for a player of our size to fit in with the whole of the Australian market. About 7000 tonnes of T-tape goes to farms annually and about 2000 tonne is recycled,” he says. “That’s another 5000 tonnes we need to get our hands on.”  

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