Mean green upcycling…

In a world populated with individuals striving for a profitable business, most share a main goal: success. Creative entrepreneurship starts with a passion for something. It’s common to assume we must uncover a new and improved idea to thrive.

Successful entrepreneurship can begin from as little as collecting plastic from the beach. Finding new ideas within the old and repurposing materials is an integral start to a sustainable economy.

Graphic: Jessica Moroney.

Upcycling involves re-purposing material in a way that results in a product of higher value than the original material. The activity is growing in popularity around the state as creators take to their entrepreneurial endeavour. Whether big or small, there are creative ways to contribute to a circular economy right in our own backyard.

Although our Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy states that Western Australia’s waste management system isn’t set to see a long-term recovery plan until 2030, some individuals are already choosing to make a difference. These are the stories of some of the dynamic people now using their skills and creativity to breathe new life into throwaway goods for the benefit of us all.

A circular economy regenerates materials toward a zero-waste vision in all business models, from design to after-life management of waste. It includes all partners of a product or service’s lifecycle.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Waste Account states in 2018-2019 Australia generated a 10 per cent increase in solid waste since 2016-2017. Waste with the lowest recovery rate were plastics at 19 per cent, and textiles, leather, and rubber at 26 per cent.

These waste categories aren’t being recovered due to the amount discarded. Out of 2.5 tonnes of generated plastic types combined, 84 per cent is sent to landfill.

Perth ties the LOOP

One large-scale upcycling facility founded in 2017 is LOOP Upcycling, based in Burswood, Perth. Working with large organisations, LOOP’s mission is to tackle the tonnes of corporate textile waste going to landfill.

LOOP upcycles teddy bears made from Virgin Australia corporate uniforms. Photo supplied: Dwayne Rowland.

LOOP Upcycling has a community focus on creating work for not-for-profit organisations and beneficiaries in Perth as well as reducing the 500,000 tonnes of clothing sent to landfill per year.

Founder and business entrepreneur Dwayne Rowland started the LOOP concept when he discovered the lack of options for large organisations’ disposal of uniforms. Rowland says LOOP is designed to tackle corporate waste while offering low-skill job opportunities for disadvantaged individuals.

“LOOP is like an Uber. We organise contract negotiations and we design a project with the client. Then, we work with various community groups to do the work,” he says.

Visiting the LOOP warehouse in Burswood, WA. Photos supplied by Dwayne Rowland. Video: Jessica Moroney.

Rowland says although there is no legislation regarding disposal of textile waste, it’s heartening to see large companies are currently eager to help reduce landfill.

“Obviously a mandate will make people much more accountable. But there are companies that seem to be wanting to do the right thing even without it being mandated, which is great,” he says.

Rowland says it’s disappointing to see the lack of support for companies like LOOP which engage with the local community.

Microplastics in textiles

Ocean Remedy’s Fashion and Microplastic Pollution study finds that microplastic fibres are found in the deep sea, ice cores, and ingested by fish. These fibres resembled those in clothing production and highlights the urge for additional research into synthetic fibres as a source of microplastic pollution.

Graphic: Jessica Moroney.

Microplastic researcher Claire O’Loughlin is the owner of Ocean Remedy, based in South Fremantle, a sustainable swimwear brand founded in 2016 that seeks to find solutions in textile microplastic pollution.

O’Loughlin says one of the largest contributors to microplastic pollution directly are the fibres from washing laundry.

“Whenever you are washing synthetic clothing—polyester, nylon, acrylic, all of those fabrics—tiny pieces are breaking off in the washing machine, and they enter the environment already as microplastics,” she says.

“In Australia alone, if we would only allow 2 per cent of what’s coming out of our washing machine to reach the ocean, it’s the equivalent of about 7500 plastic bags a week.”

O’Loughlin says choosing the cold wash and having a full load of washing will reduce friction that causes microplastic contamination.

AUSMAP is an Australian collaborative citizen project founded to solve the pollution we can’t see, by collecting data for microplastic research. O’Loughlin volunteers for AUSMAP and shows the process of sand sampling around Perth’s shoreline.

AUSMAP and Keep Australia Beautiful WA community day beach clean-up in Cottesloe. Video: Jessica Moroney.

In October this year, Ocean Remedy, AUSMAP and Tangaroa Blue joined together for a massive microplastic beach clean at Minim Cove, Mosman Park. O’Loughlin says the community events demonstrate how samples can be taken from driftwood.

Easier on the eye

Nicky Forrest is a Margaret River mother and beach-lover who collects plastic from local beaches, turning the waste into greeting cards.

Forrest explains the rewards of educating her children on the importance of repurposing to reduce plastic in our environment below.

Nicky Forrest takes us on a journey while showing her growing plastic collection. Photos supplied by Nicky Forrest. Video: Jessica Moroney.

Bigger bits

Prototype Wettie bags from upcycled wetsuits. Photo: Jessica Moroney.

Justine Crowther is founder of Wettie Upcycle and an ambassador for wetsuit upcycling. Growing up with a strong connection to the environment, she was climbing on a boat before learning to walk.

Crowther’s entrepreneurial endeavour hopes to reduce the 3700 plus tonnes of neoprene waste that goes into landfill each year.

“It never breaks down. It’s non-biodegradable, meaning 1000 years later it’s still sitting in the earth,” she says.

Neoprene (also known as polychloroprene) is one of the first synthetic rubbers developed in the world. It is tougher than natural rubber and is resistant to water and fire. Wettie Upcycle will offer a no-bin guarantee.

“If your bag falls apart, don’t put it in the bin. We send it back. We’ll recycle it into something else, upcycle it into another product, and then work out some type of discount off a new bag for you as well,” Crowther says.

Graphic: Jessica Moroney.

Old wetsuits can be dropped off at collection bins located in Osborne Park, the Town of Cambridge, and Mandurah Surf and Skate.

“I think it’s just re-educating. I mean, I know now that the Planet Arc circular economy is coming into play. That probably will get people more informed,” Crowther says.

Grounds to Prouds

Kawolski’s Eco Earth in Kalgoorlie creates unique jewellery from discarded coffee pods. They take what most would consider rubbish and repurpose the material to be utilised and worn.

Owner Tracey Goldhawk says reducing her carbon footprint is a hobby and making jewellery is one contribution to turning the environment around full circle.

“It’s funny because at work they call me the waste warrior. I’m always pulling grumpy faces at the girls when they bring in their disposable coffee cups,” she says.

Tracey Goldhawk talks about her passion and how she wishes there were more sustainable purchase options in regional WA. Photos supplied: Tracey Goldhawk. Video: Jessica Moroney.

Striving for more awareness and action towards building a circular economy, Goldhawk believes repurposing coffee pods into jewellery is a simple way to contribute to reducing landfill through creative entrepreneurship.

“I’m finding that the blokes are really hard to convert, my husband is shocking. I don’t know if it’s because we’re regional—but there seems to be more of a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude,” Goldhawk says.

You’re wearing it!

Sun Slayer Australia is a Perth owned plastic-free sunscreen designed to be safe for our bodies and oceans.

Founder Jade Chan created Sun Slayer after realising how toxic most sunscreens can be. Harmful plastic-containing chemicals in sunscreen can contribute to infertility, birth defects and microplastic pollution.

An Environmental Health Perspectives study finds that many cosmetic products can host chemicals that affect asthma, hormonal signalling, cancer cells and nervous systems.

Chemicals containing plasticizers harm our environment and marine life. Video: Jessica Moroney.

InTently aware

Sustainable manufacturing alongside reducing waste generation is the start of reaching a circular economy. Oceanography PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia Sara Hajbane believes the situation is lacking in terms of recycling and upcycling being actioned around the state.

“There’s certainly a lot of small-scale projects that are working on creating upcycled materials, whether it’s clothing, or water bottles, that kind of thing. Using those kinds of materials for fabrics, mostly. I just think there’s a lot more that can be done,” Hajbane says.

The Recycle InTent joined the Enactus Sustainability Festival at Hillarys Boat Harbour on September 26 and 27th to raise awareness on the responsible disposal of plastic-types.

Based at Edith Cowan University, Perth’s Enactus project is aimed at building knowledge and momentum towards a sustainable, circular future. The community visited Recycle InTent to drop-off plastic bottle lids.

Edith Cowan University host the Hillarys Enactus Festival where Recycle InTent show the Perth community what to do with plastic bottle caps. Video: Jessica Moroney.

The Recycle InTent collect and send lids to CLAW Environmental—one of the few Perth organisations processing plastic bottle caps.

CLAW Environmental crush the lids, turning them into small pellets. CLAW send the pellets away to NOVAPLAS who remanufacture them into construction products.

Not seeing many feasible options for disposing of the lids in Perth, Falls Road Primary School in Lesmurdie took to upcycling bottle caps as a school initiative.

Year two primary school teacher Sharon McCarthy says with the help of local businesses, it was an important way to educate students on environmental and cultural matters.

“My kids washed and sorted the bottle tops. We had plastic bins in the classroom that took up probably a third of my classroom in the end,” McCarthy laughs. “I approached Bunnings and Coles in Kalamunda to see if they could support us with the money to buy the backing board, and they did,” she says.

Slideshow photos supplied by Sharon McCarthy.