Plastic litter is one of the most common items you’ll find floating around and endangering the Great Barrier Reef and marine life. It’s a cause that Louise Hardman holds close to her heart.
The former teacher and long time conservationist has been designing, sharing and training people in innovative ways to rethink plastic for the past 2 years. According to Louise, radically changing our use of plastics means changing our individual behaviour at home, school and work.
The catalyst for her work was learning about the sheer amount of waste in a country as wealthy as Australia.
“The consumption rate of plastic increased by 170% within ten years while our population only increased by 24%. That’s an incredible increase, and completely alarming to me. That waste is going into our rivers and oceans, and affecting marine life,” Louise said.
In order to make a change, Louise founded the Plastic Collective in 2016, with the goal of diverting waste from landfill and giving it another life.
Participating in the circular economy
The circular economy is a little bit different to recycling because it's a bigger step past recycling, according to Louise.
“It's actually designing a product from the beginning that can be reused and last for a long time. It's designing for a circular loop economy so we're reducing the amount of new material that needs to be used,” Louise said.
The term refers to an endless cycle of reproduction. Products are designed from the beginning to be reused, and then given additional lives through melting down and remoulding, for example. Rather than simply throwing a used plastic bottle away, you can find another use for it.
There is a large breadth of uses for recycled plastic, including woven bags and mats, playground equipment and construction bricks. At a grassroots level, communities can decide what they need and create it themselves.
One example Louise gave was about a community in Bali. A small group collects plastic from the beach and recycles it into plastic fibre, which they then sell on within the community for use in weaving baskets and mats.
A simple step: DIY recycling
Imagine a machine that could take plastic and break it down for reuse, but was compact enough to resemble an office printer and able to be used by anyone with simple training.
Louise’s innovative recycling machine, the Shruder, shreds used plastic and transforms it into something usable once again. The plastic can either be sold on to recyclers or be used in the production of new materials including furniture, 3D printer filaments, and building materials.
Conservation organisation Eco Barge is putting this technology to good use in the Whitsunday Islands, thanks to a Shruder donated by Coca-Cola Australia.
Since 2009, Eco Barge founder Libby Edge and more than 5,000 volunteers have removed 176,000 kilograms of marine debris from the ocean.
Disposing of the collected waste has been a tough challenge, and the Shruder allows for new possibilities once plastic has been collected.
Future solutions for the plastic problem
Through the work of organisations like the Plastic Collective, understanding of the circular economy and appreciation of plastic as a reusable material continues to grow in Australia and overseas.
It’s also an example of businesses and individuals working together to bring the circular economy to life. According to Louise, substantial change won’t come from government legislation or action. It will come from businesses wanting to take on more social responsibility, and communities wanting to make real and lasting change.
“Look at what's happening in New South Wales with large companies banning the plastic bag. It's quite exciting because companies are moving ahead and deciding, ‘Well, this is what we're going to do because we do want a healthy and clean world for our future and for our children,’” Louise said.
“When people work together and collaborate, that's what will really change the world and change attitudes as well. We know the problem, but now we need to focus on solutions and keep moving forward with those.”