Willie van Niekerk doesn’t consider himself an environmentalist, but he loves the outdoors, and more importantly he loves a clean outdoors.
His company, EcoPlas Australia, is based in Mt Gambier, South Australia, and as the name suggests he is involved in the plastics industry and is keen to help reduce the product’s impact on the environment, such as landfill and the ocean.
Van Niekerk has an engineering background, and is using that knowledge to help turn waste into useful end products.
“In the previous five years I worked in forestry, and this new business tickled my engineering interest. I thought I could still do this and stay in Mt Gambier,” he said. “Most people think that recycling is something we do when we put something in the recycling bin. We don’t really recycle, we sort. Even myself, I get the product and I crush it up and I make something, I haven’t really recycled it either. I’ve processed it. Once somebody buys it, it is recycled.”
He has had interest for his products as “far away as Sydney” he said, but he only started retailing products at the end of the February. One of his target markets is regional councils and the rural sector.
“I think it will be a viable product in the long run,” he said. “The [Federal] government is looking at the waste strategy and trying to incentivise councils that they should buy some of the recycled product and that could help business. The big challenge is to find what people want in terms of products. One is outdoor furniture, another is stakes for the Agri and gardening industries, and we are looking at going into fencing as well.”
One thing he is not short of is waste. Neither is the rest of Australia, he said.
“There is enough waste in Mt Gambier at the moment to cover my needs,” he said. “On a bigger scale, there are masses of plastic waste being exported from Australia. It will take 100s of companies like mine before we even break even in terms of making use of what is going out of the country.”
Van Niekerk has one full-time employee who works for the business and he is looking to expand towards the end of this year.