In 2018, China stopped taking Australia’s plastic waste, and earlier this year, India followed suit. The Australian Council of Recycling has warned that with Asian markets shutting its doors, our nation’s recycling is “greatly under threat”.

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This news can be overwhelming and with loud public discussion about Australia’s recycling disaster, and how more needs to be done, it can be easy to overlook the companies in the background that are taking action.

Simon van Leuven, the Australian Director of Vanden Recycling, moved into MIC Greensborough early 2019. “The real value in plastic is knowing that you can’t treat it as waste,” Simon explains. “We cannot use some of the same methods in waste, such as throwing it all in one bin.”

Vanden Recycling’s mission is to make recycling part of the supply chain, optimising the use of plastics. Its website states: “We believe that plastic is a valuable resource that should be used time and time again.”

With target markets including major brands and the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods sector, Vanden teaches clients that recycling starts before the products hit the shelf. “We want to empower the companies and their teams to recycle more and be more sustainable,” Simon says. “If we do that well, then everything else will fall in line.”

As a positive example of recycling markets in Australia, Vanden is recycling 200 metric tons of milk bottles every month. “We are proud that the majority of what we handle is recycled here in Australia,” Simon says. “We transform milk bottles into pipes, pallets and decking boards. We recycle ice-cream containers and coloured detergent and shampoo bottles into builders’ bar chairs which hold up steel reinforcing in concrete. We transform PET bottles back into food trays, to name a few examples.”

Above: Simon van Leuven
Above: Simon van Leuven

On Australia’s plastic recycling crisis, Simon believes we need a combination of many solutions. He sees a real need for a National Plan and Policy on recycling.

“If we can achieve some alignment, then we can better educate the public about recycling,” Simon explains. “It all starts with what we buy and how it should be recycled, and that starts with education that supports a functional national system. Right now, we lack a system that functions as it should.”

Melbourne Innovation Centre is a good space for the team at Vanden Recycling to build on their training, education, and content side of the business. “It is a great space and has everything we need right now to grow and prosper, including any additional support.”

As for what Simon loves most about what he does, it’s the opportunity to visit and learn about so many industries. “I also love being able to share what we do with the content we make.”

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