Business

Inside the workshop turning wheelie bins and old bottle tops into garden benches

Devon’s newest furniture range started life in the unlikeliest of places.

The picnic benches and tables launched this summer and have attracted interest from the likes of the MOD and conservation charities have been created from ground up wheelie bins, mushroom crates, bottle tops and old DVD boxes.

Jason Goozee, Head of DCW Polymers in Exeter, said: “We’ve had a great response, from private buyers to businesses, people really like the idea of what we are doing and it has sparked people’s imaginations.”

Jason believes it is the only waste management company involved in every step of the process from collecting process waste plastics and making them into recycled furniture.

There’s a private estate at Rame’s Head in Cornwall that has bought a bench made entirely out of its discarded tree guards.

And Teignbridge Council has furniture made from its own recycled wheelie bins.

It takes about 69,000 plastic milk bottle tops to create one picnic bench.

Based at its new Enviro Hub on Marsh Barton industrial estate, the firm uses scrap plastics from its commercial customers among the 6,000 clients across Devon and Cornwall.

DCW Polymers: Ground down mushroom crates that will go on to become garden furniture

“A lot of them are injection moulders making bespoke items for clients and we get the rejects. We collect all the waste whatever that may be and see what we can use it for.”

Polymers like polypropylene and HDPE used to make products like sweet tubs, milk bottle tops, wheelie bins are granulated in DCW’s £280,000 shredder that can turn up to 100tonnes of bulk plastic into granules every week.

Huge dumpy bags labelled wheelie bin, mushroom crates, DVDs and even old kayaks are filled with the chippings that go on to be melted and pressed into dark grey ‘planks’ for the benches, tables, fence posts and decking.

The colour is a result of the plastic mix that makes them – in fact a brand new batch of bright yellow planks has come courtesy of a collection of rejected sharps-bin lids.

Inside the workshop turning wheelie bins and old bottle tops into garden benches
DCW Polymers, Exeter: The planks made from 100% recycled plastic ready for assembly into garden furniture. The yellow planks are made from the reject lids of sharps bins

“We could do a limited edition”, said Jason, “And it really would be limited because what we produce is wholly down to what comes through the door.”

While the range, which starts at £95 up to £995, is still small at the moment, interest is growing from all sectors.

Jason said: “The RNLI wants us to help with the build a specialist ramp for the launch of some of their smaller RIBs, conservation charities are keen to use the planks for walkways because they won’t rot and are non-slip. We have even been in talks to create a compost bin with Westaways Sausages for processing its home compostable packaging.

“What started as a simple idea to create a bench has grown and grown. The more we start thinking about what we can do the more opportunities and potential it is opening up.”

Jason said it has been a steep learning curve for the business that has had to have its tooling and manufacturing equipment to make the furniture designed from scratch.

But the upsides mean that the firm is its own customer for its waste material that can be hard to find an onward market for, can safeguard against fluctuating prices and can ensure more of its plastic waste can be recycled.

Inside the workshop turning wheelie bins and old bottle tops into garden benches
The finished product: A garden bench made from 100% waste plastic recycled by DCW Polymers in Exeter

In July 2019, DCW acquired South Devon plastics reprocessing business Polymer Industries Ltd that had been established in 2013 to recycle post-industrial plastic waste. The eight-strong team wanted to go an extra step to allow more plastics to go into the recycling process.

While it would be better to reduce plastic use, sometimes it is unavoidable. Plastic products for industries like food and medical supplies mainly use virgin plastic.

And there is a reluctance within industries like aerospace from using recycled plastics for products that are safety critical.

Plastics do get a bad press and it is what we do with them after use that matters, said Jason.

He said: “We are never going to be plastic free but if we had a better, integrated recycling infrastructure in the UK, in fact globally, that really would make a difference.

“The problem is that people think that waste is someone else’s problem to deal with but if we had a joined up approach we would be able to capture so much more and get it into the recycling process.

“The other issue is design. We have been experimenting with recycling car bumpers but so many of them now have different types of plastic or other material attached that we just cannot use them.

“Imagine the difference it would make if recyclability was thought about in the design process, imagine what a huge difference that could make,” he said.

And if businesses could just make one change in their business to become more sustainable, what would it be?

Jason said: “The place to start is look at the operation from start to finish – look at the environmental impact of everything and even if it’s just small tweaks, it will make a difference.

“Too often people get bogged down with the one big scheme but it is in the cumulative impact of small things that change will happen.”

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