Louise Hardman is a water person, she loves anything to do with it, be it leisure, sport or work.
It was her specialisation in marine turtles and birds while working as a zoologist that eventually led her to cleaning plastic from the world’s largest body of water.
“It wasn’t until 2016 when I kick-started the business that finally, I could put it into practice.”
Cashing in on trash
Removing plastic pollution from waterways isn’t a new concept, but commoditising the recovered plastics is.
Ms Hardman focuses her efforts on regional and remote communities in Australia and the Pacific Islands.
“The concept, is that we want to do recycling programs that are mobile,” Ms Hardman said.
“I’d work with communities, regional remote communities to set up waste plastic recycling programs.”
Pride in work
Miimi Aboriginal Corporation, based in the New South Wales town of Bowraville, was one of those communities.
Corporation manager Tricia Walker commissioned Ms Hardman to create a mobile recycling station to help create a revenue stream and jobs.
“My experience over many years is that a lot of our youth have lost their connection to country and I think it’s imperative that they get back out on country and recognise the environments that are out there, and they can protect them,” Mrs Walker said.
The creation of the mobile recycling container took a number of years.
Each container is different, and purpose-built for the specific needs of the community.
They have several components, and may include an extruder, shredder and bailer.
They transform plastic from hard waste to pellets, ready for manufacturing.
Ms Hardman said she also provided training in plastics identification so clients could determine which materials could be used in manufacturing.
Mrs Walker said the arrival of the first recycling container was a source of immense pride for the Miimi Aboriginal Corporation.
“I love it because I’ve watched these kids grow up in this valley,” she said.
“These are good boys, these are good kids, and they’ve got a lot of respect and they’re quite knowledgeable.”
Ms Hardman also helped with contacts into the manufacturing world.
Mrs Walker said that knowledge was invaluable.
“So, she’s got all the contacts and quite willingly, she’ll support us getting through the initial stages, and get us some suppliers,” Mrs Walker said.
The program, Plastic Collective, is now a family business run by Ms Hardman along with her brother and sister.
It is currently working with 15 communities around the southern hemisphere.
It also sells “plastic credits” back to large organisations.
“The goal was to help the world’s most vulnerable and remote communities whose lives and environments were being destroyed by plastic waste and where waste collection is mostly non-existent and plastic pollution is rampant,” Ms Hardman said..
Onselling the new resource
The sale of the extruded plastic pellets isn’t without issue.
Convincing manufacturers to use “non virgin” plastic can be hard.
Different melting and cooling times can be a sticking point.
But bodysurfing handplane manufacturer Rikki Gilbey said he wasn’t deterred.
He teamed up with Ms Hardman to ensure his product was made from 100 per cent ocean plastics.
“I thought it would be really easy.”
He said he assumed someone would already be selling the material and he could just buy it and put it into a product.
“But yeah, as it turned out, no one was doing it,” he said.
He said it cost him more to use recycled plastic.
“Plastics production is obviously a fast way to create product, but I was never going to make a product out of virgin plastics to be used in the ocean, especially,” he said.
“I’m an ocean lover.”
Opportunity in plastic
Ms Hardman said waste recovery and commoditisation problems in remote areas inspired her to create Plastic Collective.
“What the regional areas lack is infrastructure, and the transport cost is really expensive to get anything to and from these islands or these remote communities or regional communities,” she said.
“That’s why recycling recovery is really difficult and that’s why there’s landfills, there’s pollution, there’s waste going into the rivers.”
She said her favourite thing was to watch a community go from feeling shame about plastics to pride.
To learn more about Louise Hardman’s work and other innovative stories, watch Movin’ to the Country on ABC TV, Fridays at 7.30pm or any time on ABC iview.