Perth-based mechanical engineer Darren Lomman is working to stop plastic waste ending up in our oceans, one PET bottle at a time.
Every year, Australians produce more than 1.3 million tonnes of plastic waste – more than 71 kg per person. And the majority of that ends up in landfills, our environment or in our waterways, where it can contribute to the growing microplastics problem.
The problem that Lomman discovered is that the plastic Western Australians put in recycling bins is not reprocessed locally to make other products, but sold on the international waste market. It is often incinerated for energy extraction, which generates more carbon than putting it in landfill.
Through his startup company Greenbatch, Lomman will establish the first PET plastic waste reprocessing plant in Western Australia. The project is off to a running start, with a recent successful crowdfunding campaign raising more than $70,000.
Lomman decided to start Greenbatch when he heard that by 2050, there would be more plastic waste in our oceans than fish. He was concerned about the legacy this would leave for future generations.
“By the time my young daughter is my age, our oceans will have lost the battle with plastic,” he explained.
After doing some research, Lomman discovered there were no plastic reprocessing centres in Western Australia, and very few in the rest of the country for that matter. Of the 250 million tonnes of plastic used globally each year, only 2 per cent is reprocessed. The rest ends up in landfill, waste incinerators, or rivers and oceans.
“It blows my mind that no one has addressed this. I feel like I’ve been lied to – everyone thinks bottles are being recycled. Instead of complaining, I’ve decided to use my engineering background to do something about it,” Lomman said.
The proposed plant will shred bottles whole, including lids and labels. After an air separator is used to remove labels, a wash separator will cause the lid material to float while the PET bottles sink. Following removal of contaminants and excess liquid in a dehydrator, the reprocessed plastic balls will be coloured and extruded as 3D printer filament.
This filament will be put to use at local schools, who will receive the recycled material at no cost. Greenbatch has already formed partnerships with 15 schools in the area, whereby students will collect the PET bottles to be reprocessed into the 3D printer filament.
Building on the work he did with his previous startup Dreamfit, which uses technology to help people with disabilities, Lomman also hopes to provide work opportunities at the plant for younger people with acquired neurological disabilities.
Lomman said the crowd funding campaign will help pay for some of the machines and staffing needed for the plant, but he will also seek grants from government and philanthropic organisations.
To assist with this goal, Lomman has sought pro bono engineering support to draft a feasibility study that incorporates procurement, licensing and logistics costs for the PET reprocessing plant.
WorleyParson’s pro bono teams are considering supporting Lomman’s Greenbatch project. According to Lana Dzananovic, a mechanical engineer at WorleyParsons, the environmental and social benefits of Greenbatch “align with the company’s corporate responsibility program”.
The WorleyParsons Foundation and strategic corporate responsibility activities focus on supporting STEM education, skilled volunteering and the environment.
Lomman has also established a corporate advisory board for Greenbatch, with members including Engineers Australia’s (EA) General Manager for WA Susan Kreemer Pickford. Kreemer Pickford stressed that she has chosen to volunteer for the board as an individual engineer rather than as an EA representative, and said that she is inspired by Lomman’s mission to apply his engineering capabilities to reducing plastic waste.
“When he shared that WA does not recycle plastic locally and explained his thinking behind wanting to create Greenbatch, I accepted the offer to join the corporate advisory board to support this vital project. This is a great example of engineering and entrepreneurship working in the community for the community,” she said.
According to Lomman, the Greenbatch project is still in the early stages. Once the project is fully funded and research and development is complete, machines will need to be purchased and imported from China, and planning and building permissions approved.
“There’s a still a lot of work to do, but I’ll be very happy if we are up and running in 12 months,” he said.