Environment industries archive
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Reln Plastics was established in Victoria in 1954, with the company's first products focusing on the dispersal of effluent water. In 1970 the company converted its production methods to injection moulding, with the product range diversifying into waste-water management, agricultural products (storage and animal feeding), and contract work such as the production of milk crates for Dairy Farmers.
Environmental responsibility and good business management have been the cornerstones of Reln's development. Reln's proprietary products are made from recycled materials that have a viable second-life application and are easily sourced from the waste stream. Unless required by a product's specifications or health regulations, the company routinely uses recycled plastic in its contract products. The company has been exporting its waste-water management and waste minimisation products throughout the 1990s and currently supplies markets in Europe, Asia and North America.
The company is located at Ingleburn in south-western Sydney. The company has grown dramatically in the last eight years, from 11 employees in 1992 to 160 employees in 2000.
Design for environment
In 1990, the company achieved its goal of creating a sustainable and profitable market for the use of waste plastics, addressing the life cycle stages of material extraction and reuse/disposal of its products. The company decided to take the application of recycled plastic one step further, by embarking on a design for environment program to design and market waste minimisation products made from 100 per cent recycled post-consumer plastic. These products would address the 'use' stage of their recycled plastic product, and lessen the environmental impact of the transportation and disposal of green waste in landfills. Reln felt that this was an opportunity to:
Designing a worm farm
The development of the initial worm farm (marketed as the Worm FactoryTM) began in 1993, involving Reln's Managing Director, production and marketing teams, and an Environmental Protection Authority (NSW EPA) consultant.
An important challenge for the design team was to ensure that the Worm FactoryTM was efficient enough to allow its use in all types of residential areas, (particularly high-density residential areas that typically have little control over waste disposal) without causing unpleasant environmental or health side-effects, or odours.
In accordance with Reln's commitment to the DfE strategies of resource conservation, low-impact and low-toxicity materials, the worm farms were made using waste polypropylene from car batteries, milk crates and manufacturers' scrap. The inert nature of the polypropylene ensures that no toxic substances leach into the worm farm during its use or at the end of its life.
A prototype was developed, and the resulting Worm FactoryTM was evaluated in-house at Reln over five months, and externally by the NSW EPA. The evaluation rated the Worm FactoryTM in regard to:
The resulting Worm FactoryTM allows households to vermicompost (the process of composting in a worm farm) organic waste, reducing waste while producing hygienic, odourless solid and liquid fertiliser. The factory itself can be recycled at the end of its useful life.
Reln was concerned that selling the Worm FactoryTM through established retail outlets may not necessarily achieve effective awareness and understanding of the waste issue. To combat this, Reln invited Australian Local Governments (which have direct responsibility for management of household waste) to sell the Worm Factory(tm) to ratepayers at minimal cost. The Worm Factory(tm) and other recycling products are now sold by more than 400 Local Governments in Australia.
Improving environmental performance
In 1994 the company decided to develop the Can-O-WormsTM. This was primarily a marketing decision as the company recognised that selling the Worm FactoryTM through Local Governments had increased consumer awareness to a point where a new worm farm design for the retail market was viable. The Australian community now had a greater understanding and acceptance of the need for waste reduction and their role in the process. In 1997, Reln introduced the Can-O-WormsTM into the Australian retail market through national chain stores K-Mart and Mitre 10.
The design of a new worm farm also provided Reln with an opportunity to enhance environmental performance. The Can-O-WormsTM was designed to enhance environmental performance in the following areas:
Reln has adopted its own product, undertaking both composting and vermiculture at its Ingleburn site.
Reln provides a detailed instruction booklet to all product purchasers, which explains both the philosophy of recycling, and how to use their products for optimum results. In addition, Reln has developed a waste minimisation education package for Grades 1-6 that can be used with school curricula and key learning areas. This education package links worm farming, composting and recycling with other learning modules on land care developed by the CSIRO and State departments of education. The education program is distributed free of charge to schools interested in introducing their students to the concepts of waste minimisation and recycling.
Issues and barriers
The main barrier to the development of both worm farms was the large financial outlay for the development of the product without being certain of the market demand. Reln approached this barrier by deciding to distribute its product through Local Governments, who were able to provide the product to customers in a more informative way than retail stores.
Additional barriers surround the use of recycled rather than virgin plastics. Recycled plastics are heavier than virgin materials and have a much tighter processing window as there is more variation in the materials, which can result in larger quantities of reject product (this can in turn be reused).
To date, Reln worm farms have used more than 1,000 tonnes of post-consumer plastic. In addition, Reln estimates that its worm farms have turned an estimated 10,000 tonnes of organic waste destined for landfill into nutrient-rich, odourless worm castings and liquid.
The use of recycled as opposed to virgin plastics does not result in improved environmental performance during the manufacturing process. It does, however, significantly reduce plastic waste sent to landfill by providing a second-life application for these 'waste' materials. To date, the company has consumed more than 25,000 tonnes of recycled plastics in all its products.
Vermiculture, as opposed to depositing waste in landfill, results in a reduction of chemical use in the waste treatment process, of pollution from trucks transporting the waste, of air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
Reln has also developed strong corporate relationships with leading environmental organisations such as Landcare Australia, Keep Australia Beautiful and the NSW Environmental Protection Authority, as well as Government health departments and Local Governments.
The development of both the Worm FactoryTM and the Can-O-WormsTM cost more than $1 million from the concept to the finished product. These costs include the 'tooling' for the project, product design and modelling, sourcing materials, patenting of the product and internal labour costs. Each product has a payback period of three to five years.
More than 230,000 Worm Factories have been sold through councils between 1993 and 2000 reaching an estimated three per cent of Australian households. 26,000 Can-O-WormsTM sold during the first three months of its release in 1997. Both units cost, on average, between $70 and $90, with worms provided.
Reln now sells waste minimisation products in the USA, UK, Germany, New Zealand, Canada and Japan.
Reln has many other innovative projects servicing its customers needs and as a result of these the company was recently awarded the titles of Innovator of the Year and Manufacturer of the Year in the NSW Small Business Awards.
Reln is currently introducing associated products to use the worm farms and other proprietary lines as a secondary education tool for teaching students about design concepts, highlighting second life applications and maintaining a waste minimisation theme.
Contact information: Tracy Chapman
Environmental Product Manager
Reln Proprietary Limited
14 Williamson Rd
Ingleburn NSW 2565
Phone: 02 9605 9999
Fax: 02 9605 9222
Case study prepared in September 2000