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Manufacturing the Future of our Region

North Queensland’s first hardwood and agricultural plastic recycling facility is preparing to create regional jobs and turn local waste into value-add products. Qplas Pty Ltd. is combining recycled agricultural plastics with waste timber from African Mahogany plantations in North Queensland to produce cost-effective and durable plastic composite products. 

Qplas founder and Chairperson Sandra Richards says the project is the first of its kind in Queensland and provides an innovative solution to preventing plastic and waste residues from infiltrating the environment. 

“Qplas was formed out of the need to find a solution to the residue waste from African Mahogany trees being grown in North Queensland timber plantations as well as finding a solution to the huge amount of agricultural plastic waste that is posing a major threat to the environment,” explains Sandra, who has her own African Mahogany Plantation in North Queensland. 

“By combining hardwood and plastic waste, we are offering a cost-effective and sustainable alternative that is beneficial for both the environment and local businesses who are trying to dispose of their waste.” 

Qplas relocated their manufacturing facility from Melbourne to Townsville last year after identifying a market for plastic composites in the region. Despite being set back by COVID, the company is now in the process of commissioning a washing and pelletising plant which is set to commence production this coming month.

“We identified a strong market in North Queensland and have designed the manufacturing facility to produce a range of quality composite products that are fire resistant, waterproof, rot and termite proof,” continues Sandra. 

The resin pellets from farmers trickle tape waste.

“The plastic waste is sourced from local farmers, councils and businesses, while the wood waste is supplied from African Mahogany plantations milling residue and heads of the trees – which previously was burnt or went to landfill.” 

The facility will initially produce 10,000 tonnes of product a year, with there being potential for this number to grow. Sandra says they have already been inundated with businesses in the region asking them to take their agricultural plastic waste.  

“In the past it’s all gone to landfill which is a huge problem in North Queensland because there are no local businesses that are repurposing the plastics. Instead they are travelling at great cost to Brisbane and Melbourne to be repurposed,” she explains. 

“Coles and Woolworths are also now at the stage where they will only accept produce from farmers who can prove they are safely disposing of their waste. 

“Since it has now been legislated that farmers are no longer allowed to bury or burn their waste plastics, they have nowhere to store it. We can now repurpose their waste into useful products they can reuse.” 

The range of waste products including trickle tape, plastic film and fluming, have already successfully been upcycled as sound walls, pallet bollards, decking and other valuable products. 

“We are working towards creating a circular economy around waste,” continues Sandra. 

“We are taking used trickle tape from farmers in the region – which is often replaced each year – breaking it down and supplying it back to the trickle tape manufacturers so they can sustainably produce more of their product. 

“We’re also upcycling plastics into tomato stakes for farmers and currently have a project with The Australian Defence Force where we are repurposing their bomb casing into survey pegs for their Greenvale site.” 

The drying equipment that will be attached to the wash plant.

As local industries continue to recover from the economic shutdown, Sandra says there’s never been a more crucial time to invest in domestic manufacturing to create local jobs and products. 

“Whilst we were set back by COVID, it has highlighted the need to focus on manufacturing sustainable products and doing this on home soil,” she continues. 

“We are planning to employ around 30 people and have received great support from the TAFE College and Townsville’s Manufacturing Hub.

“By manufacturing locally, we are not only saving costs and creating jobs, but we also want to ensure this process can be replicated around North Queensland so others in the region can also sustainably dispose of their plastic waste.”

Sandra says North Queensland has the potential to be a frontrunner in onshore recycling policy thanks to new and upcoming advanced technology that will make the region global competitors. 

“Our team is building advanced manufacturing systems on digital platforms that will enable traceability through the supply chain and enable us to be a globally competitive manufacturer,” she continues. 

“We are a smart region and Australia can compete with low labour cost countries by being smarter.

“North Queensland is a great place for manufacturing and if we can get rid of some of our waste problems in the process then that’s even better.” 

You can find more information about Qplas here.

By Georgie Desailly. 

Georgie Desailly

Georgie Desailly

Georgie is BDmag’s resident writer who is passionate about entrepreneurship, sustainability and regional affairs. She is preparing to study with The School of The New York Times later this year before commencing her journalism qualifications.