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Martogg: Cradle to cradle

The difference between the lifespan and the lifecycle of a product is a small but critical distinction. The first is a cradle-to-grave approach that can take into account social, environmental and economic costs from creation to the eventual destruction.

The second closes the loop and returns the end-product waste to the beginning of a new lifecycle, not just as a downgraded version of its ancestor, but as valuable raw material that can be used to make high quality products.

It is this cradle-to-cradle approach that underpins a fundamental shift in the business of Australian polymer manufacturer the Martogg Group.

Based in Dandenong in Victoria, Martogg makes polymers with a range of specific qualities that it sells to other businesses to mould into plastic products such as films, bottles and outdoor furniture.

Since it was established in 1975 Martogg has grown steadily into group of companies - including resin marketing company Encor; plastic masterbatch and resin producer General Polymers and polymer trader Gentrade - but its redefining moment was the 2006 launch (and $2million investment in new equipment and infrastructure) of a new Life Cycle Management approach to business branded Martogg LCM®.

In the words of Martogg Group Commercial Manager David Finlayson: “We have a sales team working throughout the whole plastics industry in Australia and they are no longer just talking about selling polymers. What we are now saying is that we can sell you this polymer and we want to talk to you about what you are doing with the off cuts and any other waste because we are interested in buying it back from you.

“This adds value to the deal from the customers’ perspective - especially as an alternative to them paying someone else to dispose of the waste - and it brings material back to Martogg that we then regard as a valuable raw material.”

The distinction he draws between Martogg’s version of recycling and other plastic recyclers rests on Martogg’s 30plus years of experience with polymer design and manufacture.

He said: “Technically we have been recycling since the1970s but simply putting plastics through a process that converts them into pellets that can be molded into lower grade versions of the original is not what we are talking about anymore.

“With our equipment and expertise we can incorporate additives to give specific properties and colours, we can blend and enhance and create new high quality products.”

The redefinition of ‘waste’ to ‘raw material’ reflects Martogg’s aim to move away from producing ‘virgin’ (petroleum-derived) polymers. According to Finlayson the cost of virgin polymers has been pushed up in recent years by rising oil prices but also contained by increases in supply as manufacturing capacity has grown around the world.

He describes Martogg’s move away from this market as “not something that is done for altruistic reasons - it’s a way of securing our business into the future. Looking at the global trends, there’s no turning back. Whether manufacturing companies are forced to recycle their waste by legislation or simply by market demand it is clearly the way things are going.”

As a manufacturing company in its own right Martogg saw the writing on the wall and looked at its own operations from an LCM perspective. As a result it converted 170 tonnes per year of land-fill destined waste into feedstocks for proprietary polymer products.

So far conversations about Martogg LCM® with the group’s 900 or so Australian customers are progressing well. Findlayson said: “Our customers are very satisfied with how far we have come in a relatively short space of time.”

Martogg has also been recognised as a leader by the Plastics and Chemicals Industry Association (PACIA), which awarded the company with its prestigious Sustainability Award for Plastics for 2007.

While Martog faced stiff competition from other finalists including Dulux (for a powder coating recovery project) and Repeat Plastics (for recycling sterile hospital wrap into outdoor furniture), according to the judges it was Martogg’s “unique, integrated total-polymer-company approach that has resulted in the development of innovative and commercially successful recycled polymer applications for the automotive, building and construction and consumer durable industry segments, as well as the re-use of internally generated waste to reduce waste to landfill,” that won them over.

According to Finlayson this is just the beginning. “The whole industry is on a steep learning curve and we have made a commitment to be a leader in terms of new ways of thinking about polymer products.”

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