Plastic pollution is one of the world's most pressing problems. We produce more than 380 million tonnes of plastic each year — the equivalent in weight of 2,700,000 blue whales. Across the world, only 16% of plastic waste is recycled; in Australia, the amount is even lower, at just 12%. The rest is dumped in landfill, incinerated or ends up in our oceans.
Australian manufacturer Geofabrics has recently developed a new product line aiming to take at least some of this second-hand plastic out of our environment and back into its products.
Geofabrics manufactures geosynthetics — synthetic products that are used in everything from ground stabilization and drainage to building civil infrastructure such as roads, rail and solar farms. The company has been manufacturing its bidim non-woven geotextile for over 30 years, but in March 2020 it launched bidim Green, which incorporates recycled PET. Dennis Grech, CEO and Managing Director of Geofabrics, explains the motivation behind the new product:
Our customers are increasingly requesting products that have a component of recycled material, and it is a social expectation that we now recycle, but Australia's track record in regards to plastic recycling is quite poor. The building industry, of which Geofabrics is part, is the largest single contributor to plastic waste in Australia. We identified pretty early on that we could make a contribution — and we should make a contribution — to easing the burden on our environment.
With that mindset, we had a look at our raw material inputs, and we developed a product that now incorporates recycled plastics as a composite to virgin material. That has proven to be very successful, to be able to build load infrastructure, rail infrastructure, mining infrastructure, and to do that using recycled content. Since we launched bidim Green, we've taken almost 20 million plastic drinking bottles out of landfill and out of our waterways and put it back into building key infrastructure.
Geofabrics' Megaflo flat pipe product is also now made with 100% recycled HDPE content from milk bottles, and the business is innovating around recycled rubber. Grech has high expectations that the firm will be able to increase the amount of plastic it reuses over time. He elaborates:
The almost 20 million bottles taken out of the environment is effectively over the past 18 months and I really think it'll continue to accelerate. One of the limitations in Australia right now is being able to continue to build a supply line of recycled PET. The only constraint we really have is the ability to continue to access more recycled plastics to feed into our production line.
With very supportive government policy and more infrastructure coming into play that will process recycled material, I have no doubt that other supply lines over the next few years will open up beyond where they are today. The result of that for Geofabrics is that we would be able to add more and more recycled content into our production process.
In order to keep innovating around recycled materials and sustainability, Geofabrics is relying on its long-term technology partnership with enterprise software vendor IFS to help navigate current complexities in areas like supply chains. Grech says:
That's where we see disruption, not only in Geofabrics but throughout the world right now — access to raw material, significant delays in shipping, it's just more and more volatile. IFS enables us to get it right. When you complement that beyond the ordering and the manufacturing, but also through CRM and being able to identify customer opportunities early such that we can get that supply chain right in order to make the right product at the right time to maximize the opportunity to make a sale, that's all linked into our sustainability goals.
It means that we can go to market and take our customers on that sustainability journey, knowing that when an order comes through, we're able to deliver. IFS provides Geofabrics with a level of certainty in our processes, and that gives our customers certainty and confidence that when they place an order on Geofabrics, that product is going to be delivered on time, in the right quantities, made to the right quality and using recycled material.
Geofabrics has been using IFS for more than 15 years, and the core benefit from its ERP product is having one source of truth. Core functions of the business like financial reporting, CRM and distribution are all aligned to the IFS ERP system, which becomes the hub for everything from stock management and purchase orders to asset uptime and reliability.
IFS's CRM technology has been a more recent add-on, and one that has a direct link to enabling Geofabric's sustainability efforts. Grech explains:
Being able to identify customer opportunities early, to schedule in that product demand early, aligning our raw material supply, particularly in a world right now that is inherently volatile — so one source of truth, one ERP solution that helps us align raw material, ordering supply, scheduling production, and then distribution of dispatch — is absolutely critical.
In September, Geofabrics acquired Australian manufacturer Plascorp, which has its own manufacturing sites, and is planning to transition that business to IFS next year. The company now has five manufacturing plants and 350+ staff spread across three countries.
The company is also underway with an upgrade to IFS Cloud, which Grech expects will be completed in the next three months. While there are many other vendors out there offering alternative cloud-based ERP and CRM systems, the firm didn't consider other options. Grech explains:
There's an enormous amount of volatility in the world so we had very little appetite to disrupt the relationship that we have with IFS, because it works for us. Whether we look at financial reporting, CRM, manufacturing, distribution, maintenance, those linkages between all of those functions within the business, whether it's the manufacturing team, the maintenance team, the sales team, customer service, finance, there is enormous linkage that IFS provides.
We see our business growing, we see our business become more complex, whether that's through acquisitions or it's just through a natural step into new technology, and we see IFS as the right partner to achieve those goals. So we didn't go looking anywhere else because in terms of running a multi-currency, multi-jurisdiction, multiple-site business, which is becoming more complex, IFS changes to what our business requires.
Grech sees the Internet of Things, robotics and artificial intelligence as the next areas of technological opportunity for Geofabrics. As the company explores how it will be interrupted and changed by those disruptive technologies, it wants to maintain a stable and supportive ERP platform as an enabler.
We look at innovation around robotics and artificial intelligence and computing power, and we feel at times that we should be moving a little bit more quickly in regards to understanding how we can link all of that into our model.
IFS Cloud is the next generation that we need for us to move down the chain of not just seeing ourselves as a manufacturer or as a leader in supply chain, but looking at how we access new technology like robotics and artificial intelligence to take our business to the next step.
While removing 20 million plastic bottles might be a drop in the ocean of the billions produced every year, Geofabrics has clear ambitions to increase the amount of waste it reuses. And at least the firm has already taken concrete steps to become more sustainable. Hopefully the planned upgrade to IFS Cloud will make it easier and quicker for the firm to start exploiting technology like AI and IoT and put it on track to achieve more green goals.