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Durham University

Careers & Enterprise Centre

Plastech Innovation

Names and area of study with graduation year:

Natasha Boulding (MChem), CEO - PhD researcher, Polymer Chemistry – 2019

Phil Buckley (MMath), CFO - PhD researcher, Materials Science - 2019

Scott Bush (MPhys), CTO - PhD researcher, Nanotechnology - 2019

Business start date: September 2018

Number of employees: 3


What does your business do?

Plastech Innovation provides a solution to reduce the volume of plastic waste entering our natural environment by reprocessing it into aggregate to be used in concrete and construction materials.

Why have you taken on this challenge?

Plastic is essential for our modern everyday life. Currently, 78% of the 400 million tonnes of plastic produced annually is not recycled, instead it ends up in landfill (where it slowly decomposes over hundreds of years), is sent for incineration (releasing extensive amounts of carbon dioxide) or is discarded into the natural environment (8 million tonnes end up in the ocean). This is a global problem; our environment is becoming damaged and wildlife killed.

Concrete is the second most widely used resource on earth. Concrete industries alone are responsible for 5% of global carbon dioxide production, contributing significantly to global warming. A proportion of this comes from the transportation of heavy natural sand and stone aggregates. Additionally, these materials are often dredged from sea beds, having a major negative impact on the ecosystem, destroying food and habitats for marine life.

Who is your product aimed at?

Waste management companies, local authorities and plastic manufacturing industries who want new disposal routes for undesirable mixed and low grade plastic waste. Our disposal solution is a service that is more cost-effective and eco-friendly than current methods.

Construction companies who want to reduce transportation costs and their environmental impact. Our innovative plastic aggregate is a product that reduces the use of heavy natural aggregates by replacing them with a lightweight eco-friendly alternative.

What made you decide to start your own business?

As individuals, we are passionate about using our expertise to solve real world problems- Plastech Innovation fulfils just that. We all met at Durham University in September 2015 when we started our PhD studies as part of the Soft Matter and Functional Interfaces Centre for Doctoral Training. SOFI gave us invaluable extra training which has accelerated the business. For example, we attended a summer school that is designed to teach scientists about business. At the time we didn’t realise how important these two weeks would be for us!

There is no better feeling for us than running Plastech. We get to innovate, which is what we love to do as scientists, but also get to run operations, create and maintain relationships, implement marketing and finance strategies. We are truly masters of all trades! Leaning something new everyday whilst actively helping to solve the environmental challenges humanity faces is what motivates us through the hard days.

What impact have you achieved to date?

The ultimate objective for Plastech would be to divert all undesirable post-consumer waste plastic that isn’t recycled away from landfill or incineration.

We are currently in our proof of concept stage, where we are diverting small testing quantities of plastic away from these routes. Once testing is complete, we aim to divert increasing quantities away from our natural environment.

The Plastech team have won many national competitions and grants:

  • Northern Accelerator Proof of Concept Award
  • Durham City Incubator Programme
  • Durham Blueprint Startup Challenge (2019)
  • Durham Blueprint Live Pitch (2019)
  • Durham Blueprint Ideas Challenge (2019)
  • Shell LiveWIRE (April 2019)
  • Bright SCIdea (2019)
  • Thinking Digital Conference Finalists
  • Project North East Sustainability Fund
  • UK/China High-tech Projects Roadshow

We are also very proud of the collaborations we have with local companies, who are helping to bring our product to the market.

What challenges have you overcome along the way?

First and foremost, running a business alongside PhD studies is not for the faint hearted!

As our team is made up of scientists, one of the biggest challenges for us was to learn business. We attended many workshops throughout the first few months as part of the Blueprint Startup Challenge and Durham City Incubator.

We have started working on Plastech full-time, as of October 2019, and we're sure that many more challenges will surface!

What is your key tip for Durham University students and graduates currently in the process of setting up a business?

Network, network, network! Get your idea and yourself out there! – remember you are not just trying to get people to invest in your idea, but also you as a person.

Ask, Ask, Ask! No questions are stupid. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. One of Plastech’s strengths is the fact we are not afraid to ask for help or say when we don’t understand something. Very early on we surrounded ourselves with advisors who are experts in areas we had limited knowledge of. This meant we had valuable discuss with staff members such as; Lian Hutchings, David King and Peter Allen.

Contact people who have been through it already, they may have useful advise or even contacts.