The Hamilton startup transforming coffee cups and soft plastics into gib board avatar

For the last ten weeks, a factory in the Hamilton suburb of Te Rapa has been producing building materials made from the types of plastic waste found in our food, beverages, packages, and mail.

At the start of late 2020, production increased to three 24-hour days a week from five eight-hour days. However, SaveBoard has not yet reached “full throttle,” according to CEO Paul Charteris; current output is half of the factory’s 200,000-board capacity. “It’s a delicate balancing act, matching supply and demand. We’re on the verge of achieving it.”

It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The building materials manufacturer manufactures a low-carbon alternative to plasterboard, which is more commonly referred to as gib board in New Zealand. It is a product that is in high demand, but supply is limited. Winstone Wallboards, New Zealand’s sole manufacturer and largest marketer of gib plasterboard, announced last week that it would suspend all new orders for July 2022 deliveries. Rather than that, gib will be made available via a “allocation model.” The explanation was that a backlog of orders, and the resulting longer lead times, were caused by last year’s lockdown.

Even if SaveBoard operated at full capacity, converting 4,000 tonnes of plastic waste, it would hold less than 2% of a market dominated by Winstone’s 94% market share. Nonetheless, the global pandemic has disrupted global supply chains, shipping costs, and construction materials, and SaveBoard has benefited from the disruption. Charteris reports that the company is contacted daily by builders, developers, and homeowners seeking alternative wall-lining products. While the startup will alleviate some stress, it will be minimal, he admits. “We can probably build about 600 houses a year, but there are currently over 40,000 consented.” We will not be able to save the construction industry, but we can add capacity that currently does not exist.”

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