Endless Australia is creating a circular economy
Matt Tomkins and Tim Miller have a lot in common, a passion for the environment, adrenaline sports and unique cars. But there’s greater potential among these two mates.
Tim is the Founder of Lids4Kids Australia, an epic plastic recycling initiative; the first of its type in Australia. His grass-roots 100% volunteer program encourages communities to collect small plastic bottle lids which can't be recycled. To date, Lids4Kids Australia has over 50,000 members who have saved over 110 million lids from going to landfill.
Given the sheer volume of lids being collected, Tim started to think bigger. Enter Matt from ‘The Chino Adventures’ and Endless Australia was born. Now the pair could soon become part of that rare breed of social entrepreneurs that are working to create an environmentally friendly, global circular economy.
Tim and Matt are graduates of the 2022 Mill House Ventures GRIST program, a social enterprise accelerator. I met with them both over Zoom recently.
Tim: Our Holden Rally Team participates in outback charity rallies that fundraise for charities that support sick, disabled and disadvantaged kids. One of the ways we fundraise is by collecting bottles and cans for the 10c Container Deposit Scheme. When I discovered that the plastic bottle lids are too small for recycling companies to process, I founded Lids4Kids Australia to prevent small plastic from unnecessarily going into landfill.
After my small post on social media was picked up by the ABC and other print, radio and television networks, the idea went viral and the lids stared flowing in. Soon we had over 7,000 public collection points, 30,000 volunteers rescuing lids across 36 regions covering every square inch of Australia including many islands.
My aim was to inspire and encourage kids, schools, small businesses and community groups to do something small each day to make their little corner of the world a better place. I knew from personal experience, that regardless of your age, background, physical or intellectual ability, we each have the capacity to meaningfully contribute, inspire others and lead change in our community.
Lids4Kids was soon supplying rescued lids and shredded plastic to many Precious Plastic groups and small recyclers who were making everything from mobility aids, playground equipment, landscaping supplies, school stationery and homewares. However, during school visits I realised that I'd need to make a product to inspire young people to rescue small plastic waste and decided to make skateboards. Kids loved the idea.
Matt: This was around the time of the COVID lockdowns and Iike many other small businesses, most of my work dried up. All of my photoshoot bookings got cancelled and I was having to re-think my business model as a professional photographer. My pivot was to focus on prints and products and as a lifelong skater, I have always wanted to showcase my photos on unique medium of timber skateboard decks.
As skateboarding was something you could do on your own during COVID, the popularity increased which made the world-wide shortage of Canadian Maple skateboard decks even worse. I tried to order blank decks from different suppliers all over Australia, but my orders either got cancelled or couldn’t be filled due to lack of supply.
Previously, Tim had mentioned to me that he wanted to use the plastic bottle lids collected by Lids4Kids to make skateboards so that young people could get excited about recycling. Because of my love for skateboarding, community and the environment, I was very keen to get on-board.
One morning while I was walking to the gym, I saw Tim’s 1950’s Holden FC wagon in the carpark where he regularly ran lid sorting workshops with volunteers. I popped in to tell him that I’d love to make my display decks from recycled plastic. We quickly realised that by making wall mounted display decks, we could utilise all of the other lids that aren’t strong enough to make rideable skateboard decks.
Tim: During that conversation, I realised that Matt and I shared a passion far beyond just our mutual love of cars, motorsport and hosting local motoring events to fundraise for charities. We also shared a love of the outdoors and adrenaline sports such as skateboarding, BMX, mountain-biking and dirt-biking.
We each care deeply about protecting the environment and tackling issues faced by young people. Matt loved that I wanted to create a social enterprise to make skateboards and donate the majority of proceeds to local charities.
Matt: Whilst having so much in common, our differences and skills complement each other perfectly. We realised that together, our impact could reach far beyond just local and that our partnership could create a global movement behind a brand that represents quality, sustainability and innovation.
And Endless Australia was born.
Tim: Matt and I both grew up in the scouting movement and have scouting families, so we've always enjoyed the outdoors, hiking and camping. My wife and I love getting off the beaten track. When our eldest son was just three weeks old, we bought a motorhome and bush camped our way around Australia for six years eventually coming home with three sons and settling into a bush-suburb of Canberra (The very same suburb Matt grew up in).
We've all seen the devastation that waste is having on our planet, you can't go anywhere, no matter which corner of Australia, without seeing small plastic waste. I've always done my best to reduce my impact on the environment even if it just means picking rubbish up on every hike or reducing the amount of plastic I bring home.
During my 25-year career in the Federal Office of Road Safety, I helped develop vehicle safety and emission standards to reduce the impact of all new vehicles on air pollution and the planet. In the Environment Team, I helped redesign the Fuel Consumption Label (displayed on the windscreen of all new vehicles) and the Green Vehicle Guide, both of which help consumers make a cleaner greener choice to reduce their CO2 impact.
Matt: Growing up, I spent a lot of time adventuring in the Aussie bush, so I have always felt a strong sense of place when I’m surrounded by nature. Being able to spend time exploring with friends or just taking time away for myself and listening to the birds, the sound of the creek or the wind in the trees always helped me find peace.
Whether I’m out camping, motorbike riding, four-wheel driving or on hikes to take photos, I am always shocked and appalled with the amount of rubbish and littered plastic that I come across. I can see the direct impact it has on the environment and wildlife, especially in beautiful and remote locations.
Since I was young, I would always pick up rubbish that I came across when I was hanging at the skatepark, riding dirt jumps, walking through national parks or anywhere in between. I have always believed in leaving a location in better condition than when I arrived.
The scouting movement has also helped me find opportunities to make a difference and I undertook a lot of environmental activities while I was working towards my Queens Scout Award. I spent a lot of time with local bushland groups, got involved with Greening Australia and regularly volunteered with Clean Up Australia Day. My mum also worked for the Australian Environment Department for over 40 years, so her enthusiasm has definitely had an influence on my values.
Matt: We do. So many kids and young adults slip through the cracks. Like myself, a huge amount of them battle with issues like mental illness and society just doesn’t seem to have room for them or provide the support they need. I think that’s why adrenaline sports like skateboarding are so attractive. It’s an amazing way to practice mindfulness, build confidence while improving your health or even just blow off steam when you need an escape.
Tim: I founded my Holden Rally Team to participate in outback charity rallies to combine my love of motorsport, travelling, camping and helping disadvantaged kids. Once I learned that Matt shared my passion, I invited him to become my co-driver on the Great Endeavour Rally which raises funds to support people with a disability.
One of my goals with Lids4Kids Australia is to support disadvantaged members of our community, host workshops and provide employment opportunities for people with a disability. Matt volunteered to help me renovate a drop-in centre, so that community groups can contribute to a local sustainability project.
Matt: We understand the challenges young, disadvantaged people can face with finding meaningful employment, so once Endless Australia is fully operational, we intend to create opportunities wherever we can.
Our social enterprise will also be donating a share of our profits and raising awareness of social issues by working with local charities to support disadvantaged youth, mental health, people with a disability and indigenous communities.
Matt: The main challenge we've faced is funding. Compared to many other social enterprises, we have significantly high start-up costs and a long lead time before we will be able to generate any income.
We have approached our local Commonwealth and Territory government representatives for assistance with identifying appropriate grants. Unfortunately, whilst individually they have been supportive, funding has only been available to large established companies with a proven track record or small companies seeking minimal financial support. We fall somewhere in between.
At this stage we are not willing to seek a business loan from a financial institution or funding from a venture capitalist who would want a stake in the business. We want most of the income we generate to go directly back into capital investment and supporting local programs and charities, not loan repayments or dividends.
Tim: We believe that grant funding, corporate sponsorship or philanthropic donations would be the best way to meet our start-up costs whilst still being able to create a positive impact in our community.
We feel that we should exhaust all opportunities in getting our funding from companies seeking to address environmental issues though sustainable and socially conscious action before we resort to crowdfunding and asking the community to chip-in for a problem that was predominately caused by major corporations.
Matt: It felt like a three-year degree squeezed into three months. The Mill House Ventures staff, professional network and mentor support was amazing and so was having a cohort of fellow social enterprise founders that share our values.
The program also gave us confidence that our idea was credible. Having such an experienced team assist us in methodically and rigorously testing our proposal was invaluable. Now that we have the support of professional mentors and industry networks, we have a strong team with some pretty heavy hitters in our corner.
Tim: The GRIST Accelerator Program filled in all the gaps. "You don't know what you don't know". It helped us learn all the important facets of starting a small for-purpose business to make a positive impact, achieve our goals and focus on how to address our wicked problem.
Finally, to be engaged with a group of like-minded people was really inspiring, we finally found our tribe of those that want to do good and inspire others. It reinforced my belief that regardless of our age, background, experience or capacity, that by wanting to start a social enterprise, we all have the same "do-gooder" chip inside us that makes us all want to make the world a better place.
Matt: We hope to grow our small social enterprise into a 100% Australian-owned global adrenalin sports brand, making sustainable Australian-made recyclable products. We believe we can make a huge difference in repurposing small plastic without compromising on quality or performance. We want to change the perception of plastic, so that people see it as a resource not waste.
Tim: As well as supporting many local charities and artists, Endless Australia will continue to support my Lids4Kids Australia charity to provide education and inspiration to young people to become Zero Waste Warriors, rescue small plastic waste for the planet and become leaders for sustainability in their community.
Fortunately, the unexpected and humbling receipt of awards such ACT Volunteer of the Year and the Australian of the Year Award for ACT Local Hero has opened many doors for us. We hope to use any voice we have to raise awareness of issues that we are passionate about.
NOTE: As of July 2023, Lids4Kids has rescued over 110 million plastic bottle lids and have just opened a new sorting facility in Canberra.
Endless Australia is seeking philanthropic donations and corporate partners to help produce a variety of recycled plastic skateboards.