FRESH START: Nev Hyman with some of the Tanna Island children in the classroom built for them by Nev House following the 2019 cyclone that hit Vanuatu.
FRESH START: Nev Hyman with some of the Tanna Island children in the classroom built for them by Nev House following the 2019 cyclone that hit Vanuatu.

New homes can see plastic made fantastic

IMAGINE if all our discarded plastics could be repurposed in an environmentally friendly way, taking tonnes of plastic out of landfill, creating jobs and quality affordable homes?

Seems too good to be true … until you listen to veteran Gold Coast surfboard manufacturing guru Nev Hyman.

That's something that, sadly, Australian governments seem unwilling to do.

"We take all seven codes of plastic waste and turn them into composites panels, architect-designed to become part of a modular house that can be built or removed in two days," Nev said.

The houses are flatpack, with the panels made of particled plastic encapsulated in natural lignin (organic plant polymer), making it safe from leaching.

This means the plastics didn't have to be "cleaned" before the manufacturing process, Nev said, one of the major hurdles for existing plastic recycling.

"We use all the plastics other recyclers can't," Nev said.

"Everyone's saying we need to sort our plastic recycling better, clean it better, that we need more bins, but back me and I'll prove we don't need that."

The panels don't need to be painted or rendered, so there is very little maintenance.

There is no need for a concrete foundation and yet the houses are rated cyclone-proof to category five and engineered to withstand seismic shock, so earthquake-resistant.

The modular panel construction means they can also be designed to be culturally sympathetic to wherever they are to be used, and they can operate on or off the grid for water, sanitation and power.

The Nev House motto is "housing humanity", but this is far more than an ideal or a dream concept.

It is something the man who has been shaping the surfboard industry since the 1970s has already achieved.

Following the devastating 2019 cyclone in Vanuatu, his latest business Nev House worked with aid agencies and government to supply homes, classrooms and medical clinics to Tanna Island - 15 buildings in four weeks.

"These homes are perfect for rapid deployment in any iteration," Nev said.

That includes emergency and disaster situations, replacing slums and refugee camps with hygienic, long-lasting, low-cost homes and creating homes for the homeless or those on low incomes.

They could also be the perfect answer to the aged care problem many face, Nev said, with "granny flats" easily constructed and removed from backyards without major expenditure or works.

"It means you can build a home for your parents so you can be there to care for them but they can keep their independence and you can keep yours," Nev said.

Nev and his team are also working with Gunida Gunyah to develop a housing program for outback indigenous communities, where current housing construction costs up to four times what it would anywhere else in the country.

In 2017 Nev won the coveted UK Pitch@Palace competition from over 25,000 businesses worldwide, judged by 300 dignitaries and industry leaders.

As a result he has US, UK, European and South African governments "chasing him" to set up operations.

"Governments around the world are saying we have this environmental crisis with plastic and I'm finally in a position to provide that solution with something that utilises large amounts of waste plastic," Nev said.

"It's a bit annoying that I have spoken to State and Federal Governments here and I can't get that level of support."

In fact, Nev House has had an application in for 8-10 months for an Australian government grant related to diverting landfill through a Composite Recycled Plastic Panels plant but has heard nothing.

"We would be operational by now if we had that money," he said.

The panels are currently made in China, but unlike so many other industries moving offshore, Nev's plan is to establish local manufacturing plants, in Australia's case on the Gold Coast or in Brisbane.

Each 50sq m house uses approximately 4 tonnes of plastic, meaning 8000 tonnes of plastic waste could be diverted from Brisbane or Gold Coast landfill to create 2000 homes.

"I've been asking people here to back me for years now, and we are at the tipping point … ," Nev said.

"We should be operational now in Australia, and if that doesn't happen soon, I'm not going to back off saying 'where were you, you missed out'."

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