In something of an irony, millions of plastic bottles that milk gets sold in are going back to farms - not into the fridge but to keep cows in the paddocks, thanks to a former Northlander.
The once opaque bottles arrive in a much different form to their original - as tough, round, black fence posts handy for farms, low retaining walls, backyards, parks and anywhere else a long-lasting post is needed. The makers of strainer called Future Post are fielding interest from the marine, viticulture and horticulture industries.
The product made 100 per cent from recycled plastic waste is a winner, to say the least, as taking this year's National Field Days Agricultural Innovation Prize, in June, proves.
''People look at that post and say 'that's easy, how simple would that be to make' but far from it,'' Future Post manufacturer, farmer, fencing contractor and former Northlander, Jerome Wenzlick said.
''At the Field Days people kept commenting, 'crickey, these are solid'.''
Wenzlick said the product is an option for fence builders but he is not setting out to replace wooden posts.
He had a eureka moment after hitting a hard spot — literally — during a fencing job on an old rubbish dump site on the Coromandel Peninsula. He was struggling to ram conventional wooden posts into the ground because of the amount of plastic waste packed under the surface. So tough was that bed of plastic, the fence posts were breaking.
Wenzlick applied some number 8 wire Kiwi ingenuity to the problem, figuring he could build a stronger-than-pine post from waste plastic and solve a big environmental problem at the same time.
But it would take a couple of years and a chance meeting with a man called Bindi Ground, now a partner in the business, before the idea attracted seed funding from Callaghan Innovation and Future Post was born.
Ground had experience with recycling and repurposing products and the two met when Wenzlick turned up to build a fence at Ground's new property.
The meeting of minds resulted in the non-leaching, UV-stable, organic farm friendly, black posts that can be post-driven, cut, drilled, nailed, screwed, bolted and stapled. They don't need insulators for electric wiring, are impenetrable to moisture, frosts, insects and fungi and have a 50-plus year life expectancy.
Early on in their development, some the seed funding went on a trip to check out the plastic recycling scene in USA. The American stuff didn't work so the men came home and designed their own machinery, made in Tokoroa by South Waikato Precision Engineers.
As well as playing a large part in designing and building their own machinery, there's nothing else like it in the world and the men are pleased to keep it ''NZ made'', Wenzlick said.
After six months in production, Future Post chewed through 500 tonnes of waste plastic, mainly from the Auckland region. It has helped the supply chain greatly that China stopped taking soft plastic waste, ''but we're needing even more of it now'', Wenzlick said.
''We're one of the few companies in the area that takes a waste product process right through repurposing and out the other end. Some people are negative. They say why use plastic, but what else do you do with it?
''The politics around plastic waste are dirty but the way we make it is clean - there's no smoke.''
Wenzlick said culvert pipes and other products made from recycled plastic don't use the wide range of waste material Future Post does.
Future Post teamed up with Fonterra to help source the waste product as the dairy giant recovers used plastic bottles from cafes and restaurants. Fonterra sells Future Posts at its Farm Source stores.
''They're also for sale all over New Zealand but not yet overseas,'' Wenzlick said.
Nine people now work at the Waiuku factory and the company is looking to grow, he said.