Breathing new life into recycled PVC, Jack Fitzgerald has jumped onboard an exciting and profitable race

Jack Fitzgerald is full of energy. He bounces out of the back of the sprawling office which is home to Think Fencing. The factory is set upon land on a hill out the back of Portarlington. Here, the company makes residential and rural fencing, but also Titan Rail, Ecoduct and all kinds of decking, and all out of recycled Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC. This is a widely used polymer that is economical, versatile, chemically and electrically stable, and weather-resistant with good processing characteristics.

Now, Fitzgerald’s Think Fencing was brought to our attention after the company took out the Leader in Manufacturing award at the 2023 Victorian Manufacturing Gala Hall of Fame Awards. That night in August, Jack brought to the stage with him a couple of engineer staff members, Ben Zappia, and Elise Vella who’d built a plastics extruder in her bedroom at home. “Elise created it all on her own, and is still studying at Deakin University, doing her fourth year in Mechatronics,” says Jack. “Elise looks after the whole technology division we’re working on here.”


As a precocious teenager, Jack Fitzgerald was pretty confident he’d invented a perpetual motion machine.  “I was always tinkering, always playing around with machines,” he says. “When my father retired in the nineties, he bought this place here in Portarlington, and there was an old extruder sitting in the shed.” The property was so large, Jack’s Mum kept horses on it. “After an accident one day, it became urgent that we make the wire fence area more visible to our animals, and therefore safer.” The invention was an instant hit in the industry.

From here, their company grew to become the largest manufacturer of composite fences in the Southern Hemisphere, extending to the manufacture of PVC Running Rails for horse race tracks.  During COVID they got a huge boost, updating and replacing racing track barriers across the country. “This was a very busy time for us,” says Jack. “Most major tracks in WA, NSW, then QLD, and then Victoria.”

“We had a new high-speed extrusion line built in Austria,” explains Fitzgerald. “And we air-freighted it over here to run that one line, so that we could keep up with demand. It cost us over a million to design, build, import and set up.”

Think Fencing has some other new bespoke machinery designed and being built right now to join the assembly line at the warehouse. They also have a unit of tech that leverages Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and vision systems for PVC recycling. There is so much going on.  “The technology that we’ve developed there works really well,” he adds. “In fact, we’ve decided to spin this tech off from being attached to an extruder and put it into its own pilot production line. That was only a pilot line that we built here. Just to prove the concept. Well, we turned it on about eight months ago, and we haven’t turned it off.”

PVC Recycling

PVC as a natural, virgin polymer has a certain amount of heat stability in it. But in its raw form it cannot be processed. It can’t be extruded. It can’t be moulded. It can’t do anything. As soon as heat and pressure is exerted on that polymer, it just goes black. You need to add a variety of additives, into raw resins. The external lubricant is to allow the material to flow through the screw barrel. Jack takes up the story.

“The internal lubricants are added so when the polymers process, it doesn’t create too much heat or friction. Then there is the heat stabiliser, a calcium and zinc mixture. Now, if you put too much calcium or zinc in your polymer, it won’t fuse, it won’t homogenise or gel. If you put too little, it burns up,” he says.

“You want just the right amount of heat stabiliser in a formulation, so it can go through that process. This might be a process to turn the powder or the formulation into a compound like a pellet, then the pellet goes into an injection moulder. This moulder makes the part and spits it out. Or from a powder through an extruder, then to an end product.

“Too much heat stabiliser and it won’t fuse. Too little and it burns up,” Jack repeats for effect. “You have to put in just the right amount of stabliser for that product, for that machine that you’re running. So what we’ve done is we’ve created an analyser that measures the residual heat stability of a polymer to be recycled. And by analysing how much heat stabiliser is left in a recycled formulation, the recycled product grind material, we can then dose it accurately, to then make the product we need.”

Colouring the product is not a problem either for the Think Fencing team because as the product is extruded, a 0.8-1.5mm ASA capping layer is added from the die head.

OK, Fences

Think Fencing has an online order system which makes it easy for the end-user to jump in and order. They’re even working with Bunnings’ Special Orders system through Bunnings Trade. The front of their ordering system is similar to the Kaboodle kitchen measure-up system. “That spits out enough information for our technical team to then decipher and create a fence. There’s a lot of automation and CNC-controlled technology in this. All this information feeds through into the design program. Everything’s automated. If you look for a residential fence on this system and fill in all the measurements, by the time you get to the end of it, that’s your design and a customised quote spits out for you.” Jack is sharply focused on having this kind of system built so it would be scaleable.

“There are hundreds of fencing construction contractors across the country who use and are familiar with our product,” says Jack. “About a third of our orders would be DIYers, another third would be fencing contractors. Then the other third would be businesses, large construction projects, builders, or the racing industry.”

“We’re a small company, but we’ve got a lot going on.”


The work Think Fencing is doing right now with CSIRO is still being developed. “We’re going through a patent process with CSIRO but we’re the only company that can deal with such wide spec PVC,” said Fitzgerald. CSIRO did a presentation to the American Vinyl Institute. They looked at what we are doing and said, ‘this is the holy grail’.” Jack is adamant to strike out any greenwashing claims. “This is the real thing.”  He showed me a large box of ground PVC granules, made out of five different feedstocks.

He spoke of PharmaCycle, who’ve set up a deal for recycling pharmaceutical blister packs. “And we’re the ones to do it,” he says. “We’re the only company in the world that’s been able to actually successfully make another product out of that using this technology. And we’re turning it back into an A-grade polymer. That’s one of the success stories.”

The Australian Resilient Flooring Association’s Sophi Macmillan (ARFA) contacted Jack wanting to recycle all the waste vinyl flooring they knew was out there. “From that first conversation, we managed to take this material, analyse it, put it through our proprietary technology, then dose it with certain additives, and turn it into a usable product,” Jack describes. “We managed to get it into an extrudable, workable polymer that had some interesting properties.”

That was great, but Fitzgerald wanted to go further. Think Fencing now uses this recycled flooring material to extrude and are about to launch it into Bunnings in three different sizes. There’s also recycled PVC pipes, electrical conduit, PVC window profiles, ducting. “Even the excess from what goes into making credit cards. All of the stuff that noone wants to touch.”

Think actually began diversifying about five years ago, purely to find an outlet for all of their scrap. “We developed technology which helped us analyse our scrap PVC,” explains Fitzgerald.

Companies have a problem and we want to help”

This time next year Jack wants to have a fabrication recycling division in Sydney and then Brisbane the following year. “It’s going to be a very steep growth curve,” he quips. The reason he’s expanding interstate is that freight is the big killer from here in Portarlington. “It costs as much to go from Geelong to Melbourne as it does from Melbourne to Sydney with pallets.”

As we speak, a truck has arrived with about 20 tons, of PVC plastic in large white bulker bags. These are vinyl record blanks from Program Records. “These are their offcuts from manufacturing records. We take all of that,” says Jack. “It would have gone to landfill but now it’s going to be fences.” Think Fencing converts that back into product, which they sell.

From this, Think Fencing will produce new fences and other new products, going to South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Israel and UAE, and Inner Mongolia for their thoroughbred racetracks.


Words by Paul Hellard