Bill Ennals, Reverse Garbage Queensland

Bill Ennals is a director of Reverse Garbage Queensland.

The not-for-profit cooperative collects high-quality materials discarded by industry, diverting them from landfill to sell at low cost to the public and promoting environmental sustainability and resource reuse.

Formed in 1998, the Woolloongabba-based institution is celebrating two decades of helping to keep Brisbane clean, green and sustainable, having ‘upcycled’ its operation from an initial six to 13 staff and moving to a new home.

“We moved from our original base in West End to our current warehouse in Woolloongabba at the height of the 2011 floods – we still get people coming to see us who thought we’d closed. It’s quite the opposite!” Bill says.

“We run a variety of environment and waste-focused art workshops and educational talks, as well as a mail-order service. We also have a gallery and gift shop that promotes local artists, craft workers and designers who salvage, reuse and upcycle materials.

“I’ve always been very motivated by environmental issues, and what we’re doing is helping to increase awareness of how people can minimise their ecological footprint, whether that’s environmentally, socially or financially.”

What is your greatest business learning? 

Unless you get your head around your organisation’s income and expenditure, you’ll struggle.

We were financially quite unstable early on but managed to get into the habit of doing regular cash flow forecasts.

What is your greatest business success?

Just surviving! Starting on a relative shoestring and enduring as we have done is a real achievement.

What three things should someone consider before starting a business?

  • Time. It takes time to run a business, so you need the right life circumstances and the stamina to balance your work and life commitments. It’s never just 9 to 5.
  • Commitment. You need to have a passion for the product or service you’re providing – you’ll get bored otherwise.
  • Money. It’s essential to ensure you have sufficient capital to survive on little or no income in the early stages.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

We had an opportunity to purchase a building in West End in 2001. It was an expenditure we were not comfortable with at the time, but in hindsight would have given us a hugely valuable asset.

We’re now in a better building in Woolloongabba, but you don’t want to have to dislocate from your community if you can avoid it.

What have you found to be the most effective way to promote your business?

Social media is the most cost-effective way to communicate and engage directly with your market, but I think the best promotion you can do is in person, specifically in situations where there’s a high ratio of people from your organisation to clients.

For example, we visit universities to speak with architecture students. Sustainability and design are big elements of a lot of architecture courses now, so that’s a good opportunity to promote what we do.

How do you stay up to date with the latest business information?

We stay in touch with various industry associations including Community Recycling Network Australia (driven by a re-use cooperative in Tasmania that does a lot of outreach work) and also Reverse Garbage in Marrickville, NSW, whom we’re not affiliated with but were very helpful in our startup phase. I’m also a big fan of Best Practice on ABC Radio National. It’s a good source of ideas on workplace culture and governance. 

Where have you sought business advice?

We did some strategic planning workshops with a local business consultant about 10 years ago and have had some ad hoc interactions with consultants since then.

What financial factors should be considered when wanting to grow a business?

The growth stage is the most exciting but potentially the most risky time for any business.

Cash flow forecasting is key. It’s absolutely vital to have a clear picture of your income and expenses, particularly when you’re anticipating significant increases in both.

How do you manage risk?

It’s important to make sure you have all the appropriate levels of insurance for your business, whether that be public or product liability, work or vehicle, or whatever covers your assets and people.

It’s also important to communicate effectively within your organisation so everyone has a clear idea of your strategic direction.

What value do you place in business plans and why?

We place a very high value on business plans, but if you’re time poor then it’s important to remember it takes time to maintain and revisit any strategy. Whether it’s a one-year or five-year plan, build in the time for it.

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Date posted:
Last updated:24 October 2019