Alex Fraser: recycling through the ages

As Alex Fraser celebrates its 140th anniversary, Waste Management Review details the company’s efforts to become one of Australia’s leading providers of recycled construction materials.

Not many Australian companies have 140 years of operation behind them. Such a milestone is even more extraordinary when you consider the enormous changes that have occurred over the past century – from two world wars to some of the most challenging economic recessions.

Alex Fraser is one organisation that recently hit that 140-year milestone, attributing its long history of success to investment in its people and its business. As a result, the company was able to swiftly respond to major shifts in material usage and keep pace with changing community expectations.

While the company is synonymous with building a sustainable construction sector, its humble beginnings were in the metals sector.

In 1879, Alex Fraser was a founding member of a metal broker firm, in Queen Street, Melbourne, run by the Melbourne Metal Exchange (MME).

With the price of metal fluctuating on an almost daily basis, Fraser and his fellow MME members controlled the entire output from Barrier Mines as well as other important mines throughout the country with silver, lead, zinc and tin the principle metals.

In the early 1920s, Fraser made the decision to retire and return to his country of birth, leaving the business to a clerk employed with the company – Archibald McKellar. McKellar’s 11 years with the business helped him grow the business throughout the Great Depression and eventually take over as owner.

With the passing of McKellar Snr, his son Archie took over after World War II in the 1950s. Margins were difficult at the time and with stiff competition in the tin and lead business, McKellar Jnr set looked for new opportunities, starting with the demolition and recycling of metal from returned fighter jets and tanks from the war.

Many of these initial opportunities saw Alex Fraser become a pioneer in commercial recycling, including plastics and dry nylon recycling. During the 60s and 70s, demolitions became a prominent activity for Alex Fraser and by the late 70s, its primary industry.

The early 80s marked the beginning of a new age in Alex Fraser’s recycling story as it embarked on one of its most ambitious projects yet. Led by Jamie McKellar and his brothers Robert and Peter, the family’s third generation began to transform large quantities of construction and demolition (C&D) waste, like concrete, asphalt, brick and stone, into new construction resources such as aggregates and roadbase.

With the establishment of its first concrete recycling site in Port Melbourne, Alex Fraser started to grow its employee base from an initial few to more than 260 across five recycling plants in Queensland and Victoria.

Alex Fraser Asphalt was launched in the 1990s. It quickly expanded to include two high-capacity asphalt plants on opposite ends of Melbourne’s metro area and five asphalt crews renowned for their quality workmanship and reliability.

Together, Alex Fraser’s recycling and asphalt operations work with local governments, contractors and asset owners to build greener roads throughout Melbourne and Brisbane, reducing the carbon footprint of construction by up to 65 per cent.

DEVELOPING A REPUTATION

One of its biggest milestones arose in 1992, when governments, councils and contractors began to recognise and support the use of recycled C&D. Alex Fraser worked closely with government to develop VicRoads specifications. These specifications have been periodically updated and set an outstanding example of government agencies supporting the use of recycled content.

Alex Fraser went from strength to strength, winning the Western Ring Road and Albert Park Grand Prix track projects and laying the foundations of Melbourne’s Crown Casino. As of 1987, it was responsible for almost half of Victoria’s C&D recycling effort.

By 2008, Alex Fraser became a major recycling enterprise, having produced 20 million tonnes of sustainable construction materials. Peter Murphy, who has been with Alex Fraser for more than 15 years, transitioned the company into its next phase of growth, stepping up to the role of Managing Director in 2011 after the company changed hands to John Swire & Sons.

Peter’s background in logistics drove Alex Fraser’s commitment to reliability, ensuring responsive delivery to its valued customers. He and his team consistently benchmark locally and internationally which has helped foster a culture of innovation and best practice at Alex Fraser.

Peter led the establishment of a network of world class recycling facilities, and spearheaded Alex Fraser’s innovative recycled glass projects.

Fast forward to 2019 and Alex Fraser’s notable achievements span turning glass into construction sand, converting historically landfilled concrete into recycled aggregates and roadbase, and using a wide variety of recyclables in its quality asphalt mixes, including recovered asphalt, glass and plastics.

It is now responsible for producing up to four million tonnes of sustainable construction material per annum, recovering millions of tonnes of demolition and glass waste and paving more than 1000 kilometres of green roads every year.

This year the company is in the midst of commissioning a world-first glass recycling plant and new high recycled technology asphalt plant, doubling the volume of recycled sand produced in Victoria while drastically increasing the volume of recycled materials incorporated in its asphalt mixes.

Peter credits the company’s innovation and agility to its people who are always looking for the next improvement, and to strengthen long-term relationships with customers and regulators.

“We work hard to provide reliable services, so our customers can get their projects done on time, on spec and on budget. On all our customer projects, supply timelines are integral to performance. If we can give them a high volume of consistent material, their project will be more efficient,” Peter explains.

He says that it was rewarding to see the efforts of Alex Fraser’s people recognised last year with the company winning the Waste and Recycling Award at the Victorian Transport Association Australian Freight Industry Awards.

“The prize commended our game-changing glass recycling operation that diverted hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste from landfill and provides resources that are badly needed to fulfil Victoria’s multi-billion-dollar infrastructure pipeline,” Peter says.

“It also substantially reduces heavy vehicle movements. There’s plenty of talk about recycling lately. We’ve been doing it for a long time on a large scale and have continued to innovate and invest.”

R&D CONTINUES

Of course, none of Alex Fraser’s achievements would be possible without its continued efforts to improve the end markets for recycled materials. The company conducts ongoing research and development with partners including CSIRO, Australian Road Research Board, Melbourne’s RMIT, Melbourne University and Swinburne University. Testing over an extended period on materials and pavements demonstrates that recycled aggregate matches, if not exceeds, the performance of the equivalent virgin material.

Part of its ongoing work is liaising with individual local government areas and businesses to educate them on the environmental and commercial benefits of using recycled material.

Peter says that as natural resources deplete and quarries move further afield, transport costs increase sharply.  Recycled materials are not only a sustainable option, but often the most economical.

Alex Fraser’s desire to benchmark recycled materials led to a decision to partner with RMIT Centre of Design and conduct a life-cycle analysis of its recycling operation compared with a quarrying operation.

In May 2008, the results of the RMIT research were released indicating the carbon footprint of recycled crushed concrete is 65 per cent less than equivalent quarried material. These findings have subsequently been independently verified in accordance with international standard ISO14040.

“Demand is increasing and the constant challenge is to ensure that all of these major projects happening across the country are aware of sustainable alternatives,” Peter says.

“The consistent quality, compaction, transport and density benefits of recycled construction materials are well recognised as presenting substantial savings to construction costs, so they are well supported across the sector.”

He says that Alex Fraser’s recycled road base and aggregates comply with road building authorities’ specifications, such as VicRoads and Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads, and the vast majority of local governments also support the use of recycled content.

“VicRoads has a strong track record of choosing recycled materials for some of its biggest projects, including the M1 and M80,” Peter says.

Last year, Alex Fraser developed PolyPave™ – a high-performing asphalt product containing recycled materials, including plastic, glass and RAP. Melbourne’s City of Yarra was the first of many councils to incorporate the new material in its roads through a resurfacing project in late 2018.

Peter says that Alex Fraser has been planning for the long term and sets a very high benchmark in operating standards for its sites.

“This includes ensuring our operations are ‘not seen and not heard’ through extraordinary measures to address air quality management, acoustics, traffic and visual amenity as well as constantly working to reduce the carbon footprint of our own operations and our customers’.”

Alex Fraser’s original Laverton site in the 1980s.

POSITIONED FOR GROWTH

Alex Fraser was last year acquired by construction and building material supplier Hanson Australia. Complementing Alex Fraser’s unique sustainability offering is Hanson’s technical expertise, sophisticated systems and large site network.

Peter says that Hanson’s ownership strengthens the viability of recycled materials, with great synergies between the two businesses.

“We are working together to improve efficiencies at Alex Fraser and Hanson, including recycling Hanson materials.”

As for the future of Alex Fraser? The company has continued to invest and aims to expand its capabilities with new materials and new locations.

“The new integrated facility at Laverton is a demonstration of a thriving circular economy at work. It has answered a long-standing question around how successfully waste materials can be recycled into quality resources for greener roads.”

Peter says that Alex Fraser will continue to be agile, evolving its business to align with community needs as it works towards another prosperous 140 years.

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NSW EPA opens $7 million recycling grants

Business, councils and not-for profits can access more than $7 million in grants to boost NSW recycling rates and encourage innovation in the waste industry, the NSW EPA has announced.

EPA Executive Director Waste Operations Carmen Dwyer said Product Improvement Program and Circulate grant programs are both open for applications.

“These grants can help reshape our waste and recycling industry in NSW, which is undergoing significant change,” Ms Dwyer said.

“Previous grant recipients have already diverted thousands of tonnes of waste from landfill, and are continuing to take major strides forward in reshaping the way we deal with waste.”

A total of $6.3 million is available under the Product Improvement Program, through grants up to $1 million each, to fund innovative projects and provide new recycling solutions via infrastructure or research and development.

In 2018, Unilever received $500,000 under the Product Improvement Program to install new infrastructure at its North Rocks Factory and include a minimum of 25 per cent recycled material in its personal and home care range.

Circulate grants are awarded to projects that prolong or give second life to resources and material via reuse in industrial or construction processes. $1.2 million is available under this program until 2021, with individual grants of up to $150,000.

Under the Circulate program, Cross Connections Consulting received $150,000 to reprocess soft-plastic waste from local businesses into park benches, garden beds, and fencing.

“These grants help to ensure NSW can continue to achieve strong results when it comes to reducing waste, reusing materials and recycling,” Ms Dwyer said.

“Investing in recycling is a no-brainer – it will stimulate local remanufacturing capacity and generate new industries and jobs.”

Both programs are funded through the NSW Government’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative, run by the NSW EPA.

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Officeworks to receive e-waste upgrades

Officeworks has received funding though the state governments $25.3 million Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund to upgrade e-waste collection facilities at 42 stores across Victoria.

The Officeworks sites will collect mobile phones, ink cartridges and IT waste items – forming part of a network of more than 1000 e-waste drop-off locations across the state.

Officeworks already operates as a drop-off point for mobile phone product stewardship scheme MobileMuster and the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program.

From 1 July 2019, any device with a power cord or battery will be prohibited from landfill.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the ban will ensure valuable materials left inside e-waste can be safely recovered and reused, while reducing the damage electronic items can have on the environment and human health.

“We’re making sure Victorian households know how to dispose of e-waste properly and easily ahead of the e-waste to landfill ban on 1 July.”

“It’s great to see businesses like Officeworks getting on board to ensure all Victorians to have a convenient drop-off point close to home.”

The state government has also invested $16.5 million to help councils across the state upgrade their e-waste collection and storage facilities, and deliver a public education program.

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EMRC appoints new CEO

A new Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council (EMRC) Chief Executive Officer has been appointed, replacing Peter Schneider who resigned in November 2018.

WA Waste Authority Chairman Marcus Geisler has been selected for the role, having served as authority chairman since 2014, in addition to holding senior management positions with Coates Hire, Thiess and SITA – WA’s largest waste management company.

EMRC Chairman David McDonnell said Mr Geisler’s experience in waste processing includes composting organics and alternative waste treatment processes, and the recovery and marketing of secondary materials ranging from construction and demolition waste to kerbside recyclables.

“His extensive advocacy experience, firsthand knowledge of the commercial waste and recycling industry and his commitment to the local government sector will be instrumental in guiding the EMRC forward as a progressive organisation representing the interests of Perth’s Eastern Region and the 365,000 people who call it home,” Mr McDonnell said.

“At the Waste Authority, Mr Geisler’s negotiating skills and commitment to strong engagement successfully brought together state and local governments, industry and the community to enable implementation of the State’s Waste Strategy.”

Mr McDonnell thanked Regional Services Director Wendy Harris for her contributions as acting CEO over the past six months.

Mr Geisler is due to take up his new position on 15 July 2019.

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Calls for Queensland EPA

An independent survey of 67 Waste and Recycling Industry Queensland members has recommended an inquiry into the performance of the Department of Environment and Science.

Queensland Economic Advocacy Solutions (QEAS), an independent market research firm, was commissioned to electronically survey members of Waste and Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) on the performance of the waste industry regulator – the Department of Environment & Science (DES).

Responses throughout November and December 2018 were received from 67 members representing 70 per cent of the membership employing 4556 Queenslanders. The resulting QEAS Queensland Environmental Regulator Survey 2018 was produced.

The crucial repercussions of the document highlighted concerns towards the effectiveness of the Environmental Services and Regulation (ESR) Division and its ongoing relationship with the sector.

The WRIQ roadmap for ESR improvement highlights a need to improve consultation, education, set clear goals, targets and expectations and improve expertise and ESR resourcing. Other key recommendations are to offer consistent advice and improved response times and that ESR be independent of politics.

WRIQ members overwhelmingly believe Queensland’s DES and ESR responsibilities to be important. But 42 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed that the ESR was reviewing legislation and policy and compliance frameworks well. Almost 70 per cent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that ESR were taking a proportionate and consistent compliance and enforcement program and working collaboratively with government, industry and community groups.

Rick Ralph, WRIQ Chief Executive Officer, says that it’s unprecedented that 70 per cent of the industry with 45,000 employees were so universal in their scathing criticism of the regulator.

Rick says that there is a fundamental disconnect between regulators focused heavily on penalising operators.

“The regulator makes the rules and that’s their policy – it’s all about enforcement. They don’t offer any solutions. When something gets too hard, they are fundamentally ineffective in understanding the economic impacts of an unregulated environment,” Rick says.

In terms of where the regulator is performing well, select WRIQ members had positive feedback on their dealings with individual officers, but singled out the systematic flaws in the regulatory strategy.

Across the board, survey respondents rated the performance of ESR as poor to average, with an 85 per cent negative rating for problem solving, 86 per cent negative for stopping illegal dumping and 77 per cent criticising the decisions as being unsound, not evidence-based, and illogical.

The wide range of feedback segments covered consistency and confidence, drivers of actions, the Odour Busters program, resourcing and expertise, rogue operators and accountability and compliance versus education.

The Queensland Government’s Odour Busters taskforce was established to deal with nuisance odours in the Swanbank area.

The Odour Abatement Taskforce, also known as Odour Busters, was intended to operate from a local base at Redbank Plains to crack down on offensive odours and other environmental concerns in the area for 12 months in 2018.

One respondent asked why no findings had been published, with vague information on social media.

Rick says that industry and ESR need to actually commission a training program with industry so that officers understand what best practice looks like. Where complexities happen in regulation, there is a process of review to sort out the problem.

Criticism was also drawn at the ability of the regulator to conduct site audits and promote better compliance, and that inspections were part of a structured audit and compliance program rather than reactions to community sentiment.

One of the key recommendations of the report was a complete overhaul of the system for the government to act swiftly and produce an independent investigation into the current system. The goal would be to install an independent EPA, with four in five respondents indicating their support for such an agency.

According to Rick, an EPA should have an independent board.

“That authority then has clarity, purpose and a relationship with the industry and it actually works with the industry to find solutions, not just penalise,” Rick says.

“Universally where there’s been an EPA, it’s shown to be the model that actually works.”

He adds that the Victorian EPA’s modernisation showed how important it was to reinvigorate old structures with contemporary models, while stopping short of making recommendations on a Queensland structure and leaving it to an independent review.

WRIQ put a 10-point plan to the minister and is now waiting for a formal response from the director general. The 10-point plan is focused on building a commercial level playing field on how the industry is managed and non-adversarial. The plan includes that ESR establish an internal reference panel with an independent chair. It also advocates for a third-party review into ESR management and the independent review into environmental regulation.

“The environment minister has agreed to establish a working group and we have provided every Queensland minister with a copy of our report calling upon them to support the environment minister in overhauling the performance of the state’s regulator.

“Regrettably, not a single minister has acknowledged that correspondence and in terms of government engagement with its stakeholders, this lack of support is challenging for our members,” Rick says.

He says the review into ESR at DES should be conducted this year in order to prevent its politicisation in the 2020 election.

A DES spokesperson said it takes its role as Queensland’s environment regulator seriously and works closely with all industry stakeholders.

The spokesperson said that the department will take prompt enforcement action on industry members not compliant with their obligations.

“The Odour Abatement Taskforce is a twelve-month program, being undertaken to address odour and other environmental nuisance issues within the Swanbank Industrial Area.”

It said DES is undertaking a comprehensive education program to help improve compliance.

Queensland Government Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the DES recently underwent a restructure following machinery of government changes in 2018.

This has seen the creation of a new waste branch within the department specific to waste and resource recovery. She said the feedback from WRIQ will be considered by the department and help the government improve its stakeholder engagement.

This article was published in the May edition of Waste Management Review.

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Tasmania to implement CDS

The Tasmanian Government has announced it will implement a container deposit scheme (CDS) in an effort to become the tidiest state by 2023.

The announcement makes Tasmania the seventh state or territory in the country to implement a CDS, leaving only Victoria without a scheme.

Environment Minister Elise Archer said drink containers account for an estimated 41 per cent of litter by volume in Tasmania.

“We know one of the most effective ways to change littering behaviours is to introduce a container refund scheme, as has been seen in other Australian jurisdictions,” Ms Archer said.

“The benefit of a CDS is the ability to produce purer streams of recyclable materials, which are then turned into higher value, second life products with reduced levels of contamination – a move strongly supported by local government, with enormous opportunities for local businesses.”

The decision follows a 2018 model framework report commissioned by the state government.

The report recommended Tasmania implement a scheme similar to other states, with a target of 60 refund points and a redemption rate of at least 80 per cent.

“Work will now commence on a detailed model and draft legislation, including consultation with the community, businesses and industry,” Ms Archer said.

“Specialist advice from a number of departments, as well the establishment of an expert reference group, will be critical to the scheme’s success.”

After legislation is enacted a management tender will be developed and released.

The scheme is expected to rolled out by 2022.

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Woolworths diverts food waste

In an effort to tackle the $20 billion Australian food waste problem, Woolworths have implemented active food waste diversion programs in 100 per cent of its supermarkets.

Woolworths Head of Sustainability Adrian Cullen said the company have recorded an eight per cent year-on-year reduction in food waste sent to land over the past three years.

“Food is meant to be eaten, not thrown – which is why together with our customers, our farmers and our community partners, we’re working to keep good food out of landfill,” Mr Cullen said.

According to Mr Cullen, Woolworths last year diverted over 55,000 tonnes of food and enabled over 10 million meals to be delivered to Australians in need across the country.

“Working with our partners OzHarvest, Foodbank and Fareshare to feed Australian’s who would otherwise go hungry is our number one priority when it comes to diverting food from our stores,” Mr Cullen said.

“We then work with local farmers so that surplus food, which cannot go to hunger relief, is used as stock feed for animals or for on-farm composting. This helps us further reduce and re-purpose bakery and produce waste.”

Mr Cullen said over 750 farmers and community groups have joined the Woolworths Stock Feed for Farmers program.

“Last year Australian farmers received more than 32,000 tonnes of surplus food from Woolworths that was no longer fit for human consumption.”

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Waste sulfur polymers to assist plastic recycling

A new study published in Chemistry – A European Journal, suggests the problem of plastic waste could be addressed via waste sulfur polymers.

Study co-director Justin Chalker of Flinders University said researchers are working to develop a range of versatile and recyclable materials by controlling physical and mechanical properties, bringing them closer to scale up for manufacturing.

“Polymers made from elemental sulfur have emerged as versatile materials for energy storage, optics applications, environmental remediation and agriculture,” Mr Chalker said.

“Controlling their properties takes a big step towards these new polymers being able to replace plastics, rubber and ceramics that are currently unrecyclable.”

According to Mr Chalker, research found the new polymers could be broken down and reformed into new materials.

“This represents a new era in recyclable materials made from renewable building blocks such as plant oils and industry by-products such as sulfur,” Mr Chalker said.

University of Liverpool collaborator Tom Hasell said the research is another important set towards taking sulfur-based polymers out of lab, for use in every-day practical material.

“Being able to produce polymers from sulfur – a waste product of the petrochemical industry – is a really exciting opportunity, both for the environment and for creating more sustainable products and industries,” Mr Hasell said.

“Almost every household item has some kind of plastic polymer plastic in them and making polymers from sulfur, not carbon, opens doors into a new frontier of possibilities.”

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Essential Services Commission to review Victorian waste sector

The Essential Services Commission will review waste and recycling services in Victoria to assess whether they should be regulated as an essential service like water and energy.

A further review of the landfill levy will also be conducted, to consider the current and future effectiveness of the initiative as an economic instrument for influencing waste management practices.

A $14.3 million Recycling Industry Development Fund has been established, targeting secondary processing infrastructure for priority materials such as paper, cardboard and plastics.

A $13.8 million program to provide incentives for new entrants to the Victorian recycling market has also been announced.

The Victorian Government announced the review in conjunction with a new $34.9 million package of recycling reforms.

Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Executive Officer Mark Smith welcomed the review.

“The VWMA welcomes consultation by the Essential Service Commission, with us and our members,” Mr Smith says.

“Grants can be great, but are not always the best method to support private investment. I’d like to see funding bodies exploring new ways for business to access funds, and this shouldn’t result in business competing with local government.”

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the review will help create a more stable and productive recycling sector.

“It’s more important than ever to minimise the amount of waste we produce and ensure we’re recycling as many items as possible,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

She said the new initiatives are an important step in planning for the future of the waste and recycling industry.

“The package will provide support to Victorian councils when it comes to negotiating new contracts for recycling services, helping to improve business performance and put better contingency plans in place,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

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Downer opens soft plastics asphalt plant in Lake Macquarie

Plastic bags, recycled glass and printer toner will be used in the construction of new Hunter roads as part of a $5 million overhaul of Downer’s asphalt plant in Teralba, Lake Macquarie.

Lake Macquarie Mayor Kay Fraser officially opened the site this week, with the ability to process thousands of tonnes each year of sustainable road and pavement materials for the Hunter Region and Central Coast.

The facility is one of the most advanced of its kind in Australia, capable of producing a wide range of products including asphalt containing recycled tyre rubber and Reconophalt, an innovative asphalt product that contains high recycled content from materials such as soft plastics, glass, toner and reclaimed road.

The soft plastics are collected through the RedCycle program, which has collection bins in Coles and Woolworths supermarkets, while waste toner used in the product comes from the national Planet Ark recycling initiative.

Every kilometre of two-lane road made with Reconophalt contains the equivalent of 530,000 plastic bags, 168,000 glass bottles and 12,500 toner cartridges.

Cr Fraser said today’s opening, which coincides with World Environment Day, bolstered Lake Macquarie’s reputation for encouraging and embracing sustainable businesses and practices.

“I congratulate Downer on investing in new methods to close the loop on recycled materials,” Cr Fraser said.

“In the past 12 months in Lake Mac, we’ve seen the introduction of recycled glass sand in Council’s civil works, a trial of recycled materials in concrete footpaths and now this next step in our war on waste.”

Downer’s Executive General Manager Road Services, Dante Cremasco, said the milestone event held on World Environment Day demonstrates the importance of partnerships with councils and road authorities to maximise sustainable outcomes for the future growth of the region.

“The innovation our new Teralba asphalt plant brings will see us not only lower our carbon footprint, but also incorporate new streams of recycled materials into the asphalt we lay, further improving sustainable outcomes for the region’s local communities and their roads,” Mr Cremasco said.

“Downer’s investment in this flexible pavement products manufacturing hub allows us to reduce our reliance on increasingly scarce virgin materials by over 30 per cent and improve our energy consumption by up to 15 per cent, which are really pleasing outcomes for the region.”

Testing of the new Reconophalt material showed it lasted longer and was less prone to deformation than traditional forms of asphalt.