Construction sector to prioritise recycled

Recycled First aims to bring a unified approach to the application of recycled materials on road infrastructure projects. Waste Management Review homes in on the program.

With Victoria’s big build delivering more than 100 road and rail projects across the state, there are significant opportunities to grow the use recycled and reusable materials in construction projects.

In early March, the Victorian Government announced the Recycled First program. Recycled First will build new requirements into future projects under the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority, with the goal of bringing a uniform approach to the use of recycled products.

The program will mean recycled and reused materials that meet existing standards, whether it be recycled aggregates, glass, plastic, timber, steel, reclaimed asphalt pavement or organics, take precedence over new materials.

The program complements the Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria: A new economy policy, which includes the introduction of a four-bin system, supported by a planned Container Deposit Scheme (CDS), waste-to-energy investment and a dedicated waste authority and new Act.

Recycled First doesn’t set mandatory minimum requirements or targets, it focuses on a project by project basis. In this way, the aim is to allow contractors to liaise with recycled material suppliers and determine if there are adequate supplies of the products needed for their project.

For these projects, bidders will need to demonstrate how they’ll optimise the use of recycled materials. Additionally, contractors must report on the types and volumes of recycled products they used.

Organisations interested in delivering major transport infrastructure projects will need to demonstrate how they will prioritise recycled and reused materials while maintaining compliance and quality standards.

According to the Victorian Government, work is already underway with current construction partners to get more recycled content used on major projects, in addition to the new Recycled First requirements.

The M80 Ring Road, Monash Freeway and South Gippsland Highway upgrades are using more than 20,000 tonnes of recycled materials and 190 million glass bottles are being used on surfaces of the $1.8 billion Western Roads Upgrade.

Recycled demolition material has also been used in recent months to build extra lanes along 24 kilometres of the Tullamarine Freeway, as well as the Monash Freeway and M80 Ring Road.

Around 14,000 tonnes of excavated soil from the Metro Tunnel site in Parkville is being applied on pavement layers on roads in Point Cook.

Alexis Davison, Director, Program Services and Engineering, Major Road Projects Victoria, says Major Road Projects Victoria is working closely with the Department of Transport to review the current specifications for recycled and reused content to allow for greater use and remove barriers to their implementation.

“We’re aiming to deliver sustainable and innovative transport infrastructure for Victoria – and Recycled First will explore new and better ways to do that,” Alexis says.

“Specifications already allow the use of some recycled materials, and we’re compiling reference guides for road and rail infrastructure to ensure our project teams and contractors are aware of them.”

Claire Ferres Miles, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainability Victoria (SV), says the first-of-its-kind policy builds on SV’s ongoing work in research and market development to find new uses and create markets for recovered materials in the construction sector.

She says that SV will expand its work to support the groundwork for new recycled products and materials, through testing, trials and commercialisation.

“Through Major Roads Project Victoria and Recycled First, we now have a direct line for these products to be utilised in major Victorian Government projects, and in parallel, SV will work in partnership with the local government sector to increase the use of recycled content in their procurement,” she says.

Claire adds that SV will continue to build on its partnerships with the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) and the university sector to ensure performance-based standards and specifications are in place.

Claire points to the state government’s 10-year Recycling Victoria plan, which includes a landmark $300 million industry package.

“The introduction of Recycled First by the Victorian Government sends strong, positive signals that align with SV’s successful Research, Development and Demonstration program. This has achieved a significant increase in the use of crushed concrete, crumb rubber and recycled glass sand in construction projects,” she says.

Alex Fraser remains one of Victoria’s leading suppliers of recycled construction materials: recovering, recycling and supplying up to three million tonnes of construction materials made from recovered, construction and demolition and glass waste each year.

The use of these materials is reducing the carbon footprint on new infrastructure projects by up to 65 per cent. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, the company’s efforts are reducing construction materials to landfill, truck traffic and extraction of limited natural resources.

With its Melbourne sites in Clarinda, Laverton and Epping, Alex Fraser’s network of facilities circumference the city and are ideally placed to reliably supply major projects.

From the Western Roads Upgrade, the Southern Roads Upgrade, Level Crossing Removal Authority projects, and freeways like the Monash and Mordialloc Freeway and North-East Link, the company is poised to support Recycled First.

Alex Fraser Managing Director Peter Murphy says recycled construction materials are being used in great quantities in all sorts of projects throughout Victoria, and increasingly in other states.

“The vast majority of the construction industry is well aware of the consistent high quality of recycled materials, as well as the many commercial and environmental benefits they offer,” Peter says.

“An initiative like Recycled First sends an important message from government to industry that investing in Victoria’s circular economy and reducing the environmental impact of construction through responsible product choices is a priority.”

Peter says that now more than ever, it’s important that those building our cities are aware of the sustainable options available to them.

He cites the Joint Ministerial Statement on Extractive Resources – which highlights the Victorian Government’s priorities to address constraints in virgin extractive resources, including by facilitating substitution with recycled product.

“Virgin material close to Melbourne is already limited. Switching to recycled not only attracts environmental savings but reduces the strain on metropolitan extractive industries,” he says.

Major works such as the Tullamarine Freeway, the M80, The Dingley Bypass and the Monash Freeway have exemplified the Recycled First concept, as they have included large quantities of recycled materials.

“Current projects like the Mordialloc Freeway, many Level Crossing Removal projects, the Monash Freeway upgrade, and the Western Roads upgrade include masses of recycled content, including millions of glass bottles from kerbside collections,” Peter says.

Additionally, Peter says forward thinking municipalities like Bayside, Monash, Yarra and Maribyrnong are actively seeking out sustainable materials to build greener roads in their cities.

When it comes to the debate on mandatory targets, Peter says Alex Fraser does not advocate for mandating the use of recycled materials across the board. He says project managers should make decisions based on quality, timelines, cost and environmental factors.

“We’ve seen mandated approaches in other jurisdictions result in perverse outcomes. For example, there may not be much benefit in mandating the use of recycled material on a project that is many kilometres from a recycling facility, but only around the corner from a quarry.”

He says it would be encouraging to see a stronger policy position on the protection of critical resource recovery infrastructure.

“We know for recycling to work at all, facilities need to be positioned close to where recyclable material is generated and close to where markets exist for recycled products,” he says.

“Planning policy has to support other policies to ensure continued investment in resource and recovery infrastructure in Victoria is viable.”

Peter points out that even with the introduction of recycling schemes like the CDS and a glass bin, recycling glass fines in construction remains critically important to the effective management of glass waste.

He says that experience with the rollout of the CDS interstate indicates that higher overall glass recovery volumes are achieved but recycling options need to be found for the kerbside glass that is seen to be inferior to the cleaner CDS derived glass.

“More than 40 per cent of recovered glass is unable to be traditionally recycled back into bottles, because the fragments are either too small to be optically sorted, opaque, or covered in paper and plastics. In Victoria this equates to around 140,000 tonnes per annum,” he says.

“Recycling this mass of glass fines into construction sand will be important in reducing landfill and providing the construction industry with a sustainable alternative to already limited supplies of natural sands.”

Peter says Victoria has long led the way in the use of recycled material in infrastructure.

“It would be great to see the same enthusiasm in other states, where greater barriers to the uptake of recycled material exist. It’s especially encouraging to see other states drafting improvements to their specifications” he says.

“The quality and performance of recycled material has been well proven over decades. Clear policy positions from government along with supportive and straight forward specifications will make a significant difference to the use of recycled materials in major projects beyond Victoria.”

The Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) focuses on supporting the commercialisation of intelligent transport solutions.

As sustainability becomes an increasing priority for the roads sector, it has had an increasing recycling focus over the past few years.

Through its Port Melbourne research lab and partnerships with the roads sector, ARRB has been testing recycled crushed glass, crumb rubber asphalt, reclaimed asphalt pavement and a range of other materials. ARRB CEO Michael Caltabiano says stakeholders are focused on ensuring they can do their best to reinforce circular economy principals.

“For the roads sector that means using recycled product as much as we can,” Michael says.

ARRB is involved in a number of key Victorian projects, including a trial of recycled crushed glass in asphalt on local roads in west Melbourne with Brimbank City Council. Additionally, Tyre Stewardship Australia, ARRB and the Victorian Department of Transport are conducting the first crumb rubber asphalt trial on an arterial road.

Michael says ARRB has also been funded by Queensland and WA state road agencies to look at the polymer characteristics of the plastic waste stream and how it might be incorporated into bituminous projects.

“The flame burns brightly in keeping the recycled products agenda going in the roads sector,” Michael says.

“Government is focused on it and so is ARRB – our task is to design the specifications for the future. We need to understand the science of how these product perform and produce the guidelines and specifications for local governments and state governments to use and put in their tender documents.”

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Keeping Australia beautiful since 1971

Australia’s most iconic anti-litter movement captured the world’s attention when it began 50 years ago and significant progress has since been made. We look back at the organisation’s history.

What would the founder of Keep Australia Beautiful (KAB), the late Dame Phyllis Frost, say about the state of litter if she were still alive today?

Frost, who passed away in 2004, was known her commitment to causes, notably helping prisoners through the Victorian Women’s Prisons Council or combatting litter through the Keep Australia Beautiful movement.

In her address to the official launch of KAB NSW in 1975, Frost recounted how she was galvanised into anti-litter action. It followed her experience on a country highway between Melbourne and Bendigo in 1963.

En route to attend a meeting in Bendigo, Frost was feeling proud in a new car. In a small town called Elphinstone, a semi-trailer passed her by. Out of the window came fish and chip papers, a fruit peel and an old greasy rag. As a beer can bounced across the roof of Frost’s new car, she immediately pulled to the side of the road to inspect the damage.

Keep Australia Beautiful Founder Dame Phyllis Frost

Frost took a closer look at the scenery of the view behind her and to her horror found rolling plains strewn with paper, plastic bags, cans and bottles.

Soon after, she told the members of the National Council of Women of the experience and they agreed that the desecration needed to cease. In response, a group of service and voluntary organisations and a number of government departments were invited to join an anti-litter campaign.

There was no special name for the group in those days because anti-litter could too easily be confused with anti-liquor, which may in turn be perceived as un-Australian.

To that end, the group was called State Wide Civic Pride. Under the guidance of the then Minister of Local Government R J Hamer, the group adopted the name Keep Australia Beautiful Council. In 1968, the inauguration of the new look body was held.

Throughout KAB’s history, various programs which still exist today emerged. One of these is Tidy Towns, a concept borrowed from Ireland which commenced in 1968.

KAB Council WA on its website says it’s hard to think of a movement or campaign that has stirred such pride and action in our regional and remote communities than Tidy Towns. At the time, the competition accepted metro and regional entries and local government agencies, rather than communities, which are now in competition with one another.

GETTING ATTENTION FROM GOUGH

The 70s put the KAB movement on the map, with powerful publicity campaigns and educational approaches drawing support from government, celebrities, sporting heroes and the media.

By 1971, KAB’s National Association commenced, formed by KESAB and KABVIC by Colin Hills and Frost respectively. One year later, the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam launched Live Without Litter Week.

The Prime Minister appeared on television urging each and every Australian to get behind the anti-litter week.

“If for one week each of us can concentrate on litter prevention, then we can extend this consciousness to an all-year round effort to keep our environment clean,” Whitlam said.

In the Live Without Litter Week, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne Cr A Whalley, Executive Director of KABC Gordon Cooper and then Premier R J Hamer all sported “Don’t rubbish Australia” t-shirts.

In 1974, KAB’s Dopes Rubbish Australia and Pig television campaigns launched. The Pig campaign urged communities not to be a “pig” and “keep it litter-free”, shaming those guilty of chucking stuff out the window or into their local basin.

In her 1975 reflection, Frost, a champion of social reform, estimated that litter was costing in the vicinity of $50 million a year to clean-up. At the time, KAB consisted of affiliations of major environmental, community and service organisations, including the environment protection authorities, gas and fuel bodies, water bodies, packaging companies and even the education departments.

Plastic manufacturers were also heavily involved, including the National Packaging Association, Plastic Institute, can makers and soft drink manufacturers. In that regard, Frost criticised the nay-sayers who took aim at their involvement in the process.

“Some fanatical but rather irrational conservationists view these last-named bodies as enemy forces in the battle for preservation of the environment,” Frost said.

“I believe, although some fanatics don’t concur with my belief, that to exclude them is just as ridiculous as debarring car manufacturers, salesman or drivers and those involved in the manufacture and sales of alcoholic drinks from taking any part in the fight against the road toll – as it is the misuse of their products that cause the road carnage.

“Let’s be realistic about it – the packaging and container people must be more involved than any other section of society if we are to win our battle.”

THE NATIONAL PICTURE

Since the various state and territory bodies operate independently, the achievements of the KAB movement are best looked at within each local jurisdiction.

Being Victoria-based, Frost remained at the coalface of Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria (KABV). KAB’s popularity even sparked attention from musical pop group ABBA.

In the 80s, events in Victoria recognised change took place at the grassroots with engagement from school children, holiday makers and beachgoers. Frost retired from her position as chairman of KABV in the 90s and the organisation kicked on with a range of new program initiatives like City Pride and Stationeers.

KESAB, a well-known organisation for community-based sustainability programs, presided over container deposit legislation in 1978. It also introduced the Waste Watchers program to schools in the mid 90s, opened a Statewide Recycling Education Centre in 2006 and introduced Australia’s first reverse vending machine in 2010.

NT, ACT, Queensland and Tasmania all embraced the Tidy Towns program over the years and in Queensland a variety of awards program rewarded positive behaviours. Additionally, the NSW branch held the first Litter Congress in 2014, which inspired various programs such as the EPA’s Hey Tosser! Campaign.

Now 16 years on from Frost’s passing, urbanisation has drastically changed the landscape and many stakeholders once involved in the KAB movement operate independently.

But despite the changes, stakeholders such as KAB Chair Dick Gross still affirm the organisation is still a grassroots community group and a “doer” rather than a “talker”.

Dick, who joined KAB at the ripe age of 60, was invited to join by longstanding litter stalwart the late Don Chambers.

He says that KAB has had strong times and less strong times, and now operates in a crowded space. Much of this, he attributes, is due to the industrialisation of waste management.

“Litter is dramatically different now in several ways. It dropped off the political agenda and now it’s dropping back in because of marine pollution and its effect on marine and human life,” Dick says.

On whether he ever sees a world without litter, Dick says that’s a dream, but questions whether it’s a pipe dream.

“I can’t see Australia ever getting rid of litter. We need punitive regulatory regimes and more resources and I don’t know if that will happen.”

In 2015, KABV changed its name to Keep Victoria Beautiful (KVB). In the wake of KAB’s 50th anniversary, Waste Management Review Editor Toli Papadopoulos sat down with current KVB CEO Sabina Wills to discuss some of the changes that have occurred over the past few decades.

Keep Australia Beautiful celebrated its 50th anniversary at Government House in Melbourne.

“The purpose of the organisation is about people taking action to beautify their own environment. They’re not waiting for local government or state government, they’re taking action themselves,” Sabina says.

“We really embody that through the programs that we run where we enable volunteers to take action.”

Sabina says programs like Tidy Towns and Sustainable Cities have rewarded positive actions.

KVB embraced this and many other programs throughout the 2000s, engaging communities with initiatives such as the Stationeers, Sustainable Cities, Tidy Towns and Adopt a Roadside programs. For example, Adopt a Roadside sees volunteers equipped with safety training and other necessary resources to remove roadside litter and/or undertake revegetation works within Victoria’s arterial road network.

“We need to recognise our volunteers more and say thank you more. I think that’s an important part of KVB because the volunteers delivering those programs are creating a beautiful location,” Sabina says.

Highlighting some of KVB’s most successful programs, she cites Tidy Towns, noting the national program has helped bind communities together.

Dick says that Tidy Towns has inspired some healthy competition between communities.

In 2009, KVB also became part of Sustainability Victoria until 2015, when KVB formed a not-for-profit which reports to the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission. In addition to maintaining its initiatives from the early 2000s, KVB has entered new frontiers, including the development of a biodiversity report highlighting the accelerating rate of species loss.

Around 2016, Sabina joined KVB, after more than 20 years in the environmental services sector, including in government, associations and the private sector.

Reflecting on the past 50 years, Sabina says that although litter has reduced significantly, she laments on the overall rate of progress.

“I feel sad that we still have to pick up litter on the side of the road, that we haven’t in those 50 years transitioned away to it no longer being acceptable behaviour,” Sabina says.

“Yes, there’s been a huge reduction in litter, but it’s still there and that really saddens me.”

According to the National Litter Index by KAB, litter was up 0.9 per cent more in 2018-19 than it was in 2017/18 with 57,889 items counted. The biggest rises were observed in other glass, takeaway food and beverage packaging, offset to a degree by decreases linked to container deposit legislation.

In terms of how litter has changed over the decade, in 2008-09, there was almost 100,000 items counted. In 2018-19, that number sits just over 60,000. Taking into account population growth, there is far less litter than there was 10 years ago.

That being said, Sabina jokes that she wasn’t too upset when a litter run on the way to her office led to the discovery of a $50 note.

In terms of what lies on the immediate horizon, Sabina hopes to make some changes to KVB’s awards programs.

“The awards have been running over 30 years and I’ve certainly got a plan of how they’re going to look in 30 years. My big dream with the awards is for a state-based award and national-based award,” she says.

“I’d also love an international based awards to go to that next level. I think it is so important that everyone is proud of where they live and that sense of ‘my place is special’ is really important.”

But despite her dismay at the litter state of play, Sabina says if she were to ask herself what would Frost say in another 50 years’ time, given the changes over the past five decades, the future is unpredictable.

“It’s interesting what happened in the past 50 years. We’ve got an EPA and the EPA Act is getting re-written. So it is a bit hard to know how it will look in the future. I hope it’s going to look better, but then again I am an optimist,” she says.

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