One million tonnes under threat: Alex Fraser

One million tonnes under threat: Alex Fraser

Alex Fraser has called on Kingston City Council to extend its operating permit for its glass and C&D recycling site as one million tonnes of recyclables risks going to landfill.

Alex Fraser’s Clarinda Recycling Facility plays a pivotal role in Victoria’s resource recovery network, with the capacity to recycle around 25 per cent of Melbourne’s glass and construction waste.

Situated in the Melbourne’s south-east near Clayton, the 22-hectare facility recycles up to one million tonnes of waste each year and turns it into VicRoads approved, high quality, sustainable construction materials. It is a key component of the company’s network of sites surrounding Melbourne.

Not many facilities can boast the capacity for such difficult-to-recycle waste streams, let alone the contribution Alex Fraser makes to repurposing value-added materials in infrastructure projects. The site employees 50 full-time people and has been operating since October 2009.

With Victoria’s big build placing pressure on dwindling natural resources and quarries moving further afield, the need to find a sustainable alternative has never been greater. According to PwC, the building and construction sector faces the challenge of maintaining access to supply of extractive resources.

It comes as encroachment of urban and regional development affects existing quarrying areas. Likewise, demand for extractive resources over 2015-50 is set to be almost double to supply the state’s planned new transport infrastructure, a concern alleviated through strategically placed sites like Alex Fraser’s.

Now, Alex Fraser’s site is under threat, with its permit with Kingston City Council set to expire in 2023.

THE REZONING

In 2015, Kingston’s industrial area was rezoned to be green wedge, with conditions preventing waste management operations on the land.

Since then, Alex Fraser has been actively working with the Victorian Government and its agencies to identify alternative locations.

Peter Murphy, Alex Fraser Group Managing Director, says that there is no way Alex Fraser will be able to find a suitable alternative location by 2023.

One of the key reasons is a need for Alex Fraser to be located within proximity to sources of construction and demolition waste, as well as kerbside collected glass.

“Using recycled material in infrastructure is only possible with facilities like Clarinda that are close to our cities – where waste is generated, and where major projects are underway,” Peter explains.

Alex Fraser supplies recycled construction materials to projects including the Level Crossing Removal Projects, Monash Freeway Upgrade, Thompsons Road Upgrade, and the Hallam Road Upgrade. It is also ideally located to supply the planned Suburban Rail Loop, South Eastern Roads Upgrade and Mordialloc Freeway.

Other prominent considerations are the scale of the 22-hectare site, quality road network and its extensive landscaping and screening with appropriate fencing and native foliage.

Alex Fraser’s application to Kingston City Council, lodged in September this year, seeks a 15-year extension of its operating permit.

“Unfortunately, there are no viable alternative sites, and so we’re asking Kingston City Council for more time,” Peter says.

“We need more time so we can continue to recycle until we can relocate, to avoid adding to Victoria’s recycling and resources crises.”

Peter notes that Victorians want certainty about what’s happening with their waste. A decision is expected from council this year and if Alex Fraser is denied an extension, it may have to scale back its recycling.

“If this key recycling facility is shut down in 2023, it would significantly impact on Victoria’s recycling capability, and cut the supply of construction materials urgently needed for Victoria’s big build.”

“Victoria is already in a recycling crisis – this would only make matters worse,” Mr Murphy said.

Kerbside glass is at the heart of Victoria’s recycling crisis – the state government recently supported an improvement to the Clarinda facility recycling capability. This will enable the annual recycling and distribution of 200 million bottles worth of recycled sand. The site’s closure could mean this goes to landfill instead.

PLANNING COMPLEXITIES

As Waste Management Review reported in its 2018 article, Protecting our infrastructure, urban encroachment has pushed sites such as Alex Fraser’s away from the urban sprawl.

“It’s taken years for Alex Fraser to build a network of recycling sites of suitable scale, in locations serviced by major roads, that are close enough to raw and finished product markets,” Peter said at the time.

“The unfortunate reality is that a lot of effort from hard-working people across government departments, and a suite of very good specifications, plans and policies that would support better outcomes are completely undermined by some planning decisions.”

Peter says that relocating facilities is a complex exercise and simply rezoning new land does not alleviate the problems caused when zonings on ideal existing sites are changed.

The challenge for operators has been finding suitable sites large enough to achieve economies of scale close enough to where waste is generated.

Peter says that if Alex Fraser were to shut own, a major metropolitan quarry would have to be established to extract the same volume of resources.

ISSUE IN THE SPOTLIGHT

As highlighted in Victoria’s Inquiry into Recycling and Waste Management in June 5 hearings, glass mountains have filled sheds all over Melbourne. Alex Fraser’s response to the glass-waste conundrum has been to step up production with new infrastructure at Clarinda and a state-of-the-art plant in Laverton North. Together, these projects have increased the company’s capacity to recycle up to one billion bottles a year, including the most problematic glass waste streams.

“If you came through Bayside this morning, we have got a crew out there laying asphalt that has got glass, plastics, recycled asphalt in it…being used all day, every day, in massive quantities,” Peter told the hearing in June.

“It is also jobs like LXRA, various Monash upgrades, the Western Ring Road – all the way back to the Grand Prix track actually – that have got some kind of recycled content in them. So I think in Victoria the story is pretty good. Victoria’s big build is underway.”

He reiterated that the scale of these recycling efforts and the reuse in major projects and the scale was often misunderstood by lots of people, including at Clarinda.

“If you close that facility [Clarinda], you need to find a community somewhere that wants a big quarry established… and you need to tell them that they need a quarry because you shut down a resource recovery facility.”

“The Department of Economic Development, Jobs and Transport Resources did a very good study, three years ago, on the increasing cost to these projects due to carting quarry materials further out of town, and the cost is already well ahead of the base case.”

A letter from the Department of Treasury and Finance shows efforts were made to find an alternative site by the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (formerly DEDJTR) and Sustainability Victoria.

The department’s scoping found site options that meet current planning requirements are extremely limited, with none available in proximity to the cities where waste in generated and end markets exist.   

In this vein, Alex Fraser’s Clarinda site has also previously been recognised as part of a hub of state significance in the Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan for Victoria.

In a May 2019 letter to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry Into Recycling and Waste Management by the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, of which Alex Fraser is a member, CEO Rose Read points out that Clarinda is well known for operational excellence.

According to Peter, the company has not received any complaints regarding amenity impact on the surrounding area and was recognised for its high operating and environmental standards.

Its Alex Fraser’s significant market pull that has led to an outreach of support from numerous stakeholders.

In order to mitigate the issue into the future, Rose calls for the establishment of ‘green zones’ identified and protected for waste and recycling businesses that protect these assets for the life of the infrastructure.

Matt Genever, Director Resource Recovery at Sustainability Victoria, says SV recognised the site as an important site for resource recovery in Melbourne.

“Processing one million tonnes of recycling per annum, the site serves a dual purpose, both as a hub for construction and demolition waste in the south-east and through supply of aggregate and sand into new construction activities,” Matt says.

“We are acutely aware of the shortage of quarried materials to supply the state’s significant infrastructure program and having a site of this scale located in close proximity to these major projects is essential in ensuring ongoing supply of recycled construction products and materials.”

Wayne Russell, Visy Recycling Executive General Manager says that Alex Fraser had been an important partner to Visy for more than 14 years.

“Visy’s future glass recovery and recycling efforts would be severely hampered in the absence of the service the Alex Fraser network provides,” he says.

Mark Smith, VWMA Executive Officer, wrote of his concern of the unacceptable impact the closure of Clarinda would have on the Victorian waste and recycling network.

“Closure (even temporary) would have significant impact on Victoria’s recycling capability resulting in the accumulation and stockpiling of waste material,” he wrote.

At the beginning of September, Kingston Mayor Georgina Oxley confirmed the council received an application at the beginning of September which seeks to extend operations at the Alex Fraser site in Kingston’s green wedge.

“In 2015, Kingston Council welcomed protections for Kingston’s green wedge that were introduced by the Victorian Planning Minister that would ensure existing waste operations would cease at the end of their current permits and that no new operations would be allowed,” Ms Oxley said.

“Council wrote to the Planning Minister in April 2015 calling on the government to help Alex Fraser find an alternative site to ensure its long-term success while ensuring the end of waste-related activities in the green wedge. Invest Victoria has been working with Alex Fraser to identify suitable alternative sites.

“Council strongly supports the recycling sector and has a range of successful recycling business operating outside the green wedge within its industrial zoned areas.”

A Victorian Government spokesperson said the permit decision is currently a matter for Kingston City Council.

“We recognise the important contribution Alex Fraser makes to the recycling sector but also the concerns of local residents,” the spokesperson said.

“We’ll continue to work with both the council and Alex Fraser on resolving this matter.”

This article appeared in the October 2019 issue of Waste Management Review. 

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