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Planning, people, product keys to Alex Fraser success

Following a huge investment in its recycling facilities, Alex Fraser Group Managing Director Pete Murphy says planning, end markets and great people will be the drivers to the firm’s future success.

If you filled the Melbourne Cricket Ground with 40 million tonnes of construction and demolition (C&D) waste, the structure would rise to nearly twice the height of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building.

In 2015, Alex Fraser Group reached the milestone of having recycled that amount of C&D waste in 20 years to make new construction material – an impressive achievement in landfill avoidance and protecting a colossal amount of natural resources.

“We see ourselves as a supplier of construction materials that also happens to be one of the country’s biggest recyclers,” says Peter Murphy, Managing Director of Alex Fraser Group. “Our customers’ focus is on building good quality infrastructure on time and on budget, but many of them would like to do it in a way that’s better for the planet.”

Alex Fraser supplies the construction industry with asphalt, aggregates and road base. Now Australia’s largest recycler of C&D materials, it employs around 260 people at seven large-scale sites in Victoria and Queensland, with an eighth operation at Port Kembla, New South Wales.

Its parent company, Swire, has invested $130 million in developing Alex Fraser facilities in Victoria since 2008, bolstering safety, technology and expertise. They now undertake half the C&D recovery in the state.

“The success of our business has been that we have a good network of sites close enough to where the waste material is and close enough to competitively supply finished product back in,” says Peter. “Logistics is a critical issue for our customers: they want to minimise truck movements and travel time.”

Peter has been Managing Director of Alex Fraser since 2010, racking up a total of 20 years with the firm in two spells. He knows all about haulage challenges, having overseen logistics and operations management in previous roles.

During his career, Peter has amassed vast experience in civil construction and project management. He and his team have travelled the globe comparing industry practices to help shape Alex Fraser’s network of world-leading pioneering facilities.

“Our people are always working with universities, customers and regulators on new ideas to improve product or processing,” he says.

Peter explains how the Alex Fraser team will undertake a global review when tasked to come up with a new product to see what other companies have done, with what equipment and processes.

“We have been successful because we have had owners that supported innovation, and our people are enthusiastic – and very persistent,” Peter adds.

The company also has a laboratory on each site to test to specifications and develop new products. It then trials the material with selected customers to ensure it meets their requirements.

“If we’re confident we can sell a new product to our customers, we then demonstrate to the regulator that we can produce that product consistently – because our clients want high quality – on a large scale,” Peter explains. By using Alex Fraser’s recycled materials, clients can reduce a project’s carbon footprint by up to 65 per cent.

One of Alex Fraser’s key products currently is its innovative sand from recycled glass.

Recovering value from glass

The idea for glass recycling came about because, Peter says, Alex Fraser was trying to make an opportunity out of joining two problems.

The first issue is that around 250,000 tonnes of glass is collected from municipal kerbside bins each year in Melbourne. A long-time problematic waste stream for regulators and recyclers, some made it back into glass production, but more than 100,000 tonnes was stockpiled each year as it was more difficult to recycle.

“Our view is that putting it in a different wheelie bin and sorting it isn’t recycling it,” Peter states. “It ends up as a big stockpile that has been collected and sorted, but not reused. It’s a headache on a big scale.”

The second challenge is that sand sources are increasingly difficult to find in metropolitan areas.

“Trucking in sand to build footpaths, bed pipes, and for use in government road projects adds to the number of trucks on roads, which adds to the environmental issue of using virgin material,” explains Peter.

Alex Fraser saw the solution: recycling residual glass fines back into sand to use in maintaining and building infrastructure.

For more than 12 years, it has worked on an innovative glass processing method in consultation with government agencies, universities and its customers.

“We have long-term relationships with our customers, who are very practical people. They are trying to build a good quality asset on time and on budget,” Peter says. “So you have to work with regulators and asset owners, like road authorities and water boards, as they need to be confident that they are going to get a good quality product.”

Alex Fraser worked with Visy, VicRoads, water authorities and other stakeholders to develop a viable end market for the product.

“Recycling only works if it is commercially viable for everyone in the value chain. That means there needs to be an end market for it,” states Peter. “Our competitors are usually large quarries, and they have huge economies of scale. We are now making a higher standard recycled product than anyone else and at higher volumes.”

To read more, see page 12 of the latest edition.

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