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Alex Fraser has thanked its customers for their support of its COVID-19 hygiene and social distancing measures, as the company experiences a spike in demand amid Victoria’s continued infrastructure boom.
Construction has long been held in high regard by governments, the community and businesses as an invaluable outlet to stimulate economic growth in times of crisis. In Australia, the COVID-19 health crisis has fast become an economic one, as the Federal Government, states and territories leaped into action to reduce community transmission via stage 1, 2 and 3, restrictions.
Governments have assured communities and the road construction sector that vital infrastructure pipelines will continue. Construction was also been declared essential under stage three restrictions, with new guidelines introduced to the sector, agreed to by a number of unions and industry associations.
The NSW Government has extended construction hours so they can adhere to social distancing by spreading their work throughout the week.
Over in Victoria, the state’s premier Daniel Andrews has said construction will play a major role in Victoria’s economic recovery following COVID-19.
“It’s probably too early to tell what the impacts of this coronavirus will be on a whole range of different projects: both government projects — level crossings, road and rail, hospitals, schools — and also private sector projects,” Mr Andrews told ABC.
“When we get to the other side of this, the biggest construction boom in our state’s history will need to be even bigger. We will need to do more to protect jobs, to create new jobs, and to make sure that we bounce back from this as strong as we possibly can.”
As the pipeline charges on, the state’s biggest transport project, the Metro Tunnel Project is keeping Victorians in work, with the last two tunnel boring machines hitting the pavement.
The Frankston line also remains shut from late May as part of the biggest level crossing construction blitz – the Level Crossing Removal Upgrade (LXRA).
Alex Fraser is supplying thousands of tonnes of recycled products for construction and maintenance projects across Victoria like the LXRAs. The company is currently experiencing a spike in demand across its three Victorian sites, and has agilely responded to ensure the health and safety of its customers and its people.
Recent projects include supplying the Southern Program Alliance almost 200,000 tonnes of tonnes of recycled construction materials on the Mentone and Cheltenham Level Crossing Removal Upgrade (LXRA).
The project, expected to be completed in early 2021, is using recycled materials and is expected to save 170,000 tonnes of material from landfill, 1110 tonnes of Co2 emissions, and 185,000 tonnes of natural resources.
Works commenced in April 2019, as contractors removed level crossings at Balcombe Road in Mentone and at Cheltenham’s Charman and Park Roads. The construction of the two new stations is complemented by a 3.5 kilometre shared use path and expansive public space.
It’s not only rail projects capitalising on the benefits of recycled products; major roads projects – like the Mordialloc Freeway, Monash Freeway and Western Roads upgrade – are utilising thousands of tonnes of recycled materials, including millions of glass bottles from kerbside collections.
“We’re reprocessing priority waste streams into high quality construction materials to supply rail and road projects with a range of high-spec, sustainable products that cut costs, cartage, and carbon emissions, and reduce the strain on natural resources,” said Alex Fraser Managing Director Peter Murphy.
Mr Murphy said the Alex Fraser team was focussed on helping their customers finish their projects safely and on time.
He said customers had demonstrated an enthusiastic and proactive approach towards the changes put in place to ensure safe operations during COVID-19, including the switch to electronic payments, reducing the use of dockets and bringing their own PPE and radios to sites.
He said that Alex Fraser customers’ immediate and accepting response to the company’s introduction of COVID-19 safety measures demonstrated great community spirit and goodwill.
“We’re been very encouraged by our customers’ response to our hygiene and social distancing measures,” Mr Murphy said.
“Our employees have done a stellar job at implementing a wide range of new controls to our workplaces, very quickly. Many of these involved changes to the way we interacted with our customers, who have all been understanding and supportive.”
Image: the Alex Fraser team at Laverton’s Sustainable Supply Hub meet for a pre-dawn toolbox meeting to discuss COVID-19 safety.
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Alex Fraser highlights implications surrounding the potential closure of its Clarinda Recycling Facility, after Kingston City Council denied its application for the second time.
Alex Fraser put in the hard yards over the past two decades to clean up Victoria’s problem glass and is the state’s leading recycler in this space.
Through its network of sites at Clarinda, Laverton North and Epping, the company will take in material from the likes of Cleanaway, Polytrade and Visy and continue to find markets for thousands of tonnes of glass waste per annum.
A recent Sustainability Victoria grant enabled the installation of additional equipment at Clarinda. The project will reduce stockpiling and landfilling of problem glass by an additional 38,500 tonnes per annum. But in three years’ time, Clarinda may no longer exist.
Since 2014, Alex Fraser has been fighting to protect the shutdown of one million tonnes of recycling capacity which supplies material to major projects.
In what some are calling a NIMBY decision, in late 2019, that battle came to a head, as Kingston City Council denied an application to extend the life of the recycling operation.
The permit ends in 2023 and allows for an application for an extension. Even though the area has been rezoned as green wedge, an extension is permissible and the company had applied to stay until 2038.
It followed a comprehensive effort to find an alternative site in collaboration with the Victorian Government through Invest Victoria.
A second and final vote was taken in mid-December which was once again denied. Now, Alex Fraser has called on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to intervene.
Peter Murphy, Alex Fraser Managing Director, says the decision is at odds with Victoria’s Recycling Industry Strategic Plan.
“We’ll continue to work on all of the options available to us. This issue affects environment, resources, roads, transport and treasury at a state level. It really needs a coordinated government approach to resolving it,” Peter explains.
A number of claims have since been thrown around, such as: “there’s still another four years to find a site” and “Alex Fraser still has two other sites”.
For one, the company points out that even if it were able to find a suitable site, completing the planning process means a lengthy and uncertain timeframe. Relocation is also a complex process.
Secondly, Alex Fraser has spent years building a network of recycling sites close to where waste is generated. Significant work from state agencies has gone into Victoria’s Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan to ensure adequate buffer protection of waste activities as a result of the urban sprawl.
Victoria’s “big build” is placing additional strain on metropolitan quarries, an issue Peter says is a huge concern.
“For recycling of this scale to continue to work, we need to maintain a network of facilities that are positioned close to where waste is generated and where the outlets for recycled materials exist.”
According to the Victorian Extractive Resources Strategy, at the time of its publication in 2016, demand for extractive resources was expected to double by 2050 as a result of the big build, and since then infrastructure investment has only increased.
The strategy shows 34 per cent of extractives in 2050 will need to be sourced from quarries not yet built or planned, due to forecast resource exhaustion. To complicate matters further, an analysis undertaken in 2018 of quarry approvals shows only a quarter of quarry applicants were able to secure necessary approvals in the past two years to carry out new production.
To meet the shortfall, one of the Victorian Government’s key policy pledges is to improve waste management across the whole industry. Transportation of extractive resources is costly and not eco-friendly when the distance between a quarry and point of use is examined.
Around 535 quarries produce 50 million tonnes of stone, limestone, gypsum, sand and gravel per year. Put in perspective, the Metro Tunnel alone is expected to require more than 480,000 cubic metres of ready-mix concrete and 160,000 tonnes of other extractive materials.
“If we fail to ensure that a sufficient supply of extractive resources is available within close proximity to our growth areas and infrastructure projects, the cost of constructing houses and infrastructure will likely rise,” the strategy says.
“This can lead to more expensive and potentially fewer infrastructure projects for Victorians. Impacts on transport infrastructure will rise, and greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts will increase.”
Alex Fraser highlights that if the Clarinda facility were to close, it would be equivalent to the loss of a major quarry in metropolitan resource availability.
Clarinda is perfectly positioned to supply major projects such as the Mordialloc Freeway, Monash Upgrade, Level Crossing Removal Project and the upcoming outer Suburban Rail Loop.
Peter says that recycling in Melbourne has been successful because of a network of sites, close to the city which provide access to markets.
Globally, a clear barrier to using recycled materials is the availability of supply within reasonable distances. He says that anyone in the industry understands the time and cost implications of trucking material from further afield.
The Victorian Government has committed to a “hot list” of priority quarry approvals that can be fast tracked to support the big build. He says it would be perverse to fast-track the development of a new quarry to counter the shutdown of a recycling facility.
Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) CEO Jillian Riseley recently penned a letter to the City of Kingston calling for the Clarinda Recycling Facility’s extension.
She reiterated that the MWRRG had a statutory role to play in reducing waste to landfill and that its Metropolitan Implementation Plan articulated the need to integrate land use planning with waste and resource recovery.
The metro plan identifies the Clayton South Precinct as one of 13 hubs of metropolitan importance and acknowledges Alex Fraser’s role in supporting construction and demolition waste.
“The Clayton South Precinct Hub including Alex Fraser facilities, along with other state significant hubs, together operate as a network providing critical and complementary recycling and recovery capacity,” Jillian wrote.
“For the network to function effectively it requires capacity and security of operations across the hub.”
She says that should the operation discontinue, the loss of one million tonnes would undermine the entire network and place pressure on already constrained landfill capacity in the southeast.
Kingston City Council claims that the community has voiced objections about the Clarinda Recycling Facility. The MWRRG’s letter confirms the application for permit extension would allow Alex Fraser to support ongoing best practice environmental management.
Peter says that a number of houses are close to landfills and affected by dust, noise and odour.
“We have provided evidence that the source of dust, noise and odour is not the Clarinda Recycling Facility. Our employees do an outstanding job and have demonstrated how to transition away from landfill,” Peter says.
“We have exceptionally good controls, including 24-hour dust monitoring across the site.
“In fact, the site has been awarded by the Clean Air Society of Australia & New Zealand so it is well recognised as being a leader.”
Alex Fraser also put forward a Community Benefits Package, giving the Kingston community ownership of 22 hectares of land, along with a total of $7.5 million for local sports and recreation facilities.
The proposal was not accepted by the council, an issue Alex Fraser remains perplexed about.
As the Victorian Government plans to release its long-awaited circular economy policy, Peter says Victoria long led the way in using recycled materials in infrastructure.
He adds the site is an outstanding example of the circular economy in action and the state government must intervene to retain this recycling capacity.
This article was published in the February edition of Waste Management Review.