Buying it back: City of Charles Sturt

Fiona Jenkins, City of Charles Sturt Waste and Sustainability Coordinator, highlights the council’s recent decision to prioritise products made from recycled material.

Q: How has council been affected by recent waste and recycling sector instability?

A: All councils have been impacted by the changes heralded by the introduction of China’s National Sword policy and the City of Charles Sturt is no different. These impacts include increased yellow lidded bin recycling costs and rising uncertainty on the future operation of the recycling sector generally.

Q: Why did the City of Charles Sturt choose to sign the Local Government Association of South Australia’s (LGA) Procurement Pilot Project memorandum of understanding?

A: Charles Sturt is seeking opportunities to support South Australian recycling businesses, which we see as critical to the future
of recycling for our residents. Our residents produce 10,000 tonnes of recyclable material each year through our kerbside recycling bins. Doing our bit and buying recycled products back is the best way to ensure this industry survives and thrives in the post China Sword era.

We see the LGA Procurement Pilot Project as a key part of this, as it solidifies our commitment to #buyingitback and makes it clear to everyone that we are serious about the future of recycling in our region.

Q: What is council’s action plan for prioritising recycled content through procurement?

A: Briefings with staff involved in the procurement of materials, for example those working in infrastructure, have already commenced.

The briefings will be ongoing throughout the project to ensure high awareness of the availability and benefits of recycled products.

A new requirement has also been introduced for staff to report on their purchase of recycled products. This immediately increases the visibility of recycled product procurement across the organisation and addresses the old adage ‘you cannot manage what you haven’t measured.’

A target has been set for the purchase of recycled plastic for 2019-20, while targets for a wider range of recycled product purchases will be established from 2020-21.

Additionally, recycled product purchases will be publicly reported against by council each year through our annual report.

Q: What effect will the new procurement process have on Charles Sturt residents?

A: Residents are unlikely to be aware we purchase recycled products in many cases because a road made from recycled materials looks and performs in much the same way as a road made from new/raw materials. However, council will promote some key examples to help draw attention to the benefits of our purchases as the program progresses.
Q: How does the LGA Pilot Project fit in with council’s wider waste and recycling plan?

A: We have a strong commitment to recycling and have recently announced we will be jointly establishing our own materials recovery facility (MRF) with the City of Port Adelaide Enfield. As part of that decision, both councils have reinforced the importance of finding local markets for recycled materials produced by the new MRF. We have a view to use this as an opportunity to support and accelerate the establishment and growth of South Australia’s circular economy.

Given the principles established by both councils, the LGA Circular Economy Procurement Project strongly supports our publicly stated values and objectives as leaders in the development of the circular economy in western Adelaide.

Q: Why did Charles Sturt decide to partner with another council for the MRF?

A: The two councils combined account for 20,000 tonnes of kerbside recyclable material each year. By combining our tonnes, we can establish a facility with sufficient operational efficiencies, while retaining additional plant capacity to accept additional material from other councils at a later date if required.

The MRF operation will be administered through a new regional subsidiary, in the same way other regional waste authorities currently operate across Adelaide, such as the Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority, Southern Region Waste Resource Authority and East Waste.

Each council will hold a 50 per cent stake in the new body.

Q: How will the MRF affect recycling services in the city?

A: The new MRF will place our kerbside recycling service on a more stable footing, but from a resident’s perspective, little will change. It will accept the same range of materials we currently accept in kerbside recycling bins.

The main difference will be that both councils will be in a position to know and influence where their recyclable material is sent for processing. This provides an opportunity to help create grow the circular economy by selling recyclable material to local recycling companies.

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Green future

The concrete jungles that are Australia’s major cities traditionally thrive on resource-heavy steel mesh reinforcement, but Fibercon offers a new solution by using recycled plastic fibre, Emesh, to reduce waste, costs and resources for concrete constructions.

From the footpaths that line suburbs to the sky-scraping obelisks that populate capital cities – the building blocks of concrete infrastructure are a designer’s dream, but for developers, can be a resourcing nightmare.

Although it seems concrete will continue to be a foundation of urban design for the foreseeable future, innovators like Fibercon have invested in alternative and sustainable technologies to reduce the environmental concerns that affect the construction industry.

Fibercon developed its Emesh technology in 2015, creating the plastic fibres from 100 per cent recycled polypropylene. For civil applications like drains, footpaths, bikeways and pavements, steel is still in use as a reinforcing mesh. Australian company Fibercon has found a way to replace this with recycled plastic fibres, called Emesh, to give footpaths more longevity.

It has been a five-year journey for Fibercon CEO Mark Combe, whose collaboration with Research and Development Manager Tony Collister sparked a three-year PhD program at James Cook University, leading researchers across the world to bring Emesh into reality.

Emesh has been used in a number of footpaths at the JCU campus in North Queensland and throughout some councils in Queensland, NSW and Victoria. It uses offcuts and plastics from industrial waste, which is then used to reinforce the concrete.

Using Emesh to reinforce concrete instead of traditional steel mesh has recycled 100 tonnes of plastic waste from councils along the eastern seaboard alone, but has also saved about 1588 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, 32,670 cubic metres of water and 318 tonnes of fossil fuels.

The industry award winning Emesh not only netted Fibercon recognition from Shell and the Australian Department of Industry, Innovation & Science, but also saw CEO Mark Combe named in the top 50 most innovative engineers of last year.

Mark says the project’s aim was to enter the recycling market and provide economic benefits, but sceptics were unsure it could be brought to fruition.

“It’s just good getting the recognition, knowing that we’re on the right track. We were told that it wasn’t going to be big enough and now we’re supplying huge councils all over Australia,” Mark says.

“The building industry talks about innovation, but it often doesn’t do it, so for us it’s pretty different, but it’s been a difficult road.”

As waste has become a larger issue in the Australian construction industry, Mark says that it’s not only the materials, but a waste of time, money, transport and traffic control.

“In the building industry there’s a phenomenal amount of waste, even in something simple like a footpath there’s got to be a better way. We’re trying to make things simple in a sustainable way,” Mark says.

The City of Charles Sturt in north-west Adelaide is the first council in South Australia to adopt the ‘green concrete’ alternative, after a recommendation from Hi Mix Concrete Business Development Manager Daniel Romano.

Daniel recommended the council use the Emesh concrete after construction firm Nova Group reached out to them to provide concrete for the St Clair Recreation and Adelaide Parklands Upgrade projects.

“When Adelaide based construction firm Nova Group came to us to supply concrete for a number of Charles Sturt Council projects, I recommended Emesh instead of the traditional steel reinforcement,” Daniel says.

“I called all around Australia looking for different prices because (plastic mesh) is quite expensive. Someone mentioned recycled plastic, so I started buying Emesh.

“I’m trying to push it more, once other councils hear about it, they’ll want to use it as well. It’s easier for the customer, it’s quicker and better for the environment.”

Hi Mix is a father-son operation established in 1989 and their willingness to adapt to new technologies like Fibercon’s Emesh is slowly spreading throughout Adelaide.

While Emesh has supported councils such as Charles Sturt with its $26.5 million St Clair Recreation project, Daniel says the new technology needs to be pushed further by concrete producers.

One core benefit Hi Mix found when applying the recycled plastic mesh was the time and resources saved in not having to cut steel mesh or manoeuvre mesh and bar chairs.

Mark says he was aiming to achieve something different in the construction industry.

“Usually sustainability comes at a cost, there’s the ‘green premium’, which isn’t the situation for Emesh. It actually works out cheaper and faster,” he says.

Looking to the future, Emesh is quickly becoming a big part of Fibercon’s business as they try to push their product deeper into the Australian market and into international territories.

As for the future of the company, Mark says he’d like to expand internationally as part of the vision of Emesh.

 

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