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.”