By Jessica Dickers, Managing Editor, Infrastructure Magazine

Victoria’s landfills are expected to be at capacity by 2026, a problem which will be exacerbated when the waste export ban comes into full effect in 2024. One solution being implemented is recycling some of these materials for reuse in transport infrastructure projects – in an effort to move towards a more circular economy. Major Road Projects Victoria CEO, Allen Garner, explains how this approach is progressing through the Recycled First initiative, the impact of tender processes, and where we go from here.

Almost 21 per cent of Australia’s total waste is produced in Victoria, equalling 16 million tonnes annually. Of this, ten million tonnes is being diverted from landfill and one million tonnes is exported, however this won’t be happening for much longer. That leaves five million tonnes of waste going to landfill – a huge amount that is reaching the limit of what we can responsibly manage.

That’s where Victoria’s Recycled First Policy comes in. Recycled First was spearheaded by Major Road Projects Victoria’s Allen Garner and it aims to increase the use of recycled and reused materials in state transport projects by embedding this as a preferential requirement in contracts. Major Road Projects Victoria is a government body that supports the planning and delivery of road projects in the state.

In his role at MRPV, Mr Garner launched the program ecologiQ in 2019 which supports the implementation of the Recycled First Policy. Mr Garner said a core part of this policy is to make it as simple as possible for contractors to introduce recycled and reused materials into their projects, and said it’s critical to also have organisations set up to help support infrastructure companies in this change.

“It is really important that it’s easy to do and you can make an instant change. The biggest thing for state agencies and others is to put a support mechanism around facilitating that, which is what ecologiQ does,” Mr Garner said. “We can identify all of the quantities, the types of materials that are available, the specification standards, and help people utilise a recycled material or trial it. “It’s one thing to get this policy going in projects, but another to actually support it and make it flourish”.

Helping alleviate supply chain challenges

Since COVID-19, Australia’s infrastructure sector has been experiencing major challenges in its supply chain, resulting in a shortage of materials needed to complete construction projects. While Mr Garner said reusing and recycling materials won’t be a silver bullet to fix all of these issues, it can have a major impact in the long run if processes are put in place now.

“The circular economy is not going to solve all problems related to the big infrastructure boom we’ve got at the moment, but it’s an opportunity to optimise materials that are currently going into landfills,” Mr Garner said. Mr Garner said one of the initial short term drivers will be filling parts of the supply chain that’s needed. It can also be helpful for materials that are not currently being utilised in an appropriate way, such as bulk raw materials like crushed concrete and brick.

“In the long run, it will reduce the load on new quarry but it won’t be a total replacement. It certainly plays a big part as you’re reducing the amount of material you need from new quarries or reducing the amount of waste going into tip sites. It’s working on both ends of the problem,” Mr Garner said.

Mr Garner said it will have significant long-term benefits to the way we build and maintain our infrastructure. He said there will also be longer-term sustainable outcomes such as the reduction of trucks on roads, and less need to haul materials from far away – cutting transport costs which tend to progressively grow over time.

“The longer term driver is the ability to be able to reuse materials over and over and over again and get into a balance of being able to recycle material and put it back in and use it in infrastructure. “We’re proving this at the moment with the big build in infrastructure, but there’s no reason why it can’t go across all of Australia. It will have a significant long term benefit,” Mr Garner said.

Recycled first policy

It’s been a few years since the Recycled First initiative was introduced and Mr Garner said there’s been great adoption of the policy on dozens of the state’s major transport projects. The construction of the new Mordialloc Freeway as well as upgrades to the M80 and Monash freeways also incorporated huge volumes of recycled content, exemplifying the principles of the Recycled First Policy.

“In the early days, these projects started looking at what materials can be replaced with recycled materials. Mordialloc did an exceptional job with the recycled plastic noise walls. We’re seeing quite a strong uptake across the whole industry and across all our road projects,” Mr Garner said. We’ve doubled what we were using as recycled content from three years ago to today. We’ve seen quite a rapid increase and we expect that to keep going.”

From early 2020, tenderers on Victorian major transport projects were required to show how their bid will use recycled and reused materials consistent with current standards and specifications. It also helped if the tenderers could identify any new opportunities or technologies that could increase the amount of recycled and reused materials on the project.

The procurement and the tender process is key in the Recycled First initiative and Mr Garner said that one of the benefits of the policy is how easy it is to embed in contracts. “We’ve been able to embed that as a preferential requirement in all our contracts very simply. Our contractors then go the extra yard to define and source materials.

“Companies are then motivated initially to do what they can to ensure that they put the best offering on the table, which creates demand in the marketplace. Then once the demand happens, it becomes self-fulfilling and the supply chain starts to engage. “At the end of the day, Recycled First is not an extra cost imposed on a project, it’s just assessing what recycled material you can use as a preference before you go to a raw material.”

Barriers to uptake and changing perceptions

The idea of recycling materials and making Australia’s infrastructure projects more sustainable seems like an approach that has many benefits and not much risk, so shouldn’t all projects and sectors already be doing this? “That was our thought when we started thinking about it too – why aren’t we doing more? Really that’s how ecologiQ was created,” Mr Garner said.

Mr Garner said the barriers the industry has faced when it comes to reusing and recycling materials mostly relate to standards and specifications. This is because these were based around generating the highest quality product using natural resources, in times when we had lots of raw materials that were easy to access.

“There wasn’t flexibility to consider other materials. It’s been slow to adapt and adjust standards but the industry, over time, has brought things to the table,” Mr Garner said. “We’ve been working with all parties to change mindsets, change standards if it needs to be changed, and prove that an alternate material meets the standard and can be utilised.”

Besides changing standards and specifications in contracts, one of the other most important shifts needed to facilitate this is changing people’s attitudes. Mr Garner said we need to incentivise people to want to change. “We need to take a holistic view of our perception of waste; what we do and how we treat it, causing people to think about how we dump materials and waste products all around the cities and suburbs and out in the country,” Mr Garner said.

“And secondly, it’s material that can be reused so why wouldn’t we reuse that as it gets harder to source raw replacement materials? It’s just moving that whole mindset to ‘it’s not rubbish anymore, it’s a resource’ and we should be mining that resource. “It requires focus, effort and a change of mindset about what we should do with it. Tipping waste into a hole in the ground is long past its use-by date.”

A true circular economy

Mr Garner said ecologiQ has plans to keep expanding the policy further, but the future challenge will be around not just recycling the materials we already have, but ensuring the products we’re creating at the start can be reused to create a circular economy.

“We’re designing in a way that councils and other states can use our standards, specifications, and any changes we make. It’s really important to share the knowledge and learnings about how to utilise this approach,” Mr Garner said. “We’re also looking to keep investing in new products.

The two most significantly challenging products at the moment are plastics and rubber from car tires, but we haven’t yet solved the volume imbalance at the moment. There’s still much more waste being created than we’re able to recycle.”

Mr Garner said that the bigger long-term benefit of the circular economy is not just having materials go round this cycle, but constantly striving to get a higher use and the best use out of each different type of materials as they come through.

“For example, initially with rubber, it might be a slow, low level solution to help get the volume down and be useful, but then over time it will be used again and again in a higher quality product or material. I think that’s an evolution and certainly what the circular economy is intending to drive.”

Related articles
  1. Alun Thomas 1 year ago

    an excellent initiative and an interesting article, although I couldn’t see many specific examples of what is being recycled and what it is used for. I was interested to see tyres highlighted as a problem. these are an obvious choice for being recycled into asphalt:

    … and one can even recycle the steel cord into high quality structural steel fibres for reinforcing concrete.

  2. Willmar Furgesin 1 year ago

    One solution that I would like to highlight is the use of recycled plastics. Companies like Raw tech trade are doing their part by providing a marketplace for buying and selling recycled plastic materials. By supporting this marketplace, we can help promote the use of recycled plastics and reduce our reliance on virgin plastics.

  3. Willmar Furgesin 1 year ago

    One solution that I would like to highlight is the use of recycled plastics. Companies like Raw tech trade are doing their part by providing a marketplace for buying and selling recycled plastic materials. By supporting this marketplace, One solution that I would like to highlight is the use of recycled plastics. Companies like Rw tech trade are doing their part by providing a marketplace for buying and selling recycled plastic materials. By supporting this marketplace, we can help promote the use of recycled plastics and reduce our reliance on virgin plastics.we can help promote the use of recycled plastics and reduce our reliance on virgin plastics.

Leave a reply

©2024 Infrastructure Magazine. All rights reserved


We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?