One million tonnes under threat: Alex Fraser

For decades, Alex Fraser has supplied the road construction sector with sustainable materials for major projects and municipal works. Now, one million tonnes of resources made from recyclables are at risk of ending up in landfill, with Alex Fraser’s Clarinda facility at risk of closing.

With Victoria’s big build putting pressure on diminishing natural resources and quarries moving further afield, the need to find a sustainable alternative has never been greater.

According to PwC, the building and construction sector faces the challenge of maintaining access to supply of extractive resources. It comes as investment in infrastructure is expected to average over $10 billion from 2018-22.

About 535 quarries produce 50 million tonnes of stone, limestone, gypsum, sand and gravel each year, the Victorian Government’s Extractive Resources strategy shows.

The report finds demand for extractive resources is at an all-time high and at the current rate predicted, will need to increase to more than 100 million tonnes by 2050.

Victorian Government Minister for Resources Tim Pallas acknowledges the challenges in a Joint Ministerial Statement on Extractive Resources. With demand potentially outstripping supply, one of the government’s priorities is to lower demand for virgin extractive resources. It will do so by facilitating its substitution with recycled products, thereby increasing competition and lowering prices for contractors.

Importantly, it will also reduce emissions from the extractive resources sector to help achieve the government’s target of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

It’s a concern alleviated by global construction and demolition waste recycler Alex Fraser, which has led the way for decades by taking pressure off the state’s strained extractive resources sector.

Alex Fraser supplies recycled construction materials to projects including the Level Crossing Removal Projects, Monash Freeway Upgrade, Thompsons Road Upgrade, and the Hallam Road Upgrade. The construction materials it produces from waste that would otherwise go to landfill reduces the carbon footprint of projects by up to 65 per cent.

Now, one of Alex Fraser’s valued sites is under threat with one million tonnes of recyclables at its Clarinda site at risk of going under. Alex Fraser has called on Kingston City Council to extend its operating permit for its glass, construction and demolition recycling site.

In 2015, Kingston’s industrial area was rezoned to be green wedge, with conditions preventing waste management operations on the land.

Since then, Alex Fraser has been actively working with the Victorian Government and its agencies to identify alternative locations.

Peter Murphy, Alex Fraser Group Managing Director, says that there is no way Alex Fraser will be able to find a suitable alternative location by 2023.

CLOSE TO THE COALFACE

One of the key reasons is a need for Alex Fraser to be located within proximity to sources of construction and demolition waste, as well as kerbside collected glass.

“Using recycled material in infrastructure is only possible with facilities like Clarinda that are close to our cities – where waste is generated, and where major projects are underway,” Mr. Murphy explains.

Other prominent considerations are the scale of the 22-hectare site, quality road network and its extensive landscaping and screening with appropriate bunding, fencing and native foliage.

Alex Fraser’s application to Kingston City Council, lodged in September this year, seeks a 15-year extension of its operating permit.

“Unfortunately, there are no viable alternative sites, and so we’re asking Kingston City Council for more time,” Mr. Murphy says.

“We need more time so we can continue to recycle until we can relocate, to avoid adding to Victoria’s recycling and resources crises.”

Mr. Murphy notes that Victorians want certainty about what’s happening with their waste. A decision is expected from council this year and if Alex Fraser is denied an extension, it may have to scale back its recycling.

“If this key recycling facility is shut down in 2023, it would significantly impact on Victoria’s recycling capability, and cut the supply of construction materials urgently needed for Victoria’s big build.”

“Victoria is already in a recycling crisis – this would only make matters worse,” Mr. Murphy says.

Kerbside glass is at the heart of Victoria’s recycling crisis – the Victorian Government recently supported an improvement to the Clarinda facility recycling capability. This will enable the annual recycling and distribution of 200 million bottles worth of recycled sand. The site’s closure could mean this goes to landfill instead.

Mr. Murphy says that if Alex Fraser were to shut own, a major metropolitan quarry would have to be established to extract the same volume of resources.

June 5 hearings in the Victorian Government’s Inquiry into Recycling and Waste Management highlighted sheds all over Melbourne had been filled with “glass mountains”.

Alex Fraser’s response to the glass-waste conundrum has been to step up production with new infrastructure at Clarinda and a state-of-the-art plant in Laverton North. Together, these projects have increased the company’s capacity to recycle up to one billion bottles a year, including the most problematic glass waste streams.

“Projects like LXRA, various Monash upgrades, the Western Ring Road – all the way back to the Grand Prix track actually – have got some kind of recycled content in them. So I think in Victoria the story is pretty good. Victoria’s big build is underway.”

“If you came through Bayside this morning, we have got a crew out there laying asphalt that has got glass, plastics, and recycled asphalt in it…being used all day, every day, in massive quantities,” Peter told the hearing in June.

He reiterated that the scale of these recycling efforts and the scale of reuse in major projects was often misunderstood by lots of people.

“If you close that facility [Clarinda], you need to find a community somewhere that wants a big quarry established… and you need to tell them that they need a quarry because you shut down a resource recovery facility.”

“The Department of Economic Development, Jobs and Transport Resources did a very good study, three years ago, on the increasing cost to these projects due to carting quarry materials further out of town, and the cost is already well ahead of the base case.”

As one example of practical use, around 190 million bottles worth of recycled glass were sourced from multiple project sites at Laverton North for Melbourne’s Western Roads Upgrade Project.

A letter from the Department of Treasury and Finance shows efforts were made to find an alternative site by the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (formerly DEDJTR) and Sustainability Victoria (SV).

The department’s scoping found site options that meet current planning requirements are extremely limited, with none available in proximity to the cities where waste is generated and end markets exist.   

Alex Fraser’s Clarinda site has been recognised as part of a hub of state significance in the Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan for Victoria.

According to Mr. Murphy, the company has not received any complaints regarding amenity impact on the surrounding area and was recognised for its high operating and environmental standards.

Alex Fraser’s significant market pull has led to an outreach of support from numerous stakeholders.

In order to mitigate the issue into the future, National Waste and Recycling Industry Council CEO Rose Read calls for the establishment of ‘green zones’ identified and protected for waste and recycling businesses that protect these assets for the life of the infrastructure.

Matt Genever, Director Resource Recovery at Sustainability Victoria, says SV recognised the site as an important site for resource recovery in Melbourne.

“Processing 1,000,000 tonnes of recycling per annum, the site serves a dual purpose, both as a hub for construction and demolition waste in the south-east and through supply of aggregate and sand into new construction activities,” Mr. Genever says.

“We are acutely aware of the shortage of quarried materials to supply the state’s significant infrastructure program and having a site of this scale located in close proximity to these major projects is essential in ensuring ongoing supply of recycled construction products and materials.”

At the beginning of September, Kingston Mayor Georgina Oxley confirmed the council had received an application (on Tuesday September 3, 2019) to extend operations at the Alex Fraser site.

“In 2015, Kingston Council welcomed protections for Kingston’s green wedge that were introduced by the Victorian Planning Minister that would ensure existing waste operations would cease at the end of their current permits and that no new operations would be allowed,” Ms Oxley said.

“Council wrote to the Planning Minister in April 2015 calling on the government to help Alex Fraser find an alternative site to ensure its long-term success while ensuring the end of waste-related activities in the green wedge. Invest Victoria has been working with Alex Fraser to identify suitable alternative sites.

“Council strongly supports the recycling sector and has a range of successful recycling business operating outside the green wedge within its industrial zoned areas.”

A Victorian Government spokesperson said the permit decision is currently a matter for Kingston City Council.

“We recognise the important contribution Alex Fraser makes to the recycling sector but also the concerns of local residents,” the spokesperson said.

“We’ll continue to work with both the council and Alex Fraser on resolving this matter.”

This article appeared in the October 2019 issue of Roads & Infrastructure. 

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