Queensland achieves first recycled plastic road

Redland City Council is working with Alex Fraser and Suncoast Asphalt to resurface a one-kilometre stretch of road comprising significant amounts of hard plastics and reclaimed asphalt pavement, all while cutting council costs and carbon emissions.

The 18th Australian Asphalt Pavement Conference (AAPA) in August signalled a change in priorities for the construction road sector, with the circular economy now a predominant theme.

In an exciting turn of events, AAPA members shared how the business case to shift away from the traditional take, make, dispose model was becoming increasingly attractive.

The sector’s shift towards resource efficiency is more than mere serendipity, as the recent Council of Australian Governments export ban marked a step change in the way waste will be managed onshore.

The November meeting saw federal, state and territory environment ministers agree to phase out numerous waste streams, notably, waste glass by July 2020.

Additionally, mixed plastic waste will be banned by December 2021. Connecting the dots with end markets even further is a ministerial commitment to identify procurement opportunities for major road projects that could see increased uptake of significant amounts of recycled material.

But some councils and asset managers are already ahead of the pack, with Queensland’s Redland City Council announcing a state-first pilot project in Princess Street, Cleveland.

The council is working with Alex Fraser and Suncoast Asphalt to resurface a one-kilometre stretch of road using around 90,000 hard plastics and 933 tonnes of reclaimed asphalt.

It follows numerous other trials in states and territories using recycled plastic, at a time where only 9.4 per cent of plastics are recycled in Australia, according to the 2017-18 Australian Plastics Recycling Survey.

While plastic in roads is a relatively new practice, the ability to reform existing standards through trials and updated specifications does not happen overnight.

It’s a process Alex Fraser knows all too well, having worked closely with VicRoads in the 90s to develop specifications that use glass sand in construction projects.

The company has since continued to find new ways to build greener roads that last longer, reduce waste and cut carbon emissions.

Some of its recent projects include incorporating 190 million bottles of recycled glass on Melbourne’s Western Roads Upgrade Project in September.

In Queensland, Alex Fraser used more than 17,000 tonnes of recycled materials on Brisbane’s National Freight Terminal and it continues to collaborate with the construction sector and local government. The company has a network of facilities across Brisbane to provide recycling solutions for an array of projects.

Alex Fraser and Suncoast Asphalt General Manager Brendan Camilleri says this was a great example of how a circular economy can be achieved with local government, industry and community all working together.

“Redland City Council’s progressive approach to the use of sustainable material is paving the way for Queensland. This shows how local government can harness recycling to build and maintain cities and reduce a project’s carbon footprint,” Mr. Camilleri says.

He says Green Roads PolyPave is also a more durable product which lasts longer than regular asphalt, bringing long-term cost benefits. Mr. Camilleri explains that PolyPave also improves tensile strength and rut resistance.

It costs roughly the same as a regular road, which Redlands City Council estimated to be $1.1 million per kilometre.

“When we incorporate recycled plastics into Green Roads PolyPave, it becomes part of the DNA of the road, meaning there is no issue with microplastics entering the environment,” Mr. Camilleri says.

He adds that there is also an enormous carbon saving, with the process producing 43 per cent less CO2 emissions when compared to conventional asphalt.

“The addition of other recycled ingredients, such as reclaimed asphalt pavement, along with energy-saving production methods further increases CO2 savings.”

PolyPave has in the past been used in numerous other local government areas, including Melbourne’s City of Bayside and City of Yarra.

Redland City Council Mayor Karen Williams says that in keeping with council’s strong focus on sustainability, it is hoped the pilot project will lead to more roads being built and resurfaced using reclaimed materials.

“Roads are big business for council, so when we learned of a potentially better way to build and maintain them using sustainable materials, while removing waste from landfill, that was an attractive proposition,” Cr. Williams says.

Cr. Williams says that the 90,000 hard plastics comprises milk and shampoo bottles placed in yellow lid bins – the equivalent of around nine months of kerbside recycling collected from that street.

“I have been working with the Australian Local Government Association to investigate these sort of innovative solutions for years and I am pleased this work is delivering value for the community,” she says.

Cr. Williams says there will be a long-term saving achieved due to the waste levy being introduced in Queensland on 1 July, which imposes a $75 a tonne cost on waste sent to landfill.

“If we can create a circular economy that saves ratepayers money over a long period of time, it’s a double whammy win for them,” she says.

Following the meeting, Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel estimated that specifying recycled content in even 12 major projects around the country can double our plastics recycling rate.

Cr. Williams says hundreds of thousands of tonnes of recyclables could be put to work on other major projects, including the Bruce Highway.

The City of Redlands resurfacing, between Bloomfield and Passage Streets is due to be completed on 8 November, weather permitting.

“Council will be watching this Queensland-first pilot project very closely. If it stacks up, I would like to see many more local roads being resealed with reclaimed materials,” Cr. Williams.

“I am also excited by the prospect of this product’s greater performance and lifespan, which means less pressure on council’s budget and bottom line.”

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