The road to recovery

Alex Fraser has developed a world-first process to improve its recycling of glass fines and increase its supply of sustainable construction material to the Australian infrastructure market.

Carrying more than 200,000 vehicles a day, the Tullamarine Freeway is a vital link connecting Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport with the central city.

Little known about the arterial route, however, is that nearly 40 million recycled glass bottles have been used in its recent, multi-million-dollar upgrade.

Construction material supply company Alex Fraser was selected as the primary supplier of roadbase materials for design and construct contractor CPB Contractors for the $570 million Bulla Road to Power Street section of the CityLink Tulla Widening project, for which Transurban is responsible.

In keeping with its reputation as a leading recycled material supplier in the Australian construction sector, Alex Fraser capitalised on the opportunity to not only provide the project with a sustainable material alternative, but help reduce local waste stockpiles too.

Good environmental outcomes are not a new thing for Alex Fraser. The business has been at the forefront of recycling in road and civil construction projects for decades – recycling concrete, asphalt, industrial sands and glass for use in myriad projects around Melbourne and Brisbane.

In 2014, the company recovered 80,000 tonnes of Melbourne’s non-traditionally recyclable glass fines. Then, in 2015, Alex Fraser recycled 141,000 tonnes of the same material and, as a result, started to reduce stockpiled material.

For 12 years, the business has been improving its glass recycling capabilities, and supplied construction contractors with easily available, sustainable, green material alternatives, namely its recycled glass sand that can be used in VicRoads-approved roadbase and asphalt.

Building on this success with major infrastructure projects such as the CityLink-Tulla Widening project, Alex Fraser has taken its glass recycling capabilities to the next level, allowing the firm to ramp up its environmentally conscious service to the Australian construction market.

While the business has circumnavigated traditional challenges around recycling glass fines through its innovative recycling process, a more problematic glass waste stream – known as CSP (or ceramics, stone and porcelain) – has been accumulating in stockpiles around the nation.

CSP contains other materials like ceramics, stone and porcelain, as well as metals, plastics and paper, which can be problematic in themselves.

Peter Murphy, Alex Fraser Managing Director, says these burgeoning stockpiles compelled Alex Fraser to forge a more sustainable way forward.

“Over the last six years, we’ve travelled the world researching plant designs, scoping the technology and testing the components needed to design an innovative glass recycling plant, capable of producing a high quality construction sand from even the most difficult glass waste streams,” he says.

Last year, the company built its first fixed glass recycling plant capable of separating contaminants such as metal, paper and plastics from recyclable glass fines.

The custom-designed facility features a range of technologies to separate impurities from the glass, as well as self-cleaning screens. Conveyors link the glass recycling facility to the company’s main recycling plant, enabling the glass sand to be blended into other products according to carefully calibrated mix designs. This link substantially reduces diesel consumption.

The new facility is Victoria’s first licensed glass recycling plant under the state’s new EPA regulations. Now in full production, it is capable of recycling up to 150,000 tonnes a year, equating to four million bottles per day.

The recycled sand is currently blended into roadbase and asphalt or used as pipe bedding, filter/drainage and a range of other uses in infrastructure works.

Another recent example of glass sand application was Victoria’s Kororoit Creek Road Level Crossing Removal Project, a thoroughfare to the state’s west.

A grade separation at Kororoit Creek Road was undertaken by the Level Crossing Removal Project. Alex Fraser’s recycled sand was used as bedding material for the combined services conduit housing the communications and power cables.

The sand is consistently tested to ensure it remains within specifications. While the material is being put to good use, Mr. Murphy expects that recycled glass sand will be used in more concrete and higher value applications in the near future.

“The most exciting change this recycling plant enables is the production of a high quality, valuable construction material from hundreds of thousands of tonnes of otherwise worthless waste, which until now would have ended up in landfill,”
he says.

Across its five recycling sites in Victoria and Queensland, Alex Fraser recycles concrete, brick, asphalt, rock, glass, industrial sands and ballast – annually diverting up to 4.5 million tonnes from landfill. This large-scale capacity makes it one of Australia’s largest providers of sustainable construction materials.

Mr. Murphy says the company’s scale sets it apart, in addition to offering a reliable, high-quality product that meets government specifications. “We work very closely with customers and regulators to get the volume they need, at a very consistent quality.

“We love to innovate but we pride ourselves on reliability. We have proved we can ably supply high volumes of consistent, quality materials to major projects.

“Our network of sites across Victoria and Queensland means we can service the market anywhere around those metropolitan areas. Some local governments have been using our products for 20 to 30 years,” he says.

Mr. Murphy says that while there is potential for more glass recycling plants in the company’s future, in the short term the plant will produce enough glass sand to supply its asphalt plants in Laverton and Dandenong and recycling plants in Epping, Clarinda and Dandenong.

The launch of the glass recycling plant aligns with the commissioning of Alex Fraser’s new High Recycled Technology asphalt plant in Laverton, uniquely designed to blend high quantities of recycled glass, asphalt and plastics into sustainable asphalt mixes.

“Our new plants substantially increase our capacity to service our long standing customers with greener products. Instead of trucking sand to our asphalt plants from outlying areas, we use quality, recycled sand produced within the metropolitan area, saving thousands of truck movements and tonnes of carbon,” he says.

The plant was commissioned in March and has now produced its first batch of asphalt. The plant will supply long term customers and council maintenance contracts as well as servicing major projects in the Melbourne
metropolitan area.

Looking to the future, Mr. Murphy is confident the company’s long history of growth will continue on an upward trajectory, along with the end markets’ appetite for sustainable alternatives.

“With 140 years of operation, 50 million tonnes recycled and hundreds of green roads behind us, the future looks bright. As long as our communities are recycling, and people building our infrastructure do it sustainably, we have an important role to play in building greener roads that ensure a thriving circular economy.”

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