Q&A with Janet Salem: Keynote speaker at ASCI2021

Janet Salem has over 13 years of experience working in circular economy and sustainability at the United Nations. She has been selected by the ASCI2021 Advisory Board to deliver the keynote address at the ASCI annual conference in February 2021, as part of the Continuous Professional Development Program. Below is an edited Q&A between Salem and ASCI.

ASCI: How does a university graduate from New South Wales end up working with the United Nations?

Janet Salem: I’m surprised myself. It was quite unintentional but I studied an environmental engineering degree at the University of New South Wales and I took an interest in environmental accounting relevant for supply chains. This involved looking at techniques like life cycle assessment which look at the environmental impacts behind a product, including not only the company that directly making the products but the company that makes the components of the packaging and transports and behind that, making the materials and then further back, the one extracting raw materials from the environment.

Then, as part of the degree, I completed an internship with the UN global program to promote these techniques. While doing that internship I worked on a proposal on a science policy interface on the sustainable use of natural resources.

A couple of years down the track that proposal was successful and so I went back to work on that in the EU and environment programme in Paris and stayed there working on synthesizing what science has to say about sustainable resource management and how we have to bridge the gap between scientists and what policy makers are doing towards sustainability.

The opportunity came up around eight years ago to apply some of this knowledge in policy support to governments in the Asia-Pacific region and so I have spent the last eight years looking at how we can support individual governments and regional processes to develop security and sustainable resource management.

Very recently I joined a new program looking at the circular economy. The focus is on plastics in Southeast Asia and am very excited about this new role and looking at how technologies can help monitor plastics and how solutions can prevent plastic waste from reaching our oceans in the first place.

ASCI: Can you briefly explain the premise behind the Decade of Action and what are the main sustainability goals?

Janet Salem: The UN sustainable development goals were adopted in 2015 and they’re considered a transformative agenda for the world to shift towards a sustainable future. The reason that they’re so transformative is that they really apply to all countries equally.

We used to have the Millennium development goals which are very focused on poverty eradication. That’s evolved and the sustainable development goals under the Decade of Action, or the Global Goals so they are called, apply to all countries. It’s said that now every country is a developing country because they also include environmental sustainability, clean industries, the state of the cities, climate action, protecting nature, and life below water. It’s looking at gender and it’s looking at health so you really have this cross-cutting agenda that all countries now need to work on in order to develop the kind of future that I think everyone would want to live in.

ASCI: As the first keynote of ASCI2021, what can delegates expect to hear from your  address?

Janet Salem: My address will cover concrete examples that show supply chain approaches that can support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. There are 17 different goals but you can’t address one at a time so I’ll be getting case studies from the private sector and demonstrating how they cross over a few different goals.

There is a limit to what governments can do to deliver these goals. Actually, all the production-consumption activities are with the private sector and I think that companies that take a supply chain approach have the most potential and the most responsibility to support the sustainable development goals because they can leverage that entire supply chain and one company can actually mobilise a number of companies to get on the same page.

These cases will also bring in that circular economy approach because it’s it is an environmental framework that has to have a supply chain approach. We’re looking at how do we move from that linear take/make/deliver/waste economy approach to a circular economy approach.

With a circular economy approach you really need to break down those silos and work together. A product that can be re-used and set at a higher value and spun off into a different sector is amazing but makes the supply chain quite long and complex. I’ll address the kinds of discussions that need to be going on between different members of a supply chain in order to reduce the amount of waste that’s generated.

ASCIL What are you most looking forward to hearing at the conference?

Janet Salem: I’m particularly interested to see how industry partners with really complex supply chains are adapting to disruptions in supply chain availability and also how they’re looking at sustainability. Companies on the program like Food Buy, Kimberly-Clark or Metcash who are dealing with a lot of packaging materials and now they’re matching requirements and expectations as packaging becomes more sustainable. Also looking down the supply chain at the ban on exports of plastic waste to other countries and whether these companies have developed domestic solutions for plastic packaging waste.

I’m also quite interested in hearing from the Navy Centre for Innovation because it’s really great to see multiple types of stakeholders collaborating towards a common purpose of innovation and sustainability.

Lastly, I’m keen to see the commended, highly commended and winner of the Sustainability Award at the Awards Dinner on the evening of the first day. I think there is a lot of exciting work on sustainability in Australia that isn’t really well known outside of Australia. Working for the UN in Asia-Pacific, we always looking for good examples of what we can share globally.

Time is running out to secure your early bird tickets for ASCI2021. For more information and to book go to http://www.asci-2021.com.au/.

Going green with geosynthetics

A manufacturer in Albury, New South Wales is recycling plastic bottles into green geotextile materials for use within major infrastructure projects to aid with anything from separation, filtration, drainage and cushioning; meet Geofabrics.

Geofabrics turns Australian waste plastic into a viable and beneficial geotextile for rail construction through its local manufacturing facilities.

For over 40 years Geofabrics has been providing the infrastructure sector with tailored geotextile solutions. It all began in the 1970’s when the ‘to-be’ owners of Geofabrics came across geotextiles being used for road construction in Europe.

In 1978, Geofabrics got its start in Melbourne and expanded quickly across the country. There are now two Geofabrics manufacturing sites in Australia, one in NSW and one in Queensland.

The Albury factory in NSW is home to all of the company’s rail infrastructure construction industry geotextiles. While Geofabrics has a wide range of different products for construction, its newest fabric made with recycled plastic is bidim Green.

Bidim Green is made from Australian recyclable materials and Peter Tzelepis, executive director of sales and business development at Geofabrics says it can be applied across nearly every civil engineering construction project.

The fabric can be used in the track base to provide separation and filtration under below rail construction materials such as ballast.

“The idea for bidim Green came from the issues around circular economy and waste. One of our key sectors for Geofabrics is waste management services and over the last two to three years we have seen this issue develop and we know there is a real need to do something with our waste plastic,” Tzelepis said.

“Our vision was that our product will go into the ground to serve a purpose, it’s not going into a landfill. We simply saw it as a great opportunity to support the circular economy.”

Locally made and sourced materials, such as the recycled plastic, are an important factor in the manufacturing process for all Geofabrics products. The company has a specific technical department and innovation sector that works with Australian companies to provide solutions tailored to local conditions.

“Australian conditions are quite unique, from isolation to UV exposure, even rock sizes in road construction can vary in different parts of the country and there might not always be a quarry nearby to provide materials for every rail project,” Tzelepis said.

“Geofabrics and its products like bidim Green, which is placed underneath the rail formation, are there to reduce the amount of excavation and virgin materials needed on these major infrastructure projects.”

“Another uniquely Australian challenge is the UV exposure. When looking at a UV radiation map of Australia different places have varied exposure to UV which can degrade a geotextile if left exposed for a period of time,” he said.

“To ensure we can provide the right solution we have real time testing on bidim Green at our offices all over Australia to see how it performs with different exposure. We are building the performance of our product to the climatic and environmental changes in different Australian regions.”

The bidim Green range has been rigorously tested at our Geosynthetic Research, Innovation and Design (GRID) laboratory located in Queensland for durability performance. The durability of any geotextile is important so that it can resist damage during the construction phase. During this phase, the geotextile can be punctured by very angular rocks – such as ballast – or heavy machinery pushing into the soft capping layer under the track. The geotextile to be selected must have multi directional strength and bidim Green offers that benefit. The GRID laboratory simulates performance of a geotextile for specific project situations and is available to Geofabrics Australia’s customers.

Geofabrics are currently working through a process with the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia to certify bidim Green, to facilitate wider use on Australia’s infrastructure projects.

With demand from governments to use recycled products in infrastructure projects, such as Victoria’s Recycled First program and NSW’s Waste and Recycling Infrastructure Fund, Tzelepis said bidim Green is another product contractors can consider to make their projects environmentally friendly.

“We know we have to make our materials sustainable, I take my recycling bin out to the kerb every second week, if I know my recycling is going to be picked up and used on projects like my road, that is fantastic.”

NSW government highlights rail manufacturer using recycled materials

The NSW government has once again returned to the regional town of Albury to highlight a local manufacturer supplying innovative sustainable materials to the infrastructure and construction industries.

NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW, Industry and Trade John Barilaro said that industrial innovation was occurring at the Albury plant to develop a new, sustainable geotextile.

“Geofabrics’ groundbreaking product is a great example of regional excellence and shows exactly what our skilled regional workforce can achieve when given the conditions to succeed.”

The company had previously been producing a wide range of geotextiles that are used in rail and construction projects to seal and stabilise soil and control liquids. In 2019, Barilaro highlighted the company to a visiting group of international delegates, however the Deputy Premier has returned to Albury to showcase a new product from Geofabrics. The company has succeeded in developing a  product that is made from locally sourced recycled plastics.

Known as Bidim Green, the new geotextile responds to calls for increased sustainability in major infrastructure projects, said Dennis Grech, CEO and managing director of Geofabrics Australasia.

“Many infrastructure projects are calling for improved sustainability and we’re the only Australian manufacturer in the market here that is using recycled Australian plastics as a component of a geotextile, helping to reduce waste to landfill,” he said.

The product closes the loop in terms of plastics in Australia, by providing a way to re-use plastic bottles and containers locally, said Barilaro.

“This is a company that’s been operating in regional NSW for more than 30 years, with a staff that is proud to go to work each day and create world-leading products that make an absolute difference to the quality and convenience of our everyday lives.”

Geotextile made from Australian recycled plastics now available

Australia’s first geotextile made from locally sourced recycled plastics is now on the market.

Developed by Geofabrics Australasia, the Bidim Green geotextile is made from recycled plastic bottles, sourced from Australian recycling bins.

The geotextile is designed to be used in infrastructure projects, including rail, and is manufactured at Geofabrics Australasia’s site in Albury, NSW.

Dennis Grech, CEO and managing director of Geofabrics Australasia, said that the product is an example of the emerging circular economy.

“Many infrastructure projects are calling for improved sustainability, and we’re the only Australian manufacturer in the market that is using recycled Australian plastics as a component of a geotextile, helping to reduce waste to landfill.

“Bidim Green has been made in Australia, developed and tested in Australia, and I am proud to lead a business that contributes to maintaining and creating local jobs and to reduce the environmental impact of our business and our customer’s projects on the Australian community,” said Grech.

Many infrastructure projects are increasingly looking to source a greater amount of their materials from sustainable sources, and in February 2020, Victoria’s Major Transport Infrastructure Project announced its Recycle First initiative, which unifies the approach to sourcing recycled products across Victoria’s $70 billion Big Build program.

Grech said that Bidim Green directly responds to such initiatives.

“Bidim Green is an addition to our world-leading Bidim geotextile range and contains Australian-sourced recycled plastics. It responds to the increasing call for greater recycled content in the construction and infrastructure industry.”

The recycled content in Bidim Green includes the polymer raw material, as well as the product’s consumables. This includes the plastic wrap and core, which are also made from locally sourced recycled plastics.

Geotextiles are used in the rail sector to separate the capping layer from the ballast layer, to provide separation and filtration in rail formation.