The Victorian government is taking a new approach to the incorporation of recycled materials in major infrastructure projects.
In February 2020, the Victorian government announced its major new waste policy, Recycling Victoria: A new economy. Covering all waste from household, commercial, to industrial, the announcement was swiftly followed by an update from the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority, applying the goals of the program to Victoria’s Big Build, than 100 major road and rail projects around the state.
Combined, the two policies signalled a new approach to waste management and resource recovery in major infrastructure works. Instead of using recycled or reused materials in an ‘ad hoc’ manner, Recycled First applied a uniform approach across the infrastructure sector, and hopes to not only drive change within the way that Victoria manages and uses its resources, but alter sector-wide construction practices.
Announcing the initiative, Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan highlighted that the size of Victoria’s construction pipeline means that an initiative such as this can have wider effects.
“Recycled First will boost the demand for reused materials right across our construction sector – driving innovation in sustainable materials and changing the way we think about waste products.”
Prior to the initiative, recycled materials had been in use in some rail projects in Victoria. A trial of sleepers made from recycled plastics is already underway at Richmond, the first time these sleepers had been used outside of low-volume tourist railways. Additionally, excavated soil from the Metro Tunnel site was repurposed to be employed as pavement layers on roads in Point Cook, a suburb south-west of Melbourne. These specific programs come in addition to other works, such as site-won earthworks and the re-use of rails, said Alexis Davison, director, program services and engineer, Major Road Projects Victoria.
“Rails and sleepers are already reused in rail projects along with recycled glass sand, rubber and steel – Recycled First takes this further by supporting research to identify emerging markets.”
The rollout of Recycled First aims to take this a step further. So far, the program has taken a collaborative approach and has consulted with industry on its implementation. Rather than mandating a one-size fits all threshold or target for recycled content used in projects or waste that avoids landfill, the project takes a case-by-case approach.
When applied to major rail projects, the Recycled First policy will ask tenderers to ascertain what opportunities there are to maximise the use of recycled and reused Victorian materials, and once underway, report on the types, applications, volume, and source of the materials.
By flexibly implementing the policy, hopes are to stimulate innovation in the application of recycled materials and increase the quality of those products used.
“Victoria will benefit immensely from incorporating recycled content into our road and rail projects, by keeping waste out of landfill, reducing reliance on virgin materials and curbing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Davidson.
While the Recycled First initiative will apply to future projects, some of those under the mandate of MTIA have established a pathway for further innovation. On the Caufield to Dandenong Level Crossing Removal Project, 50,000 tonnes of recycled crushed concrete was used and rail barriers were made out of recycled plastic content.
Recycled glass sand was used in the Koroit Creek level crossing removal and the Wyndham Vale Stabling Yard. Completed in April, the stabling yard further trialled 120 recycled plastic sleepers, the same as those being trialled at Richmond station.
In future, the project could also expand to maintenance works on transport infrastructure, providing a larger market for the use of recycled materials.
At the launch of Recycled First, Allan highlighted that the shape and implementation of the project now will lead to the sustainable infrastructure of tomorrow.
“We’re paving a greener future for Victoria’s infrastructure, turning waste into vital materials for our huge transport agenda and getting rubbish out of landfills.”