Waste Management Review spoke to Managing Director Peter Murphy about the sustainability milestones Alex Fraser achieved in 2020.
Alex Fraser celebrated a significant milestone last year, with the production of more than one million tonnes of recycled glass – equivalent to recycling 5.4 billion bottles.
When the Victorian Government introduced its Recycling Victoria policy and Recycled First program last year, the spotlight turned to sustainable materials.
With a network of recycling sites surrounding Melbourne, Victoria’s construction industry is turning to the state’s leading recycler Alex Fraser, to increase its pivotal role in the supply of sustainable materials needed for infrastructure projects – from municipal works to Victoria’s Big Build.
In 2020, the company reached an important milestone – recycling more than one million tonnes of problem glass into materials to build greener roads.
“We started this work back in 2007, and our employees have been relentless in their efforts to develop a recycling process that takes a very complex, problem material, treats it as a resource, and reprocesses it into a high specification product that is desperately needed to build greener roads and rail for Melbourne,” Peter Murphy, Alex Fraser Managing Director says.
Glass waste recovered by Alex Fraser is often referred to as problem glass, he explains, comprising trillions of pieces of glass, too small and comingled to be recycled back into glass bottles.
Victoria annually accumulates around 150,000 tonnes of this problem glass – which for decades, was either sent to landfill or stockpiled, which in turn put pressure on the viability of kerbside recycling programs.
“We work closely with our communities, local governments, major recyclers and the construction industry to annually recover more than three million tonnes of construction and demolition material and problem glass and recycle it into the quality products needed to build greener roads and rail,” Murphy says.
He explains that the company undertook years of extensive research and development to get to this stage – travelling the world looking at best practise models of glass recycling, before creating its own, unique, state-of-the-art plant in Laverton, Melbourne in 2019.
The billion-bottle-per-year glass recycling plant is equipped with technologies to separate glass particles from paper, plastics, metals and organics and process them down to a high-specification sand, with high production efficiency.
Alex Fraser is able to reprocess CSP and problem glass at unprecedented volumes without the need for water and washing, thereby providing a truly sustainable, environmentally responsible recycling model.
“After an extensive international search, we realised every “turnkey” solution we could find failed to satisfy our criteria in terms of safety, sustainability, efficiency and ease of access for repairs and maintenance,” Murphy says.
“Instead, we selected a couple of good components from overseas, and took the exciting step of innovating, designing and building this one-of-a-kind plant from the ground up, right here in Victoria.”
Reducing water and energy are key components in any modern sustainability plan, Murphy says, and as such, are fundamental design criterion for all Alex Fraser plants.
“We wanted to achieve a dry recycling process, with high reliable hourly throughput and low kwh per tonne. We also needed to ensure safe access for maintenance around the plant,” he explains.
The recycling plant is one of three Alex Fraser facilities, including a million-tonne-per-annum C&D recycling facility, located within Alex Fraser’s Sustainable Supply Hub, where mountains of glass and demolition rubble is recycled to produce sustainable construction materials like asphalt, aggregates, roadbase and sand on an unprecedented scale.
Alex Fraser’s glass recycling plant at Laverton, and its glass and brick additive bins at the Clarinda Recycling Facility, play a critical role in the recycling and distribution of tonnes of recycled materials being used to build greener roads and rail projects throughout metro Melbourne; reducing the number of trucks needed to transport extracted sands from regional quarries, diverting tonnes of material from landfill and reducing the cost and carbon emissions of construction.
Murphy credits VicRoads and Melbourne’s water authorities for being early adopters behind the first applications of recycled glass sand in roadbase, asphalt and pipe bedding.
“They were open-minded about the use of alternative materials and completed very comprehensive research and testing over many years to prove its performance ability,” he says.
“It’s great to see other states following suit and focusing on achieving infrastructure sustainability through the increased use of recycled materials.”
In the wake of the recycling crisis, Murphy says Alex Fraser’s work is a prime example of Victoria’s circular economy in motion.
“At home Victorian’s are putting their empties into recycling bins so their councils can recover it and the state’s major recyclers turn all they can back into glass bottles and jars; then Alex Fraser comes in to recover masses of leftover problem glass and recycle it back into sand,” he says.
“Our production facilities take that all that recycled sand and use it to produce the quality asphalt and roadbase Victoria needs to build sustainable, quality and long-lasting infrastructure.
“Victorians should feel confident that recycling is alive and well in their state.”