Soft plastics from approximately 200,000 plastic bags and pieces of packaging, and 63,000 glass bottle equivalents will be diverted from landfill to construct a Victorian road in an Australian-first trial, being run by Downer and recycling companies Close the Loop and RED Group.
Along with soft plastics and glass, toner from more than 4500 used printer cartridges and 50 tonnes of recycled asphalt were also repurposed to create 250 tonnes of asphalt that will be used to construct a road in and around Rayfield Avenue, Craigieburn, in Melbourne’s north.
Downer says the project demonstrates the economic, social and environmental value for products that would otherwise end up in landfill, stockpiled, or as a pollutant in our natural environments.
“More importantly, utilising soft plastics and glass in road construction proves that with thought leadership in sustainability and partnerships with progressive and environmentally conscious governments, suppliers and customers, we can continue to set new benchmarks in repurposing and recycling waste materials into new streams of use,” the company says.
The asphalt has a recycled material content of more than 25 per cent and roads made from it will use large amounts of waste. Every 1km of two-lane road paved with plastic and glass modified asphalt will use approximately 530,000 plastic bag and packaging equivalents, 168,000 glass bottle equivalents, and toner from 12,500 used printer cartridges.
Volvo is partnering with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS), Fibercon and Reef Design Lab, a not-for-profit studio producing eco-engineering products, to put tiles reinforced with recycled plastic onto a seawall in Sydney Harbour to help biodiversity.
When seawalls are built, they often cover up things like rockpools and pits which support a wide range of sea life. This is especially problematic in summer when the tide goes out and there is no water to keep marine life cool, says Maria Vozzo, a research associate at SIMS.
“We’re looking at retrofitting seawalls with habitat forming tiles to try to make them more ecologically friendly and more complex to support native marine biodiversity,” says Vozzo. The walls will attract a wider range of native Sydney rock oysters, limpets, snails, starfish, anemones, kelp and other seaweeds, and at high tide, fish.
Dave Lennon, co-founder of Melbourne-based Reef Design Lab, says fibres made from recycled plastic will be embedded in the concrete hexagonal tiles to strengthen them. Importantly because of concerns about microplastics in the marine environment, the plastic will be contained within the tiles and not exposed to the water.
It is much needed work, because half of the Sydney Harbour shoreline has been hardened with concrete, obliterating the natural environment, says Lennon.
The ongoing environmental initiative, to be called the Living Seawall, is being launched to coincide with World Environment Day on June 5. It will one of the world’s largest living seawalls, Volvo says.
Volvo Car Australia managing director Nick Connor says solving the global issue of plastic pollution “requires different thinking and local solutions”.
“There’s a Swedish word, omtanke, that means ‘caring’ and ‘consideration’,” Connor says. “But it also means ‘to think again’. We’re always trying to rethink, reinvent, redesign for the better.”
CLEANING UP THE SEA
After seeing how much plastic and other rubbish accumulated in the oceans, avid surfers Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski quit their jobs to create a container that would collect trash, oil, fuel and detergents.
The resulting product “the Seabin” looks a little like a barrel with its lip sitting at the water level. Located at marinas, it uses a pump to suck in water from the surface and pass it through a catch bag inside the Seabin. The water is then pumped back into the marina leaving litter and debris trapped in the catch bag.
It can catch an estimated 1.5kg of floating debris per day or half a tonne a year – including microplastics up to 2mm small.
Sydney-based Dresden Optics manufactures a range of glasses from recycled plastics, including beer kegs, milk bottle lids, Lego, and plastic rubbish collected from the beaches of Byron Bay.
The company has also started trials of making frames from “ghost nets” discarded by trawlers and washed up on the beaches of Arnhem Land. The same durability that makes the nets so devastating to sea life makes this nylon ideal for glasses as it is high performance and stretchy, and a very high proportion of the net material can be recycled, the company says.
“By seeing and treating plastic waste as a valuable resource, we want to be part of the solution to what can seem a fairly daunting environmental challenge,” Dresden says. “Every small step we take in this direction is helping unclog our ecosystem of that discarded plastic, and giving a smarter, new purpose to those materials.”
The company’s regular glasses frames are made from a Swiss nylon called Grilamid TR-90, which is durable and lightweight, but also recyclable. It uses a zero waste, closed loop manufacturing system at its factory in Western Sydney. Dresden recycles its plastic manufacturing waste by granulating it and feeding it right back into the production process.
Dresden Optics says that as of last year, it had saved 436kg of plastic from going into landfill which, at 25g per Dresden frame, is more than 17,000 frames.
Replas uses plastic waste collected in Australia to make a range of outdoor products such as bollards, decking, fences, park benches and garden furniture, and signs.
The company says the public can support recycling by buying products made from previously-used plastics.
“If there is no demand for these products, the plastic waste may end up in landfill instead. When government, schools, and industry purchase these products they are all helping to make the process work by closing the loop on recycling,” it says.
“By re-thinking your selection and procurement to recycled plastic products, you become the true recycler. Everyone touches plastic and we must be more accountable and responsible if we are to drive demand for recycled plastic products”
“Solving the scourge of plastic pollution requires different thinking and local solutions, which is why we came up with the idea of creating a Living Seawall with concrete tiles that are actually reinforced with 100% recycled plastic fibres instead of steel”
“There’s a Swedish word, omtanke, that means ‘caring’ and ‘consideration’. But it also means ‘to think again.’ I think that really captures what we’re trying to achieve with the Living Seawall, and it sums up Volvo’s approach to sustainability in general. We’re always trying to rethink, reinvent, redesign for the better.”