Why can’t quarries be recyclers too?

As we went to press, an “annual” story in the mainstream media amused me – Victoria is “running out of sand, rock and gravel” (shock, horror!).

The Herald-Sun started the story and Melbourne radio station 3AW interviewed John Kilgour of the Civil Contractors Federation (CCF). Kilgour said the slow pace of government reforms to approve new reserves – in response to increasing demand, housing density and population growth – would create cost blowouts in project work.

It may be “news” to News Corp and Fairfax; it’s not to the quarrying industry. This story is often “recycled” in jurisdictions, from Victoria to New Zealand to the USA. This time last year I had to correct my media peers in this column by emphasising that Victoria – like all of Australia – doesn’t have an “aggregate shortage”. The reserves are there but supply is stalled because governments won’t plan for the future, ie any period beyond two electoral cycles.

This is where the role of the recycled aggregates industry is important. There are exciting developments in the recycling space. In late May, I visited two of them in Victoria: Repurpose It’s construction and demolition (C&D) materials washing plant and Alex Fraser Group’s new glass and asphalt recycling plants. These projects are contributing to the “heavy lifting” in Victorian infrastructure, covering the slowness of new approvals.

{{quote-A:R-W:200-Q:"Should the states introduce incentives for quarries to develop their own recycling streams?"}}To credit them, state governments and statutory bodies recognise that to protect reserves, they should not only invest in the recycling space but also use recycled materials in public projects. In Victoria, many developments (eg Victoria’s Level Crossing Removal Project) are conserving spoil for reuse. For example, rail ballast, once washed, can be potentially returned to the rail network. If it doesn’t meet spec, another use will be found.

Similarly, spoil from the NorthConnex project is being reused in residential and project sites across Sydney.

However, from a reading of the National Waste Report 2018 (prepared for the Federal Department of Environment and Energy), it seems most jurisdictions could do more to ease the burden on quarries through swifter approvals and raising C&D recycling rates (beyond arbitrary targets). They could consider incentives that encourage quarries to develop their own recycling streams (prolonging the life of their reserves). For example, dried residuals from the sand washing process or fine crusher dust could be sold as structural fill in low level applications. Concrete, brick, glass and overburden could be processed on-site to create manufactured sand.

Perhaps grants or subsidies should be available for quarries that purchase plant and equipment for specific recycling purposes. Fixed, modular and mobile plant often straddles recycling and quarrying lines (eg crushers, screens, conveyors, trommels, wash plants). Further, it’s clear from the waste report that many of its statistics do not include the overs and by-products of mining, electricity and asphalt operations (eg coal combustion products, fly ash). This implies there is a “hidden” market that quarries could exploit.

Encouraging more participation by quarries in the recycling space could ease the issue of supply for brownfield sites while bureaucracy fiddles on new greenfield applications. The concerns of Kilgour, the CCF, other industry bodies and the broader industry should never be discounted, and quicker, simpler access to new reserves of virgin materials should always be encouraged. However, the reforms to new approvals will take time (and probably then some).

Programs to incentivise quarries to diversify their materials handling operations would alleviate demand while opening new income streams. Why can’t all quarries potentially be recyclers too?

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