Features, Industry News, Management, News, Recycling

How the circular economy can assist quarrying



Boral has recently set itself ambitious climate abatement targets to 2030, including reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 46 per cent. Ahead of the IQA conference, Victoria Sherwood and Jason Sweeney explain how the company’s advances in recycling will help to reduce carbon pollution and benefit its own quarries, as well as the broader interests of its customers and other industry members.

At the IQA conference this week, Victoria Sherwood, the executive general manager of recycling and growth for Boral, will provide a presentation on sustainability and the social license to operate.

Victoria has spent her career optimising business performance and overseeing large scale transformational change within engineering and manufacturing-based companies in a range of industries globally, including mining, construction materials, building products, energy, infrastructure, automotive, healthcare, technology and government. She has been responsible for outcome-based strategy and design thinking that has allowed paradigm shift results in execution and building significant value across diverse stakeholder groups in record timeframes.

With Boral’s strong focus on sustainability and commitment to industry-leading decarbonisation targets, Victoria’s newly-created role focuses growth and development on recycling and “whole of value chain” materials management/circular economy solutions in response to evolving and growing customer demands.

Victoria will present with her colleague Jason Sweeney, the operations general manager of materials recycling at Boral. Jason originally started his career in the quarrying industry and spent over 15 years in operational roles, including group operations manager for the Penrith Lakes Development Corporation. Then, after nearly a decade in the coal mining industry, he returned to the construction materials industry in 2015, joining Boral as the New South Wales state manager for recycling before being elevated to his current national role.

Ahead of the conference, they kindly spoke to Quarry about the themes of their presentation and Boral’s quest to become a more sustainable business and guide its customers along the same path.

What are some of the key messages you will be conveying to delegates at the IQA conference?

Victoria Sherwood (VS): There are three takeaways that delegates can expect.

The first is a better understanding of how customer expectations are changing as a result of an increased focus on sustainability, and what that means for the construction materials industry.

The second is how recycling and circular economy solutions can play a role towards improving quarry resource utilisation and extending the life of high value assets around the country and the world.

The third is the importance of product specification changes and their acceptance in the marketplace. Can the industry keep up with the pace of change required to meet sustainability targets?

Many of our larger customers are looking for anywhere between 10 and 40 per cent of their construction materials to be either recycled or consist of lower carbon content in its make-up by 2025 to 2030. They may not have worked out how to achieve those targets but that’s where Boral comes in, working with its customers.

Jason Sweeney (JS): We also want to move away from the traditional linear model in quarry products. Moving to a circular economy means understanding and optimising the life cycle of our products. Whether it’s in the vertical or the horizontal built environment, it is  important to have a very clear understanding of the product life cycle of all quarry materials, and the influence that our industry can have on the circular economy through the sustainable management of these materials.  A long term view of the ongoing reuse, recycle, repurpose of construction materials is critically important for long-term resource management.

Boral has aligned itself with the Paris Agreement and set emissions reduction targets that have been approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative.


As a result of the increased focus on sustainability, what expectations do quarry customers and other stakeholders now have of the construction materials industry and its role going forward?

VS: It starts with a recognition and acceptance that this is becoming or needs to become business as usual. Certainly from a Boral perspective, if our customers want to see anywhere between 10 and 40 per cent of recycled and lower carbon content, we need to be responding to these needs. So we have to lean into accepting the responsibility and then we have to convert that into action and behaviour.

Boral is continually investing in product innovation and resource recovery, by creating new products with different types of materials. There are a number of ways that we can decarbonise our products, whether it’s through finding alternate fuels in the manufacture of cement, to reducing the carbon content in concrete, or even building new recycling operations that allow us to take a waste stream in construction, demolition, commercial and industrial products and recycle them into reusable construction materials.

What sort of recycling and circular economy solutions should quarries be encouraged to adopt in their operations to optimise resources and extend the life of high value assets? 

JS: We have some really great examples of recycling solutions within Boral, which will likely form part of our presentation. To manage the long-term resource of a quarry, we’re using recycled materials to blend with some of the lower value, lower specified natural quarry products such as road bases, allowing the quarry to produce higher yields of aggregate products that can be supplied for producing concrete and asphalt. We’ve got a great example of this at our Deer Park Quarry down in Victoria, where we receive excavation stone and C&D waste materials that are processed and blended with some of our lower quality products in the quarry. You’re extending the life of the quarry by not using high value aggregates to produce a lower value product for the market, such as a road base, and we are responding to the growing customer demand for recycled materials. We see recycled materials as complimentary to natural quarry products, as opposed to being competitive in the market.

Many OEMs – for example, Komatsu, Caterpillar, Volvo Construction Equipment – are aspiring to produce electric-powered and other alternate fuel machines to replace the entire diesel fuel-driven load and haul fleet. Is Boral keen to work with some of those OEMs to try and realise that vision?

VS: That’s quite a significant pillar of Boral’s strategy and we are actively working with OEMs on our future fleet requirements. Obviously, the equipment within a site is the easier element to control. However, we also need to step beyond that to how we adapt our on-road vehicles as well.

Can you elaborate on the product specification changes that are more acceptable and sustainable in the marketplace?

JS: If you look to the typical product technical specifications for products like a roadbase, if you’re using recycled materials, you may fail on the foreign material limits of the test because you may have pieces of asphalt, as an example, in the roadbase. A better definition of what is a ‘constituent’ of the road base product rather than foreign materials is required for recycled materials. You need to make sure the product specification is fit for purpose for the material you are producing.

These specifications are changing across most States and sectors which is great news for industry. A great example of this is the inclusion of recycled glass as a “constituent” rather than a foreign material with appropriate limits applied to the specification. 

The other notable change with recycled materials is the fact that developers and project specifiers are now calling for recycled materials as part of their sustainability targets for projects. We are also seeing that all levels of Government are placing an increasing emphasis on the procurement of recycled materials within their projects as a key driver of their sustainability targets. The government bodies and agencies are really coming on-board to help industry set that pathway through product specifications and procurement in the setting of recycled materials.

Obviously part of Boral’s missions statement in relation to its emissions reduction targets is to encourage its customers to reduce their Scope 3 emissions. Does this require well resourced education campaigns and are you actively involved in the development of these programs? 

VS: What’s great is that we are seeing more and more of our customers seeking to first learn and then share because you have to invest in the learning first to be able to turn around and educate others. We have a number of programs in which we’ve put steering committees together with task forces and allocated specific project initiatives to advance some of these projects with key customers. 

JS: Boral is also a member many associations such as MECLA – the Materials and Embodied Carbon Leaders Alliance. Of the five different working groups within MECLA, we have representation on every one of those groups to help develop the standardisation of language from an education perspective, as well as standardisation and innovation in new lower carbon products. 

What do you foresee as some of the Australian quarrying industry’s biggest challenges in the quest to decarbonise in the next three decades?

JS: One of the challenges you have with existing quarrying operations is their business cases are based on current operating costs and moving material from their current resources into the market. If the cost to decarbonise is an increase in operating costs – or additional capital investment beyond what the current business case supports – yet the downstream product into the markets doesn’t change, it completely disrupts the business case. Some of these costs may be offset by efficiencies gained through innovation and technology but there remains a risk to the return on investment in the quarries of today. 

A second challenge for decarbonisation in quarrying is that one of the more significant costs and carbon impacts is associated with transportation of the quarry products. You have a situation – which is continuing to occur – in which most newly approved quarrying resources are further and further away from our customer sites. So, we must continue to invest in recycling existing construction materials but also invest in more efficient and less carbon-intensive ways to move these materials into the construction markets.

So I think they are two very important challenges that the industry needs to consider. And it’s not something the industry can solve alone – it’s for governments, customers, suppliers and for the quarrying industry to tackle together. •

Vicki Sherwood and Jason Sweeney will present at the IQA’s 63rd annual conference at the NEX, Newcastle, NSW on Wednesday March 30, 2022. 

This article appears in the March edition of Quarry Magazine.

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