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Close the Loop and the circularity’s foundation

Close the Loop is actively contributing to the circular economy across the whole of Australia.

Close the Loop’s Steve Morriss reflects on the importance of a circular economy for the infrastructure sector, while also highlighting the opportunities for future improvement by industry.

The term ‘circular economy’ may have only accelerated in use in recent times, but the core principle has been around since the 19th century.

The system outlines a process of production and consumption, where waste is minimised by keeping resources within an ecosystem. The general concept of the circular economy consists of three pillars or key focuses: design out waste, keep products or materials in circulation and to regenerate natural systems.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, infrastructure is responsible for 79 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. So why has it taken so long for the infrastructure sector embrace a circular economy? 

Steve Morriss, Head of Circular Economy at Close the Loop, is a member of a growing cross section of passionate advocates within the infrastructure sector, who have identified the need and benefits of implementing a circular economy.

“The industry is working very hard. I’m very proud to be part of the infrastructure space in Australia, because whilst the sector is one of the largest contributing industries to climate change in the world, it seems as though the industry is taking a charge on mitigating those carbon impacts,” Morriss says.

Developments from Close the Loop are helping to increase the sustainability of asphalt, and by extension, road production.
Developments from Close the Loop are helping to increase the sustainability of asphalt, and by extension, road production.

He adds that contributions from the industry, such as the developments being made by Close the Loop, are helping to turn the tide in recycled material use.

“From my perspective, it’s not a stretch, some of these products are available now. It’s about educating the team, especially procurement as there are products out there now that are better than their virgin equivalents which means lower costs over whole of life, and lower carbon outcomes,” Morriss says.

“Close the Loop is a global pioneer in the use of recycled plastics in roads. The fact that we’re based in Melbourne and can serve the Australian market makes us extremely proud.

“We’ve been on a 10 year journey to optimise the performance of asphalt including TonerPlas. Close the Loop is a sustainability business at its core, everything we do contributes to sustainability and TonerPlas is our contribution to the infrastructure sector.”

Morriss also takes pride in supporting the circular economy on a personal level.

“I’m constantly working with the broader community and contributing, because if there’s one rule I’ve learnt, it’s that what you get out of life depends on what you give,” he says.


 

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Designing for circularity 

“To speed up the infrastructure sector’s transition to circularity, we need uniform performance based specs that do not lock out innovative new products including those made from recycled materials,” Morriss says.

Methods and tools such as the Infrastructure Sustainability Council’s Material Circularity Indicator (MCI) are helping to achieve the first pillar of circularity (designing out waste).

The MCI was developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and allows companies to identify the circular economy aspects of their products and materials.

Other tools such as the New South Wales Government’s sustainable design guidelines are helping to clarify and reward contractors who choose to use sustainable materials and methods.

Morriss says the current structure rewards those who make sustainable commitments. 

“It gives you a strategic competitive advantage when pitching for major road projects,” he says. 

These benefits go far beyond a company’s bottom line, as Morriss adds

“The earth is constantly mined of non-renewable, finite resources by our reckless over consumption lifestyles. There is an urgent need to keep these raw materials in circulation for longer,” he says.

“We can minimise our need to continuously extract non-renewable resources. If we keep pillaging at the rate in which we are right now, then future generations will have no raw materials to work with.”

TonerPlas is added at the asphalt plant with no change to the workability or laying equipment.
TonerPlas is added at the asphalt plant with no change to the workability or laying equipment. Image courtesy of Elite Roads.

Maintaining circularity

Close the Loop Group CEO Joe Foster says the company is well placed to provide sustainable alternatives to market, most of which are produced by incorporating used and discarded items.

“The unique position of Close the Loop Group is that we not only recover and recycle materials, but we manufacture packaging at start of life and have the opportunity to influence people at the beginning of the supply chain to design with simpler, higher-value materials which provide better recycling outcomes,” Foster says.

One example of this is Close the Loop’s TonerPlas. TonerPlas is an asphalt additive made from fully recyclable sources. 

The pelletised product can be incorporated into an active asphalt plant mix to produce a polymer modified binder. 

According to Morriss the performance of asphalt including TonerPlas outweighs the performance of standard asphalt.

This is thanks to improvements in deformation resistance, resistance to wear, and improved rejuvenating properties for high RAP (Recycled Asphalt Pavement) mix designs. This is also on top of reduced risks of leachate or microplastics being released in the mix.

These performance boosts have also been certified, thanks to testing from reputable organisations within the industry, such as Downer and the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority.

This has also been further supported through a study by RMIT, in conjunction with Austroads. The study found that roads which contain recycled plastics as part of the wet method (which includes TonerPlas) can create greater adhesion between stone and binder.

“No Infrastructure project and its contractors will use recycled content unless it can be proven to be as good or better than the materials being replaced. That’s why we are proving the benefits of TonerPlas via independent materials circularity modelling,” Morriss says.

“We’ve just started on this journey, but we are measuring the Materials circularity Index of roads with and without TonerPlas. Initial data is showing a 25 per cent improvement in materials circularity with TonerPlas, mainly due to improved elasticity leading to longer road life.” 

Above: Circular economy butterfly diagram shows product and materials circularity pathways.
Above: Circular economy butterfly diagram shows product and materials circularity pathways.

Regenerating circularity 

The third pillar of circularity (regenerative natural systems) pushes businesses to become full circular, not with their own contributions to the market, but instead within their own operations.

Morriss defines regenerative business as a simple question; “Is the world a better place for having had your business in it?” 

“I’m on a mission to expand that definition to include a broader scope for regeneration,” he adds.

Regenerating waste streams is just one way in which Close the Loop is working to become a regenerative business, predominantly through the form of not looking at waste materials as end products. Instead, as opportunities to create new products.

Another way in which Close the Loop is progressing towards being a regenerative business is regenerating communities. The company is helping to create new employment opportunities while also supporting local economies by introducing sustainable materials and projects for communities.

One example of this is Close the Loop’s landmark deal with the Greater City of Bendigo in Western Victoria. 

As part of the deal, the council will use TonerPlas as part of its local road construction, with the volume that will be used to match the equivalent weight of soft plastics, which have been collected from the Bendigo region and diverted from landfill. This material will be sent to Close the Loop for processing and used back in TonerPlas.

“The City of Greater Bendigo landfills are coming to the end of their life and the council is committed to recycling and reuse of waste instead of landfill. This creates more jobs, builds local pride and demonstrates a commitment to transitioning to a circular economy,” Morriss says. 

“It’s great for the local people and paves the way for other councils around the country to follow suit.”

Get in touch 

For project managers who may be wondering what the first steps are to embracing sustainability, Morriss says education is key.

“It’s important to become fluent in the language of the circular economy. There’s a lot of activity and groups that we can join, there’s so much going on. This is coming like a freight train,” he says.

“Once more education has begun, more doors and opportunities will come. We should be aiming to be part of the solution, not those waiting for the solution.”

If you’re interested in playing your role in the circular economy, visit: https://www.closetheloop.com.au/ 

This article was originally published in the June edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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