Industry News, Latest News, Roads Review, Sustainability

Roads Review: Challenges for recycled material use

Image courtesy of RMIT University.

This month, we asked the industry’s decision-makers, ‘What are the challenges for greater use of recycled materials in roads and pavements?’

Dr M. Reza Hosseini, Senior Lecturer, Deputy Director, Mediated Intelligence in Design (MInD) Research Lab, School of Architecture and Built Environment, Faculty of Science Engineering & Built Environment – Deakin University

A significant obstacle to the broader adoption of secondary materials and products in the Australian construction industry is the absence of a quality assessment scheme that can determine the suitability of such items for design purposes while complying with building codes and standards. This lack of a system discourages designers and contractors from using secondary materials due to potential risks and liabilities. As a result, they tend to opt for virgin products where the risk is perceived to be lower. Therefore, the urgent need for a secondary material accreditation scheme is paramount to mitigate risks and encourage the use of such materials by designers and contractors.

Anna D’Angelo​, Executive Director Technology & Leadership – the Australian Flexible Pavement Association 

The situation may vary for each State in Australia, however one of the challenges is related to the availability of good quality and consistent supply of the recycled material and in some cases the lack of a developed supply chain. The other issue is related to the current definition of waste and its reuse, which in some states is subject to strict EPA regulations limiting the capacity to recycle materials. Additionally, some specifications may not allow or limit the amount of recycled materials and lastly, local asphalt plants configuration might not be able to include recycled materials and, although contractors could upgrade their facilities, this would require the need of market demand to justify the investment.

Cameron Bik, General Manager, NSW/ACT – Coffey Testing 

Ensuring that the recycled materials meet the required quality and performance standards for road construction can be a challenge. Variability in the composition and characteristics of recycled materials may affect the structural integrity and durability of the roads. The absence of standardised guidelines and specifications for using recycled materials in roads can hinder their widespread adoption. Establishing clear guidelines is essential to provide confidence to road builders and regulators about the suitability and safety of recycled materials. More research is needed to explore the performance of different types of recycled materials and their long-term behaviour under various traffic and environmental conditions. Despite these challenges, there is an increasing awareness of the benefits of recycling and sustainable construction practices. As technology and infrastructure continue to evolve, some of these challenges may be addressed, paving the way for greater use of recycled materials in roads and pavements in Australia.


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Romilly Madew, CEO – Engineers Australia 

Key challenges to the uptake of recycled materials in roads for designers include a low familiarity of available materials, negative perceptions or lack of awareness and a risk averse mindset. A further challenge is a lack of consistency across the country around regulations on the use of recycled products and in some cases, a lack of stable supply. To pave the way forward, recycled materials and circular resource practices must be integrated into engineering design practices. This requires collaboration between government agencies, designers, engineers, construction professionals, the recycling industry, and researchers to increase awareness and confidence in materials.

Shannon Smyth, Manager, Markets Acceleration – Sustainability Victoria 

There’s an immense opportunity to create lasting value from resources, by utilising recycled materials in our built environment. Sustainability Victoria is partnering with councils to do this through its Buy Recycled Service. While the use of recycled materials in roads is widely adopted by Victorian councils, the sector can further strengthen markets by designing products for disassembly to be reused at end of life, boost local supply and provide further information on end-of-life recyclability, long-term performance, and lifecycle analysis. Additionally, standards that allow for a higher proportion for the use of recycled materials, supported by performance testing, provide a solid foundation to advocate for their use.

Frank De Santis, Acting Director – ecologiQ

ecologiQ has seen great progress in the use of recycled materials in road and pavement construction, however it hasn’t been without its challenges. Barriers to the use of recycled or reused materials can be perceived or real. Some of the barriers we have come across include misconceptions about the quality of recycled products, inconsistent and lengthy approval processes and prescriptive technical standards that don’t allow for recycled products. The ecologiQ program has been instrumental in addressing these challenges by updating specifications, investing in research and educating industry on what is possible. But there is still more to be done and we need to work together.

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

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