Waste materials such as plastic, glass, organic food waste, and tyre rubber can now be used with more confidence in building Australia’s roads and railways.
A new report by the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) provides an independent, expert review on how to safely and successfully increase the use of recycled materials in road and rail infrastructure.
The report says many recycled materials are shown to actually improve the performance of roads. It also recommends plastic and organic food waste – two of Australia’s problem waste areas – can be more widely used for building road and rail infrastructure.
Plastic can be used for applications such as building noise walls, while organic food waste was earmarked for more widespread use in landscaping and erosion control.
ARRB says using more recycled materials in the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of road and rail infrastructure has a host of benefits for Australia, including less waste sent to landfill, lower greenhouse gas emissions, job creation and better, more durable roads.
Despite a long history of using recycled materials in infrastructure, it’s still not business-as-usual within roads and rail.
The report says the reasons are lack of awareness and education, the disconnection between market demand and supply, lack of specifications and guidelines, and most importantly, the lack of consistent and scientific evidence to report on longer-term performance and sustainability benefits. That’s something ARRB says should change as a result of this report.
“This project provides robust, evidence-based knowledge on how to optimise the uptake of recycled materials in infrastructure projects,” ARRB says in the report.
“There is ample opportunity to increase (recycled materials) content within transport infrastructure applications, or even the frequency that they are used.”
“There are also emerging recycled materials technologies that have significant opportunity for increased uptake. Improved awareness and education in how these materials are used, supported by policy and procurement drivers, new and improved specifications and more modern recycling facilities with increased capacity, can all contribute to increases in the use of recycled materials, sustainability outcomes and a more circular economy.”
Commissioned by the Federal Government’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, the report examined 10 recycled materials for their potential use within road and rail infrastructure. They were crushed concrete and brick, crushed glass, reclaimed asphalt pavement or RAP, crumb rubber, ground granulated blast furnace slag, fly ash, bottom ash, recycled organics, recycled ballast and recycled plastics.
The report, in two parts, shows significant economic and environmental benefits for the majority of recycled materials in road and rail infrastructure.