We all have a role to play when it comes to recycling. Governments and industry are investing in greater recycling infrastructure, businesses are looking at how their products can be recycled at the end of product life and using recycled content in the products they make, and households contribute by recycling.
Recycling diverts waste from landfill and that’s good for the environment. Recycling also presents a great opportunity. When we recycle, these materials can be used again and again to make new products.
We are all encouraged to be mindful of recycling in our purchasing decisions and to buy recycled. When we buy recycled, we grow new industries, create jobs, support the economy and care for our environment.
When governments use their buying power to purchase products made of recycled content, they are supporting industry and helping meet targets under the National Waste Policy Action Plan.
Watch videos below to see Australian businesses using recycled materials to make new products.
Road and rail infrastructure
PACT Reuse turning recycled plastic into freeway noise walls
Wayne Williams, Exec Gen Mgr, Materials Handling & Pooling: Pact is the largest plastic recycler in Australia. Our mission is to use recycled materials to the highest level we can in an infrastructure space.
Mar Poyo-Guerrer, Category Manager, RMP & Government Engagement: Recycled material is not of inferior quality. It's not a lesser material. It is reprocessed and it is fit for purpose, and this can be a permanent solution for an environmental problem.
Recycled noise walls are not a new product. They've been around for a while. The innovation here is the incorporation of 75% recycled PCR - post-consumer material. Half of it is coming from high density polyethylene, what we call milk bottle grade, and the other half is soft plastic. This is stretch wraps, films, and other elements that are widely present across industries that we can't avoid using them, so we are repurposing them and turning into the raw material that we use to manufacture the noise walls.
Wayne Williams: When we're developing these panels, we're competing with steel or concrete as an alternative. We've got to develop a plastic product that will perform with the same characteristics. You're getting performance characteristic in terms of strength that's the same, noise attenuation that's the same. It doesn't need to be painted. It needs no maintenance at all. So it's actually a better outcome. And compared to concrete, it's actually a lower financial cost. You think about a concrete noise wall - a panel’s a tonne. This is using 25 kilos of virgin material and 50 kilos of recycled material. So we're not only really doing a good job from using recycled material. We're stopping the use of a tonne of concrete.
Mar Poyo-Guerrer: We have the right business structure, the capability, the knowledge and the drive to move forward in this space.
Wayne Williams: From a jobs point of view, for every job that's traded in this factory, there's a multiplier effect downstream because only Australians can make things out of Australian recycled material. So if you create a recycled product, you're creating sustainable Australian jobs.
Mar Poyo-Guerrer: We should be prioritising recycled material, basically because now we can do it. Now we have the right capability. We are having the right conversations that were not happening a couple of years ago. We have support from government. We have support from a public that is well-informed, want to recycle more, want to recycle better, and appreciate knowing what the products used are going to end up as. And it doesn't have to be in landfill. We have a solution for that now.
Wayne Williams: As we've developed this product and really got the innovation technology behind it, we've just found we can make as good if not better products out of recycled material than we could out of virgin material, and better than some of our competitor’s products.
Close the Loop turning toner cartridges and soft plastics into Tonerplas asphalt additive
Steve Morris, Founder: 20 Years ago, Close The Loop started off a brand promise of zero waste to landfill. We were supplying cartridges in a different business and I knew that all of those cartridges at the end of their life were going to landfill. And that was a real challenge for me because those polymers and metals can be used over and over again.
Peter Tamblyn, Head of Sales & Marketing: We've been using virgin polymers in roads for 35 plus years. So why wouldn't you use recycled polymers to do the same or similar job?
Steve Morris, Founder: Close The Loop is a product stewardship company. We've developed a product called TonerPlas, using the toner from waste cartridges, mixed soft plastics and we homogenize those into an additive that improves the performance of asphalt.
Peter Tamblyn, Head of Sales & Marketing: When asphalt manufacturers use it, it doesn't change any of their processes. It lays the same as a normal asphalt road. It looks the same as a normal asphalt road. Some really good outcomes in terms of the asphalt quality.
Steve Morris, Founder: TonerPlas improves the performance of an asphalt road in a number of ways, primarily deformation resistance. It's a stronger road, a stiffer surface. So it's resistant to heavy loads, resistant to water, resistant to oil, and then we've got improved fatigue life, which makes the road last longer.
Peter Tamblyn, Head of Sales & Marketing: The New South Wales EPA has put TonerPlas through its paces in a really big way. We had to go through a really rigorous process, a whole bunch of tests done all around the world, but the outcome was fantastic because it actually proved that TonerPlas is just such a great product. There's no environmental issues. It's a hundred percent recyclable at the end of it's life.
In every kilometre of road we use around about 530,000 plastic bag equivalents.
Steve Morris, Founder: TonerPlas improves the longevity of that asset. If you factor in the extra three years that you get from a road when it's been modified with TonerPlas, then the whole of life cost means it's actually cheaper than its equivalent.
Peter Tamblyn, Head of Sales & Marketing: We've had a lot of support from councils all around Australia. We've laid well in excess of 1500 kilometres of road in every state.
Steve Morris, Founder: The opportunities for companies who can turn resources from end-of-life products into value again is huge.
Alex Fraser Group turning recycled concrete, tiles, asphalt, bricks and glass into recycled asphalt and aggregate materials
Brendan Liveris, Sustainability Manager: Alex Fraser take in concrete, tiles, brick, asphalt and glass, and recycle them and turn them into construction materials that are used in the market in Melbourne and Brisbane every day.
Peter Murphy, Managing Director: We know we can supply more recycled product, and we know now, ahead of time, that we can recycle that product again and again.
Brendan Liveris, Sustainability Manager: In our highly recycled content asphalt products, we see some great technical properties. For example, higher durability, which means when you lay them on the road, we get a longer life from the product.
With our recycled concrete road based products, you get greater compaction and because of the lighter weight of the product, we can carry more of it in the trucks, which means that there's a lower CO2 impact from the transport of the product.
Peter Murphy, Managing Director: To develop our products, we firstly worked very closely with the customers. What do they need to build the infrastructure they're building? And then with the regulators, in terms of, what are the specifications that would support that?
We did an enormous amount of research to make sure that we could produce a consistent product for every project.
Brendan Liveris, Sustainability Manager: What happens to the products at the end of the life? Well, that's the good thing about it. We haven't got to the end of the life because the products are indefinitely recyclable. We take them, we process them, we sell them back into the market. At the end of that, we can take them, process them again and use them again to sell back into the market.
Peter Murphy, Managing Director: In terms of using recycled content in infrastructure, Australia compares pretty well globally. And so, we've been able to compare what people do overseas with what we're doing here. We secure equipment from overseas. The exciting part is some of what we design and build right here in Australia.
We can do remaining life analysis on a pavement that was built with recycled content in Melbourne or Brisbane 30 years ago. So we've demonstrated we can take a material and turn it into a very consistent end product, and do it on a massive scale.
Brendan Liveris, Sustainability Manager: The future of recycling is extremely bright. We're starting to explore on many different fronts what other strains of waste could be turned into viable products, and then, what in our existing suite of products could be used for other purposes?
Peter Murphy, Managing Director: I think the exciting thing is that people are starting to look to do something other than what they've always done. So there's genuine interest in the circular economy. If we're disposing of a material, there's a genuine interest in where it's going to and how it can be reused.
Fulton Hogan turning end of life tyres into crumbed rubber recycled asphalt products
Laszlo Petho, Pavements Engineering: We see a lot of future opportunities with recycled products, especially with sustainability becoming more and more important. And we at Fulton Hogan, we are ready to supply different kinds of recycled products, including crumb rubber.
Robbie McManus, Product Designer: And when you think of the plastics that end up in the oceans, if we can take 10% of that or 2% of that and put it back into asphalt materials, why would we not?
Laszlo Petho, Pavements Engineering: At Fulton Hogan we have recycled asphalt pavement, wrap in asphalt mixes, we can also add glass or plastic or crumb rubber, or a combination of these. Crumb rubber asphalt is made of rubber crumb derived from end-of-life tyres. We source our materials from our local rubber crumb manufacturers. Our products end up on the Queensland road network, and they will be used by the public for many years to come.
Robbie McManus, Product Designer: Shredded tyres for us, there's a big push in Queensland. Stuff that generally goes to landfill, now we can actually put it into our products and put it in the roads. I guess when you say that we're putting Queensland tyres back into Queensland roads, it's going to be good for the whole market.
When we started working with recycled products, it was quite difficult. It's hard to get a small plastic to melt with bitumen, but we managed to get past that barrier. And then we managed to use it in mixes.
Laszlo Petho, Pavements Engineering: When we are developing our products, we are using widely accepted Australian standards. And the key benefits are that the performance is not compromised, but on the same note, we can add recycled products.
Robbie McManus, Product Designer: A lot of our customers now are looking for, I guess, what opportunities there are to recycle.
Laszlo Petho, Pavements Engineering: My hope for the future is really that we can supply more of these sustainable asphalt mixes. We have evidence that through our recycling, we can lower the carbon footprint. Asphalt is the most recycled material on the globe. Asphalt with recycled content can be recycled again at the end of the life cycle.
Robbie McManus, Product Designer: The opportunities are huge. Absolutely huge. We're always developing the next best thing. We want to make sure that like Fulton Hogan is, we're here to build communities for a long time.
Downer turning recycled asphalt, plastics, glass and Tonerplas into Reconophalt – recycled road surfacing
Darryl Byrne, Qld General Manager: Here at Downer we incorporate a wide range of recycled materials. We turn it into our Reconophalt trademark asphalt product and then we send it back out to the market.
Steve Ainscow, SA General Manager: Some of the Reconophalt products we manufacturer, they can be light duty products for footpaths, recreational areas, heavy duty products for highways, even airports.
James Lemon, Recycling & Innovations Manager: I've been with Downer for over 20 years, and I get excited every day to come to work. The advantage of being with an organisation like Downer is that we're a driven organisation to create change.
Steve Ainscow, SA General Manager: Our products made from both new materials and recycled materials.
Darryl Byrne, Qld General Manager: It's got your natural aggregates, recycled asphalt, TonerPlas and recycled plastic. And it's also got a portion of recycled glass, which is a replacement for natural sands.
Steve Ainscow, SA General Manager: The benefits for using this Reconophalt product is you're getting something extra. We change the proportions of different additives in the mix to give you different properties. So you can increase the load bearing strength of the road. You can increase the fuel resistance of the road. You can change the flexibility of a road just by adjusting the different proportions of a recycled product.
Darryl Byrne, Qld General Manager: We've spent a lot of time and effort in R&D developing some of these recycled products. We were the first in the industry to take the product through the full environmental compliance testing so there's been a lot of time and effort investing and researching these products.
Steve Ainscow, SA General Manager: We have a lot of contracts with local government and state road authorities. We work very closely with all the councils in South Australia.
James Lemon, Recycling & Innovations Manager We were proud to have, a few years back, worked with the City of Adelaide to develop a hundred percent recycled asphalt mix for Chatham street. That was the first hundred percent recycled asphalt mix done in Australia.
Darryl Byrne, Qld General Manager We use a lot of locally based recycled materials. I would say 99% is extracted or derived within the 50 kilometre radius of this plant. It was only 10, 11 years ago in Queensland we weren't allowed to use any recycled asphalt content in our new pavements, but we've seen a significant change over the past decade with state and local governments through our client in Morton Bay Regional Council, we're using products that have up to 50% recycled content in them.
Steve Ainscow, SA General Manager: People think about using recycled products as maybe being inferior. That's not the case in this industry, recycled roads can be often better and superior to standard roads.
Darryl Byrne, Qld General Manager The good news story about our products that we're developing and putting into the network now they'll just be recycled over and over again. There's no end-of-life. We just recycle it, bring it back, send it back out and we just continue the journey over and over again.
Steve Ainscow, SA General Manager: I'd love to see every road in Australia made from 100% recycled materials, and that's not too far away. If the desires there, we can get there.
APR turning kerbside plastics and waste timber into boardwalks and signs for our parks and reserves
Ryan Lokan, CEO: After years of manufacturing, rainwater tanks, and working with plastics, we saw that both there was an opportunity, a market space, but a chance for us to actually make a bigger difference.
We could see all of the waste material just continuously being deposited and thrown away and knew that we could do more and should do better.
The last 18 years, APR manufacturing group has been operating a recycling and manufacturing facility here at our sustainability centre.
We manufacture wood plastic composite. It's an alternative to timber. It's made of curbside plastic and waste timber.
The plastic itself is a curbside high-density polyethylene. Milk bottles, and shampoo, conditioner bottles, that we throw in the bin, that's what we use here. The timber, as you can see behind me is sawdust from a timber mill.
Our customer base is both local, national and international. Councils are a big consumer of our material, and again, both South Australia and nationally. Our product ends up literally at our local parks and gardens, but most likely we will come into contact with it in our national parks and our reserves as boardwalks, bollards, and signage.
One of our larger projects was with Queensland Rail, and we did 800 tonne of material. That's a lot of milk bottles.
Both plastic and timber have their advantages and their disadvantages. With what we've done, being a composite material, the plastic gives the longevity, and the timber gives the rigidity.
We're an ISO accredited company. We regularly test and make sure that it's made to any standard that we need to meet.
One of the key components about being a recycling company is knowing that we're not contributing more to the waste industry.
So at end-of-life, whether it be an off cut, or it's no longer needed, our products can come back and will be fully recycled again and reused.
Without us and companies like us using waste, it's just going to go landfill. What alternative is there? Where else is the plastic going to go?
We always talk about problems. There is a solution to it. One 16 kilometre sound wall will consume 5,000 tonne of high-density polyethylene. There's our circular economy.
Waste plastic is not rubbish. It's not waste. It's a commodity. We use it. It makes new products. We don't want to recycle it for the fun of it. We want to recycle because it makes a good product.
We see opportunities for recycled material growing daily. We're seeing roads being done. The drink bottles we're using now are made out of recyclables. It's happening daily. The growth opportunities, the things that people are developing out there, it's exciting to watch. The opportunities are endless.
Office and indoor fitouts
Reef HQ Aquarium using plastic from ghost nets, recycled glass, magnesium board and fly ash refurbishment
UCI turning PET bottles into workstation screens and acoustic panels
Tim Dyer, Managing Director: UCI is a national organisation. We supply commercial office furniture to the Australian market, and we endeavor to look for recycled materials to incorporate into our product manufacture.
Adrian Bragagnolo, Product Designer: As a designer, it's almost a commitment for me. I'm designing something that didn't exist before. So, I've got to think where's this product going to end up in the next 10 years?
Stuart Norman, Operations Manager: I think it's a great achievement to have a product that is benefiting the circular economy rather than contributing to landfill, and other negative factors. It's a cool feeling.
One of the key recycled materials that we're using is a Woven Image EchoPanel, which is a recycled PET panel with acoustic properties. It comes in a heap of different colours and finishes.
Tim Dyer, Managing Director: Mura fabric is made from 60% recycled PET. PET is typically used in Coke bottles, water bottles, that type of plastic bottle. We source that from a company called Woven Image, they're based in Australia.
Stuart Norman, Operations Manager: One of the key things that's changed with our workstation screens in recent times is the reduction of overall materials used. Instead of having lots of different parts, we've reduced the number of materials. Less material means that there's less waste to remove at the end of a product's life.
Adrian Bragagnolo, Product Designer: At the end of our product's lifecycle, our product could be broken down just using basic tools. With a drill, screwdriver, it can be broken down into multiple parts, which then can be recycled within their category.
Tim Dyer, Managing Director: At the end of the product lifecycle, UCI has a product stewardship policy, which is a take-back scheme that we quote at the end of the product's life, that we'll take it back and recycle, reuse, or remanufacture it.
My hopes for the future is, product stewardship is just normal for every manufacturer. Recycling, taking back product at the end of the life, and repurposing, it just becomes normality, as opposed to being just something that's special and only a few people do.
Stuart Norman, Operations Manager: As far as a percentage of the product that we supply being able to be recycled, on average, depending on the product, it's about 95%.
Tim Dyer, Managing Director All off-cuts of steel and aluminum, cardboard, any cardboard packaging material is also recycled. I think recycled content is definitely a draw card for customers.
We've gone from recycling nothing, to recycling about 80% of our waste streams.
Be great to think that in the future, all of our products use recycled materials, from the screw that's used, to the worktop that's on the desk.
Replas turning soft plastic into Polyrok – recycled plastic aggregate
Mark Jacobsen, Managing Director: People ask me all the time, "why we should prioritise recycled products?" I say to them, "What is the cost of not doing that?"
Christie O’Neill, Environmental Scientist: Plastic's always going to have a role in society. The average life of most of our plastic is less than 10 minutes of use. So we need to move away from that disposable culture.
Here at Replas, we make over 250 different products out of plastic waste, and that's a really important use of that plastic.
Mark Jacobsen, Managing Director: The product we're most excited about is Polyrok, purely because it's scalable. Polyrok is a replacement of approximately 10% of the aggregate in concrete. Aggregate's a stone which goes in with the cement and the sand, and that being 98% plastic is a huge intake of the waste plastic.
We source the most problematic plastic today through the REDcycle program. It's probably the best product steward program in the world.
Christie O’Neill, Environmental Scientist: We find the plastic is a superior product. It makes it more lightweight so it's easier to work with, it's easier to smooth and it's also recyclable at the end-of-life.
Mark Jacobsen, Managing Director: With Polyrok, a traditional one kilometre footpath pour takes over 10,000 pieces of plastic. So you can imagine how much concrete's poured around Australia. We're talking hundreds of thousands of tons of problematic plastic going to a home which is fit for purpose in concrete.
We are very excited about Polyrok because concrete hasn't been changed for hundreds of years. This will go worldwide, and it's an Australian company which developed such a unique use of problematic plastic.
The journey's been rather tough, because over the first 20 years, people really didn't value plastic recycling.
Christie O’Neill, Environmental Scientist: The innovation is constant. We're constantly evolving new products.
Mark Jacobsen, Managing Director: The great thing about Polyrok, it's not just a recycled other home for it. It's actually lighter-weight, as strong as concrete, and with the concrete supply companies, there's about a 30 minute training and away they go. No infrastructure changes, so it's easy and fit for purpose.
Christie O’Neill, Environmental Scientist: Putting your rubbish in the recycling bin is not the end of the story. We have to be knowing where our recycling's going, and to be purchasing those products that are made from that recycled material.
Mark Jacobsen, Managing Director: The biggest problem in the world today is problematic soft plastic. We are solving that on the world scene.
The future looks promising because I think the governments, the brand owners, the corporations, and more importantly the public, see the future like we see the future.
It is solvable one piece of plastic bag at a time.
To learn more about industry's recycling schemes, watch our product stewardship videos.