Where to next - Industry trends and reflections

Video transcript

Text: Victoria’s Big Build. Ecologiq Greener Infrastructure Conference 2022. Victoria State Government.

Professor Tim Flannery:

Now our second panel for after lunch will involve a discussion with a cross-section of industry voices around supply and the demand spectrum, looking at current trends, impacts, opportunities and where the industry is going with the use of sustainable material.

I'd like to welcome the members of our industry panel.

We have Suzanne Toumbourou, CEO of the Australian Council of Recycling can come and join us on the stage; George Hatzimanolis, the CEO of Repurpose It; Lina Goodman, the CEO of Tyre Stewardship Australia; and Graeme Johnson, the CEO of Fulton Hogan Australia.

And the moderator for this panel will be Jill Riseley from Recycling Victoria.

So I'll now hand over to Jill.

Thank you.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

I might get us all to take a seat immediately, and it's really exciting to be here today on Wurundjeri for this panel.

We've heard a lot today about the importance of a systems change, including an overview behind earlier, which clearly articulated that the current models and use of resources isn't sustainable.

So I'm pleased to be here with this panel from across industry to discuss current trends to use recycled and reused materials, but also the other aspects that we need to consider to become a more circular economy.

In particular we're keen to unpack the barriers, but also the opportunities that exist in the near future, to get an understanding of where we're at but also what needs to change.

So let's kick things off.

We don't have presentations, we thought we would dive straight in.

So Suzanne, I'll pick on you first, a bit of a two-pronged question.

When working with recycled materials what does or should a circular solution look like, and how is industry responding?

Suzanne Toumbourou, CEO, Australian Council of Recycling:

Thanks Jill, and it's great to be here and what an amazing turnout, what a fabulous conference, and something that recyclers in particular are really keen to see more of, which is the partnering of infrastructure with the recycling sector.

In terms of what we need I think we need a lot more knowledge.

Actually firstly, putting in context what recycling means in a circular economy, recycling as everyone here knows and has had pounded into them through the conference, recycling is not the circular economy, it's an integral part of the circular economy and when I address recycling I'm going to address only that part noting that you know the other elements of the zero waste hierarchy are paramount as well, but even when we get to this bit there's a lot more to be done when you're just looking at recycling.

And in that context we need to have a lot more awareness of what it is, what it means, how to do it right and how to procure it right.

And in no particular order we do, this conference has focused a lot on procurement which is fundamental buy recycled and make sure that you're buying recycled in terms of make sure it is recycled.

We don't have at the moment a a strong enough, I think, network of tracking, tracing and verification, and we need to be building that more coherently across the sector, that's a role that the whole supply chain needs to play and we see some really good mechanisms like, for example IS ratings and green star ratings and eco labels which are helpful, but we do need to better comprehend where those materials come from.

We need to make materials recyclable so it's good enough that we are procuring recycled materials but the question then needs to be when we are making materials, what next?

What happens after this reaches end of life, where does it go?

Likely in the build environment would go to people like George who can take us through what that looks like, and making sure that we are thinking of that what next step and end of life, and in that context then recycle right.

We talk to consumers about sorting the right things at the yellow bin at home, as businesses and as procurers we need to be thinking about at a point of end of life construction, demolition.

How are we making sure that our materials are recoverable and can go back into that circular economy?

How we're making sure that we are procuring the services that ensure that that is properly delivered, that we're not contaminating those materials?

And do we understand enough about waste management, resource recovery and recycling to make sure that we are doing that job properly?

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

Thanks Suzanne.

And the panel before coming up did agree that any curly questions we'd be picking on George, but I just want to remind everyone that of course you can submit questions via Slido and the QR codes are on your table and we look forward to facilitating those.

Lina, over to you.

From our Tyre Stewardship perspective we've seen some really interesting innovations in your area, so I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about them, but also how they can be applied to other streams?

Lina Goodman, CEO, Tyre Stewardship Australia:

Thank you.

Firstly, I got here pretty early this morning and I had a walk around the stands, I had a chat to everyone, and I'm looking at everyone in this room, and one of the things that really strikes me is that this is a sector that really works together.

I'm coming from a tyre's perspective and crumb rubber in roads it's not sexy, should be but it's not sexy, because we've been doing it for so long and it works, and I'm sitting here today thinking one word that I want to make sure we never use when we're talking about crumb rubber and roads, and that's the word trial, because we're not trialling this anymore it's been happening for a long time.

So one of the points I wanted to make today is that a sector who works together like this really wants to make it work, and where we're not seeing the necessary uptake that we have to is in the application,, the business-as-usual been speaking about it today how do we embed this in everyday business.

And we shouldn't be talking about trial, in fact crumb rubber in roads should actually just be happening and if it's not come and talk to us, because the evidence is there to showcase that it can, but more importantly when it does work and it works right, and a council in particular does embed it in their procurement process it's like it's gold.

And I don't know if Melton City Council is here today but I'm going to call them out because they were part of a program we did for low traffic roads, and it showcased that the crumb rubber in that council worked well, it created a longer lifecycle constituents like the road and they've now embedded that process in their procurement, and it was procurement, management and sustainability that was driving this, and when it works it works well.

But to your point is that there's so much more that can be done and I welcome the opportunity to work with other commodity streams to benefit from the years and years of research.

I think someone mentioned earlier that once you get started it takes decades, well it has taken decades for crumb rubber and that's where we're at.

I think Victoria spearheaded the use of crumb rubber in roads in 1974, and the only reason why I remember that year is because I was born and that's 48, so just in case you want to do the sums I'm 48 years old.

So, you know, that is decades of getting it right and it's decades now of taking that research and applying it across to the other streams, and crumb rubber works really well with plastic in products.

Crumb rubber works really well with concreting products.

Crumb rubber works really well with glass in products.

So some great synergies, don't reinvent the wheel, we've been doing it for a long time, come and talk to us and let's work on projects that we can advance together.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

Thanks Lina.

And George over to you, from a supplier or a processor perspective, what are the opportunities and the barriers that you're seeing as an individual supplier?

George Hatzimanolis, CEO, Repurpose :It

Yeah thanks.

Look I think it's a fantastic time to be a supplier of recycled content because the demand has never been higher.

I spent 15 years in the roads industry battling for many years to get specification changed and I've seen more momentum in the last five years than I did in the first 15 in that sector, so demand is absolutely there.

I think some of the barriers and also opportunities is we go beyond just buying recycled content and recycling more broadly, and touch a bit deeper on what it takes to drive a true circular economy, and there's some other elements that are really important and it starts right at the design, and that's the first point.

We need to design things with a different approach to what we have in the past.

We also then need to go about delivering our projects in a different way than we have in the past.

If you think about construction spoil, and I know there's a lot of civil contractors in this room, a lot of the spoil that we generate is sort of a means to an end.

Unfortunately it's collateral damage of meeting our program and at the end of it, if we can, we'll buy some recycled content and we'll get some good ticks with ISCA,, or ISC as I've been told now and that's great, and we probably feel pretty good when we buy recycled content.

But through the delivery there's been a lot more opportunity to start thinking about the circularity of the things that we generate.

In actual fact they're all resource they're not waste and that type of thinking needs a big shift, and if you want to go deep as to how far we've come, if I take you back 57 years right to the Industrial Revolution, one of the key design philosophies in that was to overcome mother nature by brute force.

And there's a whole heap of people out there that would argue the reason we're not in renewables, or the reason we're playing catch-up on renewables now as opposed to 57 years ago, was because that's as evolved as our technology was.

But there's actually also a counter argument, and that was well maybe if our design thinking 57 years ago was not to overcome mother nature by brute force but to harness the earth's resources, maybe we'd be in a very different position where we are today.

And I just want to take the same approach towards road building, because we're not going to be building infrastructure in the next 20-30 years of the same raw materials we have for the last 20 or 30 years, so it really starts at that change in thinking, and that's a cultural impact, and we've just had a room full of senior leaders having this exact discussion.

And that takes a bit of a mind shift and there's a lot of people in this room that have got a huge opportunity to influence this sector in a very meaningful way, from the way we design things and the way that we deliver things, and construction spoil is not a means to an end it's actually a resource, and there's other businesses out there that are looking to invest to find ways to repurpose that into valuable material to supply back to our projects, and I think that's probably our biggest opportunity.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

Thanks George.

Graeme, I wanted to ask you about Fulton Hogan.

You use virgin quarry materials as well as recycled and reused materials, where are you seeing the recycled materials in the value change, and how do you see that transition to a circular economy?

Graeme Johnson, CEO, Fulton Hogan Australia:

Thanks Jill, great question there.

I think I'll answer the question, I'll make a couple of observations or points first, and certainly applaud the the efforts of ecologiQ and bringing the group together for discussion today.

If you look globally, any resource-backed operator, so those that might own, operate virgin backed material quarries, there's a huge shift in resources internationally, capital internationally, into addressing exactly this issue amongst other environmental sustainability issues like decarbonisation.

So the direction of travel for industry is quite clear.

It's unavoidable, and therefore you have to have a mindset to work with that and to balance that with your virgin resources position, and think about the direction of travel and the timeframes to actually pivot and increase your uptake of circularity, and at the bottom of the circularity, recycled materials.

There’s another element to this, we've we've got about 20 or 30 I think of our best and brightest young people here, and I ran into them earlier today and I had a few conversations there, and there's a passion that we need to harness and there's also an expectation on their faces to people like myself about what are you going to do with this issue?

How are you going to take us on this journey to improve the situation and move towards circularity?

So the environment that we're operating in is quite clear there's really no debate.

If you’re not moving in this direction as a resources player then, not only is your relevance at risk, but potentially your business viability as well.

So you need to start making educated moves to build uptake, to participate more, participate in the debate, and fundamentally think about in what timeframe you need to change your business.

So at the moment we try and extract the greatest value possible in the most respectful way of virgin materials that we do access.

I don't think society ascribes enough value to that at the moment.

The scarcity of resources, the difficulty in consenting, accessing, and the logistics associated with obtaining them now is getting harder and harder, and we're probably not seeing the actual true costs appropriately signalled in the market.

We have to act in a way that is responsible at all times, and we need to create some economic headroom to be able to continue to build scale, and I'll certainly commend the effort of George and others in being kind of the pioneers in Victoria in that regard.

So at the moment we look for a range of materials that are coming out of jobs, it might be bespoke in its nature, so a particular purpose that we can re-engineer to a useful product, or it might be at scale and there's some real success stories out there like reclaimed asphalt where you're now up in the 400,000-500,000 tonnes a year in a supply chain, so it's become very much not a bespoke batch product but a continuous volumetric plate.

And that's probably one of the barriers that I see, is how do we get circularity working from the top, so addressing the demand side factors, asking do we need to build something, is there a way we can maintain a level of service?

We can use an asset management or an operations capability to increase utilisation or extend its life.

If we have to build something, how do we do it in a fashion that creates, that unlocks circularity, so that we can recover materials in the future, extend the life of the infrastructure we're building.

Then all the way down at the bottom one how do we ensure we actually have a scale off-take of predictable materials that we can reincorporate and displace our reliance on virgin materials.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

That’s probably a really interesting point about collaboration and industry collaboration, so Lina, circling back, pardon the pun, to what you were saying before around the need for collaboration, as a peak body and as someone who really works a lot with different players within an industry, how important is collaboration when it comes to unpacking opportunities or overcoming barriers?

Lina Goodman, CEO, Tyre Stewardship Australia:

It can't be done without collaboration, it is essentially the message to give, and I think if I give some examples, and those that have probably been to the Tyre Stewardship Australia display there, there's some great examples of how collaboration has worked towards commercialising products.

So, you know, you take the poorest line which is the permeable pavement product that's there at the moment, well that never just started as a product, that started it as a research project with the University of Melbourne and an industry player and it was a lab project.

It then became into a demonstration project, so proving how it can work in situ with a council, then it goes into commercialisation project, so this concept that it takes a while, it can take a while, but the reason why it's successful today is because it has ticked all that box in terms of collaboration, research and evidence, demonstration that it works with the key players that need to lay it, and working around certifications and ongoing use.

Another example that you see at the display there is around Flexiroc and Gary there, he does a lot of work around crumb rubber in concrete on walls, noise barriers, and a whole range of products, and again that doesn't happen on its own, it happens in collaboration with a research, an organisation that has to produce the product, lay the roads, put up the concrete, and councils or local government or state government that needs to lay it.

So without that collaboration that project alone never gets commercialised, so it's really important that that works all together.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

So Graeme, how does that resonate with you from a Fulton Hogan perspective, what innovations are you seeing from not only your own organisation but across industry, and how will that drive change?

Graeme Johnson, CEO, Fulton Hogan Australia:

Fantastic innovations right across industry, you've only got to walk the trade hall for five minutes and you'll see some great examples of that, and I'd encourage everyone to do it.

Look I think the environment and the landscape here has set a mindset policy, legislation, regulations down through procurement, the design standards and specifications quite appropriately for us to be able to explore innovation, but we need conversation like this, we need work kind off the ball so to speak, outside of the pursuit of an individual contract or a tender that's out there in the market, to really establish, you know, fundamental innovations that we can take forward.

We would certainly see some opportunity for modification of material, so in situ stabilisation, ex-situ stabilisation, where we would take a maybe a marginal or a by-product material or something that's past its used by date in the field, and we actually use additives, binders and technology to modify that, deploy a product back out that we've taken off site or done it on site.

Foam bitumen stabilisation would be one example of that that's used widely in jurisdictions in this part of the world, but not so much here.

So how do we collaborate across borders, how do we share knowledge, actually get together around a few of these issues and learn from what others have done as well as take our research and development here in Victoria more broadly as well?

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

Suzanne, you're nodding, I'll lob you in there from a recycling industry perspective, what are you seeing, and in particular what are the big challenges from a recycling industry perspective?

Suzanne Toumbourou, CEO, Australian Council of Recycling:

I really heard, the word that jumped out for me from Graeme was across borders.

I think, and in the context of collaboration we have such a fragmented patchwork of regulation across the country when it comes to resource recovery and recycling, that creates effectively a really unstable operating environment.

And even within jurisdictions we see misalignment between environmental regulations, safe work regulations, building regulations, that don't then deliver for recovered and recycled outcomes.

And so in the spirit of collaboration I'd really like to see governments work better within each other, and amongst each other, across the country to find that better alignment and support circular economy outcomes.

We do see fundamentally, there is at the moment a misalignment between regulatory environmental regulation and circular economy priorities, with let's say such a risk-averse approach to recovered materials, that it is fairly hard to pull them back into the market.

And not that I'd say we shouldn't be cautious about the materials we use, but that is a very uneven playing field then with virgin materials which are not put under that same scrutiny.

So goodness knows you can bring in whatever from overseas and pop it onto your supermarket shelves or maybe onto your roads, but if it is coming from a recovered source the kind of scrutiny it goes through adds cost, adds delays, adds investment uncertainty and makes it harder to scale up.

So collaboration within governments, across governments, and much stronger collaboration between industry and government too, which is something I love about what Victoria is doing, the ecologiQ program is something that we're trying to encourage other governments to pick up across the country too, to better shape that conversation, to better skill up people from government and from industry.

Another model that works in Victoria that we'd love to see more of, it's picked up in South Australia as well, is Sustainability Victoria, that helps with that industry development aspect too.

Don't have something like that in NSW, hopefully you might see something like that evolving in Queensland, but sharing those learnings and helping to bring us all up together is so vital.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

Thank you.

And George, from your perspective, where do you see the market at, what are the barriers or the opportunities that you see, and specifically it'd be really interesting to see your insights around road and rail construction and how you see those models or those approaches changing to become more circular?

George Hatzimanolis, CEO, Repurpose It:

Yeah, look I think Suzanne touched on a couple of key themes there in terms of some of the challenges around the way that resources, or let’s say waste resources that we generate as a result of building and maintaining critical road and rail infrastructure are regulated by the environmental regulator comparative to other materials that we would supply, more traditional things like quarry materials, because they're very different.

And there's quite specific nuances there that mean that recycled materials aren't always put on even playing field with virgin materials, and some people might be surprised that don't operate in this space, that a sand recovered from excavation spoil is regulated very differently to sand excavated from a virgin river.

And you would say well how does that work, but in actual fact they're considered very differently, so I think there's some more alignment around the way that we're regulating and considering that they’re a resource and not waste.

Some of the other challenges, but definitely all these challenges I think present its biggest opportunity, is a little bit around that cultural shift and the mindset of our builders around the fact that recycled content, two fronts, one is more expensive and two is inferior.

And there's been a little bit of sentiment that and some other conversations I've still had and that's going to take time to overcome.

Now look, the recycling industries has got reason to sit there and put their hand up and say we have to take some accountability because in the past it hasn't been done that well, and there probably has been some recycled content that was inferior, and you know what, unfortunately, and statistically this has proven globally, high income earners generally have higher amounts of recycling.

And it's the same with infrastructure bodies, the more money to spend the high amounts of recycling, but we need to make it more accessible.

There's also some barriers to break down in that quite often our construction companies, and for the reasons I said earlier, around spoil is a means to an end in delivering a program, there is a little bit of reluctance to consider how they might do it differently because it's a resource issue and there's pressure and time demand, and also is it going to cost me money to invest in that part of the program. when really I just need to deliver this outcome and we'll buy recycled content at the end.

I guess I want to put a thought out there that actually having those opportunities to think about doing things differently, not just from a efficiency point of view in terms of being more sustainable, it also drives to a more Innovative thinking and actually cost saving, because we wouldn't have a business if we weren't able to provide a value for money solution to our clients, so recycling and taking a circular economy approach is actually a huge untapped potential.

It actually will be cheaper, it will be more efficient to deliver your projects, and that takes a bit of a shift in thinking in the way things are traditionally built and delivered in the past.

But I think there's a huge opportunity of untapped cost saving and more environmentally efficient methodologies that we need to start approaching now because we are still playing a little bit of catch up.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

And picking up on that shift in thinking, we've heard a bit today about knowledge and knowledge gaps, and I'll open it up to to the panel.

Suzanne I'll start with you, where do you see the knowledge gaps or the biggest areas that we need to bridge in terms of educating and getting people up to speed to build a circular economy?

Suzanne Toumbourou, CEO, Australian Council of Recycling:

I'll focus on recycling, which is not the circular economy but essential to it, in that context, as I mentioned, the three critical kind of elements to supporting good recycling outcomes in terms of procurement buying recycled, making sure that you understand what the origins of that material were.

I'm not saying that at the moment it's possible or we must only procure Australian-made recycled content, but I would encourage that we really move towards that outcome.

When it comes to aggregates it's a kind of a no-brainer, when it comes to other materials ask more questions about where that comes from.

We are on that journey to deliver I'd say more transparency, but while we get there there's probably a bit more work to do from a procurement side just to understand that.

And as George mentioned, there's a reticence culturally almost in the workforce to procure.

I'd be thinking oh well, Transport for NSW mindset if not why not , and really thinking about prioritising that material.

In terms of making it recyclable I'd want to encourage that, whilst we should be prioritising recycled material, we should also be making sure that we understand what comes next after we put recycled material into our infrastructure.

If it's one use only, and if we're creating a liability for the next generation who's then going to have to landfill it after it gets torn up or demolished, I'd say that is not the ideal outcome.

Not that I'd want to let the perfect get in the way of the good while we are reusing and repairing and recycling, but we should be absolutely thinking when we are embedding recycled material in our infrastructure what happens next, we have a good understanding that we are making something that can fulfil a circular outcome.

And ultimately asking more questions in terms of so-called waste procurement services, where does this material go, how do I make sure that I'm doing my part in ensuring that I'm sorting at source and I'm not contaminating the material that then goes to resource recovery outcomes, and making sure it actually gets there, because as George mentioned, often that, often, I'd say almost always a priority with waste services is to get the stuff off the site.

It's a liability and it's a cost and you just want it away.

At the same time you might be paying for it to be recovered and recycled, you want to make sure that it actually gets there and you want to make sure that you're doing your part in ensuring that you are delivering a product that can be recovered.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

George, where are you seeing the knowledge gaps?

George Hatzimanolis, CEO, Repurpose :It

Yeah look, I think there's a couple of key things in this aspect around science and technology and the rate at which they're moving, because we are always having to pay a little bit of catch up, and if you think about in particular science for a minute, around some of the emerging contaminants, and I know this is a hot topic across the whole resource recovery sector at the minute, because what are the things that in the next 10 or 15 or 20 years that are going to be contaminants that we don't know of today?

How are they going to be regulated, how are they going to impact our ability to run resource recovery on infrastructure as it hits the end of its life, what does that mean for large-scale resource recovery businesses like ours and others making significant investments, we're making Investments for 15-20-30-year type investments, what do they look like if all of a sudden things are regulated a bit different?

So it's important that as an industry, that we know that we're all got a part to play right from science to engineering to technology to policy and regulators.

Some of the work that we do in that space, we collaborate a lot with research institutions, particularly universities here in Victoria.

So we've got partnerships with Swinburne and RMIT, and I see there’s a lot of key emerging thoughts and thought leaders coming through our universities, and that generation of thinking of things that we would never even have contemplated as possible, and being connected to them in a really meaningful way as an industry I think is really important, because they're actually identifying the problems, not of today, but the things that are going to cause us issue in the next 10-15 years.

And given the long-term nature of our investments, and all the work we're doing to build credibility back in the quality of our products, it's really important that we think about that stuff now.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

And Lina, you've worked in this space for a long time, what are your reflections in terms of how far we've come from a knowledge perspective and where the current gaps are?

Lina Goodman, CEO, Tyre Stewardship Australia:

It's really exciting, having been in the waste and recycling sector for some 25 years I probably have not seen the appetite that I'm seeing today, which is great and it's exciting and we should capture that enthusiasm, but for me the gaps is still around myth-busting, you know, and I'm coming from a tyre's perspective, we still have inconsistent views of the use of tyre derived material in products, and we need to break down these myths otherwise we're never going to move forward.

The other piece which is really interesting and it comes around change, it's easy not to change, it's so hard to change, but yet change once we really bite into it, it's actually not that difficult and it's so rewarding.

And I think one of the things that possibly we need to take a bit of a leadership role is to facilitate what change means and how to make the change without feeling that you're going to risk something within your own organisation.

You know, and I reflect upon Victoria alone, you know, we all love our cars, we all drive around in cars, we all have trucks in our fleets.

Victoria has 120,000 tonnes of end-of-life tyres that reach end of life each year and it just can't be good enough that we say all right let's export 80% of this overseas to be burnt as a fuel, that's just not good enough and I think we all have a professional responsibility to take the steps that we need to do to instigate the change so that we're using, whether it's tyres, plastics, glass in our own infrastructure products.

Kind of like I want us just to lean in, because the research and evidence is there, it's about being bold and taking the challenge.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

And Graeme, from your perspective what are the big knowledge gaps in terms of being able to scale up and increase Fulton Hogan's footprint?

Graeme Johnson, CEO, Fulton Hogan Australia:

Thanks Jill.

Probably two or three things on my mind there.

The first one is really a hard economic study, I think, to explore, where does this all end up and what might some of the impact or further regulation, maybe economic regulation to incentivise or disincentivise a particular type of behaviour into the future result in.

So I think the concept, the direction of travel is clear, we're all here for the same reason.

The technical solutions, there’s plenty of advances there, but the wider economic benefits of actually making some step change going forward I think are a point we need to explore more fully.

Related to that just some bold forecasting, there's a stock take of material out there and horizontal and vertical infrastructure at the moment, someone should be able to quantify that, think about time to go, think about the ones who might extend the life of, or if we are going to decommission, demolish and reincorporate those materials, let's start looking at the timeframes, the amount, the quantum of that, and then we can start thinking about capital, resourcing and investment and have some educated conversations.

And the last knowledge gap is probably a bit of a softer one.

When I look at the projects that are highly engaged, highly focused on solving some of these issues, I do wonder where, when we're putting effort into circularity, are we seeing wider project benefits, productivity, health and safety, engagement of their people and therefore a better broader outcome for industry at the construction end of town, and I think it might be worth going to check s few of those variables as well where we are really putting some effort in.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

Thanks, and it’s probably a good segue, and I will get to the Slido questions so please pop them in the chat to make sure I can get to them.

But what do you see are the big barriers and incentives that are needed, so particularly focusing on the incentive side, what are the incentives that you think will accelerate an adoption from a recycling economy to a circular economy, but also what support industry need?

Suzanne, I’ll throw to you.

Suzanne Toumbourou, CEO, Australian Council of Recycling:

Can I be a pain and start with a barrier?

I think one of the biggest barriers is the definition of waste, and that fundamentally starts, and is an inhibitor at a regulatory level.

If we can't define the end of waste and the beginning of a resource and a product, we're always going to be burred up before we even really, before we can really hit a real momentum and scale up.

I do love by the way, Graeme, the the idea that we do need to forecast, from a recycling sector perspective there is a lot that needs to be built back into the recycling sector, and to understand what infrastructure we need, we need to understand what demand exists.

And so to then flip over into into the drivers and incentives, recyclers would really like to see minimum thresholds for recycled content.

Now in order to get there, and in order to identify those thresholds, we need a strong evidence base about what's there, about what can be procured, about how we can get there, and again the work of ecologiQ helps to develop an evidence base off the back of which we can identify how we’re going to identify minimum thresholds.

So, you know, if we want to really drive this fast and forward with some strong momentum, I'd say some minimum thresholds for recycled material is a really good way to drive that, backed by good evidence and a supportive regulatory framework.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

George, what incentives would you want to see?

George Hatzimanolis, CEO, Repurpose It:

Yeah look, I think – I’ll touch on something that Graeme mentioned earlier and incentives, I think if this is not built into your business model then the long-term sustainability of your business is in question, because it's expected of us, and the next generation is surely going to expect more of our politicians, they're going to expect more of us, and they're not going to want to work somewhere that doesn't have these core values built into the organisation, that's the truth of it.

So in terms of incentive I don't think we really need much more incentive than that.

There's science-based evidence, we know the position that we're in today, we have to make a change now.

And in terms of incentive, our customers, our governments are putting clear policy now, and that's driving obviously a lot of investment and that's been really important, but ultimately where's that coming from, that's coming from our local community because governments there to serve the need of our community, and so that's where it's coming from.

We owe it to the people that we work and live with to start making this change now, and I don't think we need much more incentive than that to be honest.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

And Lina, you're a big body so you obviously get to look at the system within your material stream.

Where are you seeing the pressure points or the best leverage, or intervention points?

Lina Goodman, CEO, Tyre Stewardship Australia:

I want to echo a little bit what George has said too in that potentially one thing that's missing is that if people aren't understanding the incentives and we haven't articulated it properly, because they're there already for the taking, whether they're environmental incentives, in greenhouse gas emission savings, in long economic savings from longevity of the product being used, or other benefits such as noise, less cracking in roads and so on, and as well as the social component of it, clearly we haven't articulated the incentives for organisations to really take them up the chain.

But when it comes down to it, and I was thinking about a manufacturing process when we're thinking about true circularity of taking this products, manufacturing it into something new, for us the biggest barrier here is everything associated with manufacturing right, labour, energy, product that's available to us, and when we're selling it we're competing against cheap in imports, and I'd love us to stop seeing these cheap Imports come in so we can focus on the manufacturing here.

You know, I walked around a local Council that was resurfacing one of their sports fields and they had imported crumb to lay on their sports fields.

These are the things that are barriers for us here because we're importing this material.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

And Graeme, do you see that in your world?

Do you think the benefits are understood and that the incentives are there?

Graeme Johnson, CEO, Fulton Hogan Australia:

I think so.

I think some of the economics can still be challenging for investment at scale, so whatever we can do to make this transition easier, and I've heard a couple of comments today, I think, you know, there's a high level of engagement through transport infrastructure procurement and delivery.

Everyone is of the mindset about unlocking circularity, but there are some other arms of government in terms of regulation that maybe still need to be brought on board with that, so engaged, enrolled in the mindset.

EPA I think was mentioned where there's a couple of standards that are creating, you know, further hurdles, those hurdles all result in cost.

They all make investment more marginal, and if we can actually remove some of that or level up the playing field, get them enrolled in the same mindset, then I think you'll see further capital intensification in these areas and that will unlock the supply chain.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

Thank you.

I'll move to the Slido questions.

We have one from our old friend anonymous, and I might throw this one first to you George and then to Suzanne.

How do you manage the risk of failure against the opportunity of trying innovation within budget constraints?

George Hatzimanolis, CEO, Repurpose It:

Yeah look, I guess our business wouldn't have been born without an appetite to risk and therefore an acceptance of some degree of failure, and that's a very difficult mindset for civil contractors on really tight budgets with really tight programs, and with a really conservative customer.

And I think it takes buy-in from all those levels to accept that not all these recycling materials are going to be successful, that's just the truth of it.

Some of them will go wrong.

Now look, we need to manage risk appropriate to what that risk is.

Obviously assets in infrastructure assets, road assets, so they're long-term assets and they're very expensive assets so they need to be taken up with care.

We need to trust our engineering and our science to know that if we were designing things to a performance parameter because that's the way our specifications are moving.

Then we need to trust that those engineering principles are accurate and that's the information we're going to rely on, and know that technology has evolved a long way that we can do that a lot more accurately than what we have in the past, so we should have a higher risk tolerance to do things without a 20-year trial today, because our technology is a lot better and we can learn things in a lab scale now that we don't have to go build a road and sit there and watch and monitor every month for the next 15 years before we try it again.

And so I think we need to have an appetite towards risk with all these things.

There's certain things when it comes to human health and environmental risk that obviously we need to be cautious of and we need to manage that appropriately.

Above all else human health and environmental risk needs to be at the forefront.

But that's where I come back to my point about are we researching enough into what are the emerging contaminants, what's coming next, how are we staying connected to that as an industry?

So yes we need to manage our risk, but at the same time we need to accept that if we're going to have any progress It's not going to come out with some failures, and it's about how we best manage it and accept that as an industry I think will depend how quick we can move forward.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

Thanks George, and we're almost out of time.

So Suzanne I'll let you have the final word.

Suzanne Toumbourou, CEO, Australian Council of Recycling:

I don't have much to add on that one/

I think though it'd be good to shift the lens, the risk of failure applies to all innovation, not just innovation relating to recovered materials and recycling and circular economy, and so that's just the nature of innovation.

And what I'd like to see is a more level playing field between how we appraise and perceive recovered materials and recycled materials and virgin, because really it shouldn't matter, innovation is innovation and implicit in that is potential failure or potential great success.

Jill Riseley, Recycling Victoria:

Thank you, and that's a good note to end on.

So if you could join with me in thanking our panel today, thank you.

Veronica James, Associate Director, Transformation and Innovation, Green Industries SA:

Professor Tim Flannery:

Thanks guys.

Thanks so much Jill and our panel, that was a fantastic discussion.

Very complex obviously implementation but the will there I think to do it.

It was really, really good to see that.

Look we're just going to take a little afternoon break now to stretch our legs for afternoon tea.

You can make your way to the trades hall for the last time, network with your peers, get to know the exhibitors, and speak to them.

There's some really interesting things going on out there.

And we'll see you all back here for the closing sessions at 3:20.

Thank you very much.

Text: Victoria’s Big Build. Ecologiq Greener Infrastructure Conference 2022. Victoria State Government.

Sign up for updates

Stay updated about ecologiQ with the key announcements and milestones