Pakenham Station.

Danbar Plastics’ Jim Robertson expects his plant, in the regional city of Ballarat, to increase its workforce, now that the Victorian government is using low-carbon concrete, reinforced with recycled waste plastic, on major Big Build infrastructure projects, including the Level Crossing Removal program. 

eMesh, an Australian innovation, uses 100 per cent recycled macro synthetic fibres (MSF), made from recycled polypropylene plastic, to completely replace steel reinforcing mesh in concrete.

Carbon emissions from eMesh are around 93 per cent lower than traditional steel rebar, or reinforcement rods. Better yet, concrete containing the product is safer and around 40 per cent cheaper to pour than steel-reinforced concrete. 

The concrete mix arrives on-site with millions of 2-inch MSF fibres already distributed homogeneously through it. This is in contrast to steel rebar, which needs to be separately transported, chopped and then welded on site – adding to its cost and the risk of accidents.

Through Victoria’s ecologiQ program, which promotes the use of recycled building materials in infrastructure, eMesh has been used in 22 road and rail projects, with 10 more planned. These include the Toorak Road and Hoppers Crossing level crossing removals and the Pakenham rail line upgrade.

Beyond Victoria, it is being used on about 35 major construction projects, including Queensland’s Cross River Rail Project and NorthConnex in NSW, as well as by 30 local councils across Australia for footpaths and bike paths.

The product is supplied by a company Enviromesh, which developed it in partnership with Queensland’s James Cook University in 2013. It is manufactured in Ballarat by Danbar Plastics and packed by National Disability Insurance Scheme partner McCallum Industries.

eMesh, an Australian innovation, uses 100 per cent recycled macro synthetic fibres.

If concrete was a country, it would be the third biggest polluter in the world 

Enviromesh managing director Alex Lester told The Fifth Estate that, to date, his firm’s product has led to the recycling of around 400 tonnes of plastic, and has saved around 9000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

“If concrete was a country, it would be the third biggest polluter in the world, after America and China. The next biggest polluter in the world is steel manufacturing,” Mr Lester said.

“So if [a concrete manufacturer], for instance, develops a low-carbon product, and then you add steel to it, you’re basically defeating the purpose of it. 

Enviromesh managing director Alex Lester.

“We collaborate with the concrete companies, who put a lot of time and effort into developing carbon neutral products – we add a virtually neutral reinforcing product and marry those two things together.”

Mixes and precast products using the fibres are now available from most leading concrete suppliers, including Boral, Holcim and Hanson.

The serrated 2-inch long plastic fibres wrap around the aggregate, making concrete with eMesh more resistant to cracking than traditional concrete. Likewise, concrete cancer is caused by steel rebar expanding when it rusts – that isn’t an issue with plastic fibre reinforcement.

While Australian building codes mandate that concrete in vertical structures must use steel reinforcement, eMesh concrete can be used in most horizontal slabs. That includes warehouses, railway sleepers, car parks, driveways, footpaths, and cycleways.

Demand for the product has increased by 100 per cent over the past year, leading to much-needed manufacturing jobs being created across western Victoria.

Jim Robertson, the owner of Horsham-based Danbar Plastics, told The Fifth Estate he currently has around 10 employees at the facility in Ballarat where the eMesh is produced, but that will increase as an additional production line is installed in the next eight to 10 weeks.

Meanwhile McCallum Industries, a social enterprise in the Ballarat suburb of Alfredton, provides employment to around 90 people with disability.

“Recycled products like eMesh are keeping hundreds of tonnes of plastic out of landfill and significantly reducing the carbon footprint of projects – as well as creating jobs and investment in regional communities like Ballarat,” Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said.

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