With massive urbanisation worldwide, the key stakeholders in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry are being called on to prioritise recovering and putting to use recycled waste materials in their policy, planning and practices. However greater focus is needed on verifying the quality and performance of recovered products to encourage wider uptake.

In Australia, the AEC industry generates 27 million tonnes of construction and demolition (C&D) waste annually, accounting for 44 per cent of total waste generated. Just a fraction of these waste resources are recycled, and the rest end up in landfills.

Through disposing of waste in landfills we lose the value of resources that could otherwise have been recovered and used in the economy. Hence, diverting C&D waste from landfills has recently become a priority in the Australian context to minimise impacts on the economy, society and the environment.

While the industry has adopted some resource recovery strategies, there is uncertainty about the quality and performance of recovered products, and hence there is a lack of demand and market for several recycled products.

To achieve this goal, effective C&D waste management strategies and policies are required to provide a level playing field for all key stakeholders, including the resource recovery industry, to engage and benefit from waste recycling. 

The Australian AEC industry is responsible for 44 per cent of total waste generated annually in Australia.  Source of image: Salman Shooshtarian 

Challenges to uptake RPC in Australia?

A recent report commissioned by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment showed several challenges that hinder applying recycled products in civil works in Australia.

These include inconsistencies between states and territories in adopting recycled products, imposition of various product specifications, cheaper virgin alternatives, ineffective communications between parties involved, ineffective sustainable procurement practices in the industry and the lack of regulated requirements for using recycled products. 

Our research at RMIT University has shown that while the industry has adopted some resource recovery strategies, there is uncertainty about the quality and performance of recovered products, and hence there is a lack of demand and market for several recycled products.

Interestingly, the primary market for these products is the AEC industry. Among different management strategies, product certification schemes provide the confidence required for using the recovered products among stakeholders in the industry.   

What is recycled product certification?

Recycled product certification (RPC) provides verified information on recycled products’ quality, performance, environmental friendliness, and safety. An RPC that is awarded following material testing, plus quality control, can increase the adoption of recycled materials.

All businesses operating in a supply chain may benefit from developing RPC to show the specifications of their products required by buyers. However, its success heavily relies on the extensive involvement of various parties involved in C&D waste management. 

Recycled product certification schemes provide quality assurance and confidence in using recycled products in construction projects. Source: Silicon genius®

This initiative has been implemented worldwide, in Europe, the UK, the USA, and South Korea. These schemes reassure the end-users of satisfactory utilisation of recycled products and include parameters such as energy use, recycled content, and air and water emissions from manufacturing, disposal, and use.

The initiative has also been recently introduced to Australia, but current programs are still at the early stage of development and adoption. Some examples include Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) Standard, Global Green Tag Certification, CodeMark Certificates and ViroDecs™ Environmental Product Declaration

Next steps towards maximising the benefits of RPC in the Australian AEC industry

Our initial research findings in this area recommend the following to further improve the effectiveness of RPC in developing and stimulation of end-markets for recycled C&D waste products: 

  • A government agency should be established to control the quality and production of these materials
  • Collaboration with sustainable building (construction) assessment schemes such as Green Star and Infrastructure Sustainability to acknowledge product certifications 
  • Stakeholder engagement through industry associations such as the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia and the Australian Council of Recycling  to enhance their capability to deal with RPC requirements in their policies and practices 
  • Enabling third party organisation to develop PRC schemes that are agreeable to both government and industry clients
  • Guidance on clear technical specifications or standards on the use of recycled aggregate for structural applications to enable recyclers to produce products complying by the industry standards
  • Government support for research and development to further increase the quality of recycled materials and to raise public awareness of potential benefits

Assoc/Prof. Tayyab Maqsood is Associate Dean at RMIT and leading the university’s C&D waste management research group at RMIT and is a founder of Australia’s first National Construction and Demolition Waste Research and Industry Portal. He is a strong proponent of the Circular economy or cradle to cradle approach.

Dr Salman Shooshtarian received his PhD in the area of Built Environment from
RMIT University in 2017. He is an active researcher in the fields of sustainability,
environment, construction health and safety and urban ecosystem. He has published
several books, journal articles and conference papers in these areas. 

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