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Recycling First – A Step Towards a Circular Economy in Australia

With growing populations and urbanisation comes increased consumption of resources, and inevitably, ‘waste’. Our Head of Business Development for Construction and Demolition Waste Recycling, Eunan Kelly explores the impact of legislation and policy on driving the Circular Economy.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, Australia adopted the 17 UN Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); they are the blueprint to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect the planet. SDG12 is Responsible Consumption and Production, and this goal outlines the need to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.

When they adopted the SDGs back in 2015, Australia had the worst rate of domestic material consumption of all OECD countries[1]. Australians produce around 50 million tonnes of waste each year, with the amount of waste per person averaging more than 2 tonnes. [2] The efficient management of our resources, and the way we dispose of waste and pollutants are key targets to achieve SDG 12.

In line with SDG 12, the state of Victoria announced the Recycled First programme in early March 2020. Recycled First aims to prioritise the use of recycled materials on road infrastructure projects. This programme complements the Recycling Victoria: a new economic policy, which is the Victorian Government's 10-year policy and action plan for waste and recycling. 

Recycled First programme

The Recycled First programme aims to reduce the environmental impact of construction through prioritising responsible product choices. This programme will not set specific targets, but contractors will need to demonstrate how they will optimise the use of recycled material in upcoming projects. Additionally, contracts must report on the types and volumes of recycled products used in the project.


Recycling Victoria 10-year circular economy policy

The Recycling Victoria policy is set to invest $300million to transform Victoria’s recycling sector over the next 10 years. This funding includes a $30.5 million Recycling Markets Acceleration package that will expand existing innovation programmes to encourage researchers and businesses to collaborate to make new products from recycled materials and develop and promote standards, specifications and guidance materials for using recycled materials in commercial, industrial and construction settings.

The Victorian Government will also establish a $7 million Business Innovation Centre to support businesses in the transition to a circular economy.


The impact of increasing urbanisation

Victoria’s urban footprint is increasing as the population grew by 2.3% in the last financial year – making Victoria the fastest-growing state in Australia. [3] In 2016, the Victorian Government released the Extractive Resources in Victoria, Demand and Supply Study 2015- 2050 (‘Demand and Supply Study’) [4], which showed that the demand for extractive resources is expected to nearly double by 2050, from 47 million tonnes in 2016 to 88 million tonnes in 2050. (Figure 1).

Residential and commercial construction are the largest drivers of demand, amounting to nearly 80% of total extractives demand across the analysis period. The Recycled First programme aims to meet this increased demand at a lower environmental cost. This growth projection highlights the need for alternative construction products such as recycled materials to be considered in projects across the state.

Landfill Diversion

According to Blue Environment (2019) Victoria Waste Flows, the total waste generation in Victoria has steadily increased over time. Waste generation increased from 7.4 million tonnes in 2000, to 9.9 million tonnes in 2005 and to 13.4 million tonnes in 2017-18. [5]

The Victoria Recycling Industry Annual Report 2017-18 states that no other category increased at the rate of C&D waste, resulting in a 35%t increase (1.44 million tonnes) in C&D materials over the period. [4] This is due to a continuous increase in construction activity, clearing of land for new developments and reprocessing of materials from previous years.

As a result of Melbourne’s infrastructure boom, the city’s landfills are under pressure with significant amounts of excavated materials being buried in landfill. This causes many environmental issues including the generation of large amounts of greenhouse gases and toxins which pollute land and water. When materials are sent to landfill, their value is lost to the economy. Recycling materials such as construction, demolition and excavation waste helps to keep their value in the economy, preventing the need for new or expanded landfills, and creating jobs in the local community.

Currently, Victoria has one of the lowest landfill levies in Australia, making it an attractive place to dump waste from other states. To counter this, the Recycling Victoria policy sets out the plan to increase the landfill levy over the next four years to $125 per tonne, to create a strong incentive to reduce and recycle waste. This will allow recycling to become more cost-effective for businesses and reduce the amount of waste coming from other states.


Meeting Future Demand

The Recycling First plan is helping to meet the future demand of the construction sector by enabling the use of products containing recycled materials which support the sustainability of end markets.

The depletion of local sand reserves in Victoria has forced construction and concrete companies to transport sand from further away, increasing the financial and environmental cost of the operation. With such a large amount of aggregates needed to meet the urbanisation needs of Victoria, it’s not viable to continue using solely primary materials to meet that need. Prioritising recycled aggregates in construction projects can be more cost-effective than sourcing primary aggregates and reduces the amount of material that must be disposed of by reusing it within the industry.

To maximise the potential of using recycled aggregates in the production of concrete, it is necessary to ensure the correct processes are in place as poor processes do not remove wood, plastics and other contaminants that affect the strength and structure of concrete. Due to the highly variable nature of construction, demolition and excavation waste, each plant CDE design is custom-built according to the specific requirements of the project. Differing levels of contamination, fines content and variability of input materials (excavation waste, railway ballast, etc) requires an individual approach to each recycling plant for construction and demolition waste that CDE build.

If you face a challenge with recycling waste and want to see how you can transform it into valuable construction materials, get in touch today with our experts to discuss your requirements.


REPURPOSE IT, AUSTRALIA, 150tph C&D Waste Recycling Facility in Melbourne

Learn more about the state-of-the-art C&D waste recycling plant installed by CDE in 2019 for Melbourne based Repurpose It. This was the first C&D Waste wet processing facility installed in Australia.

Sources and further reading:


[1] Bertelsmann Stiftung (2015) https://www.bertelsmann - 


[2] MRA Consulting Group (2016),


[3] Growing Victoria’s Potential


[4] Extractive Resources in Victoria (2019) 


[5] Recycling and Resource Recovery

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