Better Building speaks with Repurpose It CEO George Hatzmanolis about changing attitudes and approaches to waste and resource management in the construction sector.
It should come as no surprise that Australia is in the midst of a waste management crisis. In 2016-17, the nation generated 67 megatons (Mt) of waste. Of that, 20.4 Mt – over 30 percent – derived from the construction and demolition (C&D) sector. While more of that waste has been recycled than it would have been a decade prior, 6.7 Mt still ended up in landfills.
Those numbers must be decreased quickly for the sake of both the environment and the viability of the construction industry. Natural resources are depleting, sustainability is an increasingly important consideration for all Australians and we no longer have the luxury of sending our waste to countries like China so we can act like it's not our concern.
Repurpose It is one of the businesses working to make waste a thing of the past. Based in Epping, Victoria, Repurpose It utilises some of the world's most advanced waste processing technology in an effort to convert what once would have been sent to landfill into valuable resources.
We talked to Repurpose It's CEO, George Hatzmanolis, about shifting attitudes and approaches to waste management in the construction sector.
Better Building: The building and construction sector is notorious for its approach (or lack thereof) to waste management. Why has this been the case for so long?
George Hatzmanolis: In Australia, we have been fortunate and somewhat ignorant due to our richness in natural resources. As a nation, we haven't valued the impact construction is having on the natural environment. Now that our resources are running out, our population is growing and other nations will no longer accept our waste we need to think differently. Sometimes a burning platform is needed to drive change and I think that's where we are now.
How are attitudes being shifted in regards to the management and recycling of C&D waste by those creating it?
Government policy is driving positive change, particularly in the infrastructure space where major building companies have contractual financial incentives to achieve a more sustainable outcome. I believe younger generations are generally more aware and educated to the challenges our environment is facing due to depleting natural resources.
Why is it so important that attitudes shift?
Without a change in attitude we are destined to repeat the failures of the past. If you think back to the industrial revolution, our main design philosophy was to utilise brute force to overcome nature no matter what the social or environmental cost was. Move quicker, protect from the elements and build bigger. Our impact on the natural world wasn't often a consideration. This is changing, but still not quickly enough.
Describe what Repurpose It is and the services the business provides.
We are a resource recovery business with the mission of preserving Victoria's resources for future generations. We receive construction waste mostly generated in the building of major infrastructure like roads, rails and tunnels and we turn it into high value engineering materials that we supply back to the construction industry.
What is new about the approach Repurpose It takes to the recycling of C&D waste?
At Repurpose It, we have adopted technology from Europe and, in particular, the UK, where depleting natural resources of sand and rock has been a problem for much longer than it has in Australia in the construction industry. Our facility is the first of its kind in Australia, and we are recycling sand and aggregate from construction waste that was not previously recycled. There are many organisations like ours emerging, and plenty more opportunity to recycle more as many of the materials we recover are perpetual.
What are the benefits of bringing C&D waste to Repurpose It for processing?
We are an alternative to the traditional method of quarrying our earth's natural resources and filling the voids back up with our waste as landfill. By diverting construction waste from landfill, we can reduce our reliance on extractive resources and preserve our resources. Our Melbourne-based facility can divert over 80,000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. That's about the equivalent of 5700 average Australian households.
What are some of the materials the building and construction industries tend to not think of as recyclable and how does Repurpose It use them?
Typically, contaminated soil isn't recycled. It's often treated and then disposed of at landfill. At Repurpose It, we recover all of the valuable engineering materials such as clay, sand and aggregates from the soil and treat it to ensure it is fit for purpose. We also recover vegetation and value add it into high value garden supply materials like bark and mulch.
For more information on Repurpose It, visit www.repurposeit.com.au