Concrete and the circular economy

Moreton Bay Recycling road truck dumps recycled concrete aggregates at worksite

Why buying recycled concrete product is just as important as recycling waste

As a recycling company, we’re always really encouraged to see more businesses and individuals changing their waste habits and dropping off their unwanted concrete with us.

But what we really like to see is when an organisation changes their purchasing habits. Instead of buying fresh quarry product like gravel, they buy recycled concrete aggregates from us to do exactly the same job.

Here’s why

  • It’s cheaper for businesses to buy and use recycled (which means more money to pay staff, retain profit, and grow their business)
  • It keeps virgin materials in the ground, preserving our natural landscape
  • It stops concrete from going into landfill
  • The more product we sell, the more waste we can accept (our yard is big but it does have limited space)
  • It supports our local business which makes all of this possible

While more businesses are choosing to buy recycled concrete, we believe we’ll see an even greater shift over the next few years. Here’s why…

Current resource usage isn’t sustainable

Every year, an estimated 90B tonnes of resources are extracted from the ground worldwide, while just 9% of this is recycled. More people and the same amount of resources mean that something’s got to change. Our current resource usage is unsustainable.

What many countries (including Australia) are now working towards is a “circular economy” to reduce waste, increase recycling, and improve efficiency.

So, let’s talk a bit more about the circular economy.

What is the circular economy?

A circular economy is where materials are used, recycled, and then reused ♻ This process can repeat indefinitely. Compare that to the linear economy where materials are extracted, used, and then reach end-of-life – usually in a landfill.

Here in Queensland, just 45% of our waste is recovered or recycled. The goal by 2050 is to increase this to 90%. The Queensland Waste Management Resource Recovery Strategy outlines three strategic priorities to make this a reality:

  • Reducing the impact of waste on the environment and communities
  • Transitioning towards a circular economy for waste
  • Building economic opportunity

Meanwhile, estimates suggest the world is just 8.6% circular, which means we have a long way to go with choosing the right materials and using them more efficiently.

And this brings us to concrete…

Concrete and the circular economy

Futuristic animation shows concrete blocks moving in a circle.

Fortunately, concrete fits really nicely into the circular economy because:

  • Although it’s not an infinite resource, it is readily available
  • It’s a very flexible product that can be used in a lot of different ways
  • Used concrete can be crushed at a concrete recycling facility like ours, before being reused in a range of other projects

Unless it’s really contaminated, concrete is 100% recyclable. That means it’s really important to make sure every bit of concrete waste is recycled and reused.

3 things you can do to make a difference

Large pile of concrete waste, waiting to be processed and recycled.

As we mentioned in our last blog, the Australian government is aiming for 80% average recovery rate from all waste streams by 2030. This is a huge jump from where we are now and it requires everyone to play a part. It’s up to consumers, businesses, and councils to lead the change. Here are 3 things you can do:

Avoid landfill

If you’re not already, start taking your concrete waste to a concrete recycling facility. Please don’t take it to a general waste dump because they may not have the resources or systems in place to recycle it and capture the value. (Plus, they’ll likely charge you a fee for dumping.)

Buy recycled products

Look at the raw materials you currently purchase for projects and assess whether you can swap any of them out for recycled alternatives. If you need gravel, aggregates, or dust, go for the recycled concrete version. This is critical to the circular economy because if you don’t buy the products, businesses like ours won’t exist.

You can use recycled concrete materials for shakedown material, drainage, retaining wall fill, driveways, pathways, under slabs, under roads, and car park or road subbase.

(Check out our previous blog, 6 ways recycled concrete products are used in projects!)

Remember, it’s great if you can avoid landfill BUT it’s just as important to buy back recycled products and give them a second life. Support industries and companies that use recycled products. If you have a choice between a product that’s made from recycled materials vs one that’s not, choose recycled. This doesn’t just apply to concrete products – choose recycled paper, cardboard, metals, glass, and plastics first.

Ask for change

If you notice your employer, supplier, or local council isn’t recycling their concrete or choosing more sustainable alternatives, say something about it. They might not be aware of the alternatives or that sustainable products are important to their staff, customers, and local residents.

For example, our local Moreton Bay Regional Council still uses fresh quarry products for many of their projects when they could easily source recycled aggregates from us… and save ratepayers’ money! We’re confident this will change over the next few years, but if you’d like to help speed up the process, please use your voice and encourage them to switch to more sustainable options sooner.

Play a role in growing the circular economy

At the moment, nearly all the information out there puts the emphasis on recycling your waste, which is important. But we expect this will soon change to emphasise the importance of buying recycled products, too. It needs to so that we can all help reach the target of 80% waste recovery!

You can play a role by spreading awareness about local recycling options (like MBR) and demanding companies change their processes to use recycled products wherever possible. It’s often a more economical option, too.

Buying local recycled products also creates new jobs and industries within your suburb or region, which is great for the economy. Hopefully, as more people buy recycled products, we’ll see more businesses like MBR pop up!

Want to talk more about how concrete recycling works and how you can reuse the products? Connect with me on LinkedIn – I’d be happy to chat.

– Hilary Dold, General Manager