RMIT research has helped create concrete made with soft plastic in a redeveloped carpark – the first time the circular-economy technology has been used in an Australian commercial project.
Australians return 1.3 million pieces of soft plastic per day to REDCycle recycling bins but wrappers, cling wraps and plastic bags have been a problematic plastic to recycle.
With new legislation to phase out soft plastic exports taking effect just last week, this project highlights an innovative solution to the problem.
But an RMIT team of engineers have partnered with Victorian recycling organisations, Replas, RED Group and SR Engineering, to develop a concrete material made from lightweight recycled plastic.
RMIT’s Dr Jonathan Tran and his team worked with industry to include Polyrok – a plastic aggregate made from soft plastics – which was used in the concreting of Coles Horsham’s car park and a footpath in the City of Frankston.
RMIT collaborated with the three organisations to develop the mix methodology and material characterisation for the Polyrok material.
Dr Tran said his team were able to identify the best strategy to design the concrete mix, optimising the strength and acoustic energy absorption of the material.
“Glass can be easily recycled and turned into things such as sand replacement, but plastic is much harder,” he said.
“Mixing concrete and plastic is difficult, as the two don’t naturally bond.”
“Replas and SR Engineering came to RMIT because of our unique facilities to develop the best way to bond the two components together.”
Dr Tran said the opportunity to work with industry and create a considerable impact to society was a rewarding experience.
“Since the partnership, our industry partners Replas, Red Group and Coles have diverted over 1.3 billion pieces of soft plastic from landfill,” he shared.
Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, Trevor Evans, welcomed the collaboration to find innovative and practical ways to reuse soft plastics.
“There is huge potential and opportunity for infrastructure projects to help us build a more circular economy,” Assistant Minister Evans said.
“This is why the Federal Government has prioritised the development of new national standards and guidelines to encourage the use of recycled content in roads and other projects.”
According to Dr Tran, there is the potential for 105,000 tonnes of soft plastics to be converted into the dense plastic aggregate every year in a local factory in Melbourne.
The Coles car park in Horsham alone saw over 900,000 pieces of plastic packaging saved from landfill and incorporated into the concrete.
“In the future, we’re hoping to explore the production of sustainable concrete structures using a new large-scale concrete 3D printer at RMIT’s Bundoora campus,” he added.
The project was led by Senior Lecturer Dr Jonathan Tran from the School of Engineering with support from two research fellows, Dr Rajeev Roychand and Dr Thomas Loh.