Breaking glass and breaking traditions: Innovation in the construction industry

Victorians use around 288,000 tonnes of glass packaging each year. This signals an opportunity for us to focus on research, development and infrastructure to use glass (and other materials) in new and existing products and processes.

Since 2016, Sustainability Victoria have granted the University of Melbourne $215,000 to investigate whether glass can be used to replace some of the essential elements of concrete such as the fine aggregate (normally sand) that bonds it together.

Replacing sand with glass would reduce the need for additional sand mining. It’s estimated the world uses 50 billion tonnes of sand each year – more than any other natural resource except for water. When sand is taken from river systems and transported, there are energy and ecological impacts.

Four construction workers pouring concrete on building site

Trialling in real-world conditions

The University joined the North West Program Alliance, Hanson and VicRoads as part of a collaborative research trial. A trial site was constructed on 18 March at the completed level crossing removal project at Reservoir Station. The research team used the equivalent of 344 glass bottles to create three different trial mixes. They used leftover glass from kerbside collection not suitable for recycling back into glass packaging.

Andrew Kovacs, Sustainability Team Lead for the North West Program Alliance is hopeful the trial will have a lasting impact on industry and our environment.

“Sand is a rapidly depleting resource, a situation amplified by the increasing levels of concrete consumption. This trial aims to provide a viable alternative,” he said.

The use of recycled materials in road and civil construction is on the rise, as industry and government look to innovate. This shift reduces the demand on extracting new materials from the natural environment and increases sustainability outcomes for construction across Victoria.

Influencing significant industry change

The research team will take six core samples, 28 days after the concrete pour. This testing will assess strength, durability and comparable measures to current concrete standards.

The results will inform VicRoads, enabling review of current concrete standards (Sections 610 and 703).

Professor Tuan Ngo, Director of the Advanced Protective Technologies for Engineering Structures Group at the University of Melbourne, is excited to see the results of the project.

“Our innovative research hopes to instil confidence in glass as a sand substitute in concrete. This in turn would lead to widespread use of glass in concrete applications in Victoria and across the country,” he said.

We’re hopeful this research project will provide a second life for waste glass.

Connecting to a circular economy

The project is a great example of government, industry and research working together to create a circular economy through innovation. It allows us to rethink the way we approach everyday products.

The Victorian Government launched Recycling Victoria, a new 10-year plan that will invest more than $300 million to continue to transform our recycling sector, reduce waste, create jobs and set Victoria up for a more sustainable future.

This article was originally published by Sustainability Victoria.

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Future infrastructure Infrastructure engineering

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