Lismore could have the solution to recycling hundreds of thousands of tonnes of glass being stockpiled and landfilled across the country.
The ABC’s Four Corners program this week exposed the stockpiling, which industry insiders blamed on regulation failure, no viable market, and nowhere for the used glass to go.
The Four Corners investigation also exposed an organised network of transport companies sending waste by road and rail to Queensland to avoid paying the NSW landfill levy of $138 per tonne. Council areas within 150km of the Queensland border are exempt from the levy.
However, Lismore City Council, which is within 150km of Queensland, does not take advantage of the levy exemption and instead processes its own waste.
In fact, Lismore uses an innovative recycling system that crushes glass into a sand-like construction material.
The council’s commercial services business manager Kevin Trustum said they crush about 6,000 tonnes of discarded glass every year, including glass from four neighbouring shires.
“If a little rural council like Lismore is doing it, then there’s definitely hope for a lot of other people,” he said.
“If we’re doing 6,000 tonnes, in the metropolitan areas there would be staggering amounts that could be processed for use.
“In those city areas there would be plenty of outlets for using the glass in civil construction.”
Mr Trustum said the glass ‘sand’ had to be tested to meet NSW Environment Protection Authority regulations, and was then used by council to build road bases, for backfill material, and as bedding for water pipes.
The glass sand can also be stored for later use, unlike uncrushed glass that the EPA prohibits from stockpiling.
“We’re always looking at what we can do next,” Mr Trustum said.
“We’re doing trials with the university looking at using the glass sand in concrete and blending it with other materials.”
The glass processing plant was built in Lismore in 2013 as part of the wider $3.65 million Lismore Materials Recovery Facility that processes 15,000 tonnes of recyclables annually.
The council proposed building its own facility after previously sending the region’s recyclables to Queensland’s Gold Coast.
“We found out that up to 80 per cent of the glass we used to send to Queensland used to end up in landfill because it was contaminated or broken,” Mr Trustum said.
“Generally the recycling industry for glass likes to have whole bottles they can crush down.”
The council won the Civil Contractors Federation NSW Earth Award in June for its use of the crushed glass sand as backfill material in the construction of a sewage pump station.