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A collaborative project involving UNSW Sydney researchers will develop technology to divert up to 100,000 tonnes of paper and plastic waste in Australia into construction materials used to build roads.

UNSW, in partnership with State Asphalts, Closed Loop, Primaplas and Asphaltech, will work to convert mixed plastic and paper waste into value-added additives for use in asphalt. The project will aim to recover 3000 tonnes of material per year which would otherwise be exported as waste or landfilled.

The partnership received $2.98 million in federal funding through a Cooperative Research Centre Project (CRC-P) grant to develop the technology which will help transform the recycling sector in Australia.

Professor Nasser Khalili from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering said UNSW will conduct important research to address the lack of commercial technologies available to recycle paper and plastic.

“Australia disposes more than 4 million tonnes of plastic and paper waste each year at a cost of $600 million. Our current recycling infrastructure lacks capability and capacity, and instead relies on landfill and exporting waste,” he said.

“This project directly addresses the gap by developing technology to recycle these materials into materials which also have tremendous potential for commercialisation and international exportation.”

State Asphalts and Asphaltech will use the products for construction projects, while distribution partners Closed Loop and Primaplas will source waste materials and distribute recycled products.

Professor Khalili will lead the UNSW research on the project along with Dr Ailar Hajimohammdi and Dr Babak Shahbodagh from the School. He said the work will create technical leadership in the recycling sector, improve competitiveness through reduced infrastructure costs and create environmental benefits.

“The project will advance new pathways to addressing Australia’s recycling capability and capacity through developing value-added products to the competitive advantage of Australian road construction industry. The solutions developed will accelerate the transformation of plastic and polymer-coated paper waste to high-end, safe and marketable products with enhanced engineering properties,” he said.

The CRC-P program is an Australian federal government initiative to support collaborations between industry, researchers and the community. It is a proven model for linking researchers with industry to focus on research and development for practical use and commercialisation.