Shoalhaven City Council is building a microfactory that will turn discarded mattresses and glass waste into ‘green ceramic’ tiles to use in sustainable holiday cabins and public toilets.
The facility, the first microfactory to be owned and operated by a local council in Australia, will be located at the West Nowra recycling depot where the waste material will be sorted and processed using technology developed by the UNSW SMaRT Centre.
Shoalhaven’s waste services manager David Hojem says Council had been struggling to accomodate a growing stockpile of used mattresses that were multiplying at the rate of up to 12,000 a year.
Coupled with the lucky co-incidence that Council had just built a glass washing and recycling plant at the depot, the SMaRT Centre’s trademarked Green Ceramics MICROfactorie offered the perfect solution.
“The University of NSW SMaRT centre designed a green ceramics machine where you mix crushed glass sand and mattress fluff,” Mr Hojem told Government News.
“Then you add ‘secret herbs and spices’ and it gets heated up and compressed into a marbelised tile that can be used for all sorts of applications.”
After checking out a demonstration machine used to recycle mattresses at a council site in Cootamundra last year, Shoalhaven successfully applied for a $500,000 grant from the NSW Environment Trust to help meet the costs of building their own.
Construction of the microfactory is set to begin late this year and Council hopes to have it finished by mid 2022.
Waste to value
Mr Hojem says the electric-powered machine should be able to process around 700 tonnes of material a year, with the transformation from raw material to finished product occurring within a day.
It will only require one staff member to run it.
“Our idea is to utilise those ceramic tiles within council and use it as a demonstration so if someone in private industry decides they want to set up a large factory in the area, we’ve got the material we can send to them,” he said.
Shoalhaven Mayor Amanda Findley says the facility will transform unavoidable waste into value-added materials.
“With the addition of the Green Ceramics MICROFactorie the Shoalhaven continues to lead the way in using innovative and emerging technologies to reduce the region’s carbon footprint and repurpose waste materials giving them a second life,” she said in a statement.
The UNSW SmartCentre has been partnering with government and the private sector to pioneer the ceramics technology since the launch of its Green Ceramics and Plastics Microfactories in 2019.
Smart Centre director Professor Veena Sahajwalla says the centre is focused on building circular economy partnerships between research and business to produce “a new generation of high performance, non-toxic biocomposites”.
Green ceramics produced through the technology have also been used in residential developments by property group Mirvac, which in March this year unveiled The Pavilions appartments at Sydney Olympic Park featuring flooring, tiles and artwork made from recycled glass and textiles.
The ceramics have also been used in a library and community space in Hunters Hill and to make rubbish bins in Canberra in a partnership with the ACT government’s City Renewal Authority.
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