finance

Research project to create new materials from recycling waste products


Heriot-Watt University has joined forces with Livingston-based recycling business Brewster Bros to create new materials from the residual waste left over during recycling.

Recycled clay can account for up to a quarter of the output produced when excavation waste is recycled via a washing process. This by-product commonly ends up in landfill.

Now a £250,000 Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) aims to develop Scotland’s circular economy approach further by undertaking research and development into creating new sustainable products from waste streams.

The project will also include the creation of a hazardous soil treatment centre, the first of its kind in Scotland.

Professor Gabriela Medero, a geotechnical and geo-environmental engineer from Heriot-Watt University, will oversee the research.

“As pressure mounts on global governments to react to the climate crisis, future regulation and legislation in the waste industry must be shaped to facilitate the adoption of a complete circular economy,” she explained.

“Net zero targets are ambitious and will only be met through a reduction in the consumption of finite resources and a shift towards the use of sustainable products – landfill, a symptom of the linear economy, can only be reduced if waste can be more effectively recycled into sustainable and innovative products.”


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Medero continued: “Recycled clay is an exciting but currently unexplored material which could significantly reduce the waste we send to landfill each year, however many barriers remain that prevent waste from major industries like construction being better utilised, including a lack of scientific understanding about material composition and the criteria for its use as set out by governing bodies like the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).”

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The project will test the properties and behaviour of the recycled clay to prove it meets Building Standards specifications by performing a life-size case study on its performance attributes.

“Additionally, we will investigate the use of spent oil shale and incinerator bottom ash as secondary aggregates, producing research evidence in the processing and application techniques which we hope will allay any concerns about their future use,” added Medero.

Spent oil shale has been used as a general fill material in road construction for decades. However, like recycled clay, this abundant material could be utilised for higher value applications.

The use of incinerator bottom ash is currently constrained by regulation, so further research into this material and improvement processes could provide evidence to allow current restrictions to be relaxed.



The existing Brewster Bros recycling process

Family-owned Brewster Bros specialises in completing the circle between Scotland’s growing construction, demolition and excavation waste stream and its increasing demand for construction materials.

Managing director Scott Brewster said: “The more ambitious and innovative we become when creating new products from waste, the more technical knowledge we will require from experts in their field.

“This Knowledge Transfer Partnership will not only enhance our company’s capabilities and offering, but also provide a vast body of knowledge that will benefit the wider industry as we collectively focus on achieving net zero targets.

“A circular business model eases pressure on our country’s remaining landfill capacity and finite mineral resources, while helping our customers to avoid paying landfill tax and the aggregates levy – this will be even more important as businesses focus on a green recovery in the post-Covid era.”

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Brewster Bros’ West Lothian site will host the new hazardous soil treatment centre, which will use various remediation techniques to transform hazardous soils into a non-hazardous state, so that they can then be recycled and reused.

According to SEPA, during 2019, 1.17 million tonnes of soils were disposed of, totalling 39% of all waste sent to landfill.

As landfill bans, higher landfill tax and tighter environmental regulations are imposed, construction contractors will have greater need of such a facility for the safe processing of excavation waste in Scotland.

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership is funded by Innovate UK and the Scottish Funding Council. It will run for two years.

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