Following a number of high-profile cladding fires including the Lacrosse fire in Melbourne and the Grenfell fire in London, the world became very aware of the potential risks of flammable cladding.
In Australia, State Governments responded with investigations, task forces were set up, and the Victorian Government pledged $600 million to replace existing combustible cladding on numerous buildings with a safer variant.
The vast majority of cladding requiring replacement is large panel aluminium composite cladding. It consists of a core material - generally polyethylene - sandwiched between two pieces of aluminium. While figures vary, as much as 4.2 million square metres of aluminium composite cladding may be pulled off buildings and replaced in the coming years. This translates to 20,000 tonnes of panel which is 340,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.
For almost thirty years, Fairview has manufactured cladding products and been a leader in the industry. As the cladding crisis unfolded, Fairview realised there was a secondary, environmental crisis that would unfold as a result.
No recycling process existed for aluminium composite cladding. This meant that all the cladding coming off the buildings would, one way or another, find its way into landfill. Fairview set out to examine the full lifecycle processing of the aluminium composite panels and see what could be done to reuse the material and keep it out of landfill.
The result is Ecoloop. An industry and Australian first process that aims to 100% sustainably process the panels coming off buildings and create new uses for the components of the panels. The crux of the issue is that aluminium composite panels are just that - composite - and the materials need to be processed differently in order to be of further use.
To solve this, Ecoloop employs a complex delamination process which separates the aluminium from the polyethylene so they can each be repurposed into other products. Aluminium can be melted down and remade into other building products (even solid aluminium cladding), while polyethylene is commonly used in industrial piping and applications like tyre stops in car parks, park benches - there’s myriad applications for it.
But bringing an Australian-first process to market is no mean feat. There are significant costs attached, issues with securing the right facilities, and of course raising awareness and changing behaviours so that companies actually use it.
Fairview is raising awareness amongst key corporate clients and corporate building owners that participating in the Ecoloop process will go a long way to meeting their sustainability goals - and those of their investors. But being a purely ethical decision (there is no Government mandate as to how these materials are processed), often it comes down to the bottom line.
Fairview hopes to make the process as cost-effective as the alternative - landfill - to make the decision as easy as possible for building owners, builders, and any other parties that may be involved with the replacement of aluminium composite cladding.
No solutions like this existed previously, so there is also hope that over time Governments will see the value of end-of-lifecycle considerations when it comes to cladding and include the process as a requirement in the construction of any new buildings. Similarly, as the process is expanded it can be applied to more products than just cladding.
Ecoloop was borne from Fairview’s desire to provide a recycling solution to combat the negative perception directed toward non-compliant cladding and solve the environmental impacts of rectification works. To solve a problem that previously had no solution and explore a future-focused and responsible way of approaching the issue is the mark of a company that has sustainability at its core and innovation in its DNA.
Find out more about Fairview Architecture here.