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Turning waste into an opportunity

Don’t get stuck in the mud – waste management solutions that offer legal, sustainable and economic benefits for hydro-vac businesses.

by Riccardo Wong, Business Development Manager, CDEnviro

Despite being thoroughly researched and presented as safe, contractors who conduct non-destructive digging (NDD) for land remediation, infrastructure and other construction projects still face hurdles, including the safe disposal of the waste produced during underground boring projects.

This article explains that waste fluids, mud and clay don’t have to be a sticking point for successful operations.

With increasing investment in infrastructure across Australia, NDD, or ‘daylighting’, is on the rise.

However, contractors usually see NDD waste material as a burden.

In fact, hydro excavation operators now have a range of options to manage and process these by-products, reducing legal and environmental risks.

The legal and sustainable standpoint

Drilling muds are subject to Department of Environment and Heritage protections under the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011.

This Act sets out the need to (a) promote waste avoidance and reduction, and resource recovery and efficiency actions; (b)  reduce the consumption of natural resources and minimise the disposal of waste by encouraging waste avoidance and the recovery, reuse and recycling of waste; (c) minimise the overall impact of waste generation and disposal.

The 2018 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources, is also highly relevant in this situation.

In addition to these national policies, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are pertinent when dealing with NDD waste, particularly SDG 9 ‘Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation’ and SDG 11 ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’.

These requirements can be complied with by treating the waste by-products, dewatering them, and recovering reusable material, rather than resorting to landfill.

Losing weight and transport costs

Transporting NDD waste to disposal sites is costly, environmentally and economically, especially if a drying agent, such as sawdust, has been added, increasing the weight.

However, processing the waste on site is now usually a viable solution thanks to modern technology that requires only limited space to operate.

If it is dealt with in situ, transport costs and risks can be eliminated.

Limiting material that goes to landfill, if you can find a site to take it, also saves operators paying increasingly costly landfill levies.

Simply burying the waste while it dries out is not a sustainable option.

There is a risk of environmental pollution because of the potential for hydrocarbons to leach into the surrounding soil.

If it gets into the water table or other water courses, this could mean nearby land is also polluted.

Technological advances now allow for safe dewatering of NDD waste both on-site and off-site with modular dewatering units.

They have an added ability to extract any useful materials from the waste for reuse.

Reusable materials with further economic value may include sand, stone and organics. 

These are in demand as re-usable construction aggregate, introducing a new revenue stream for the NDD contractor for what was once a debit on the balance sheet.

With these new revenue streams, contractors can take greater and more sustainable control over the waste generated during operations.

They can lessen the environmental liability and put reclaimed materials right back into infrastructure development, minimising the disposal of waste and reducing the consumption of natural resources.

A step in the right direction

Managing waste is a global topic.

Whether it is better plastic waste management, recycling organics, paper or glass, every industrial sector is looking to increase the reuse and responsible disposal of material.

This global waste management movement is looking for the reuse potential in so-called waste materials.

If we look beyond what is perceived as a problem, we are inspired to see what opportunities exist in between.

NDD is intended as a less invasive means of excavation, a task that can now be more responsibly and sustainably fulfilled, with positive economic returns for the operator also possible.

We say what was once considered as ‘waste’ is fast becoming the new byword for ‘opportunity’.

For more information visit the CDEnviro website.

If you have news you would like featured in Trenchless Australasia contact Assistant Editor Sophie Venz at

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