Recyclable Building Materials Help Construction Companies Reduce Waste
Learn how recycled building materials help construction and demolition companies reduce waste, save on disposal costs, and benefit the environment.
The construction industry is notorious for generating massive amounts of waste. However, the tide is turning as more construction companies embrace sustainability. Using recycled building materials is an important step for the building sector to improve its environmental impact.
This article delves into the diverse array of recycled materials that are gaining prominence in the construction sector. It also explores the benefits and challenges of recycling in the industry, as well as how innovation and eco-friendly practices are slowly reshaping the way we build.
Recycling Challenges in the Construction Industry
Construction and demolition activities create more waste than any other industry in the world. Building projects produce an estimated third of the world's overall waste and over 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions. As a response, industry groups have called for designing buildings with recyclability in mind and developing codes and standards around the usage of recycled products.
Despite the potential for recycled products, uptake has been relatively slow in construction. Some of the most significant barriers to recycling in the construction industry include:
Contamination: Materials at construction and demolition sites often contain debris with contaminants like screws, glass, plastics, paper, etc. This makes collecting, sorting, and processing recyclable construction waste harder.
On-site separation: There is a lack of space, time, and resources for contractors to maintain proper on-site waste separation and diversion systems. Without clear recycling and deconstruction protocols, most materials end up in the trash.
Cost: Recycling comes at a price for equipment, transportation, special handling, and reprocessing facilities. These costs often make landfilling waste the cheaper option despite its environmental impact. The lack of markets for recycled materials can also reduce financial incentives, especially if the materials would have to travel long distances between supplier and buyer.
Logistics: Accessing recycling centers from construction sites poses transport complications. Moving heavy materials off-site adds time, cost, and emissions compared to simple waste removal.
Standardization: The absence of local standards detailing how to design for deconstruction or buy recycled construction products makes adoption difficult.
Awareness: Stakeholders may be unaware of recyclable options or how to implement material take-back programs some manufacturers offer.
It’s going to take coordinated efforts across project developers, contractors, architects, vendors, and waste managers to push through these barriers. Fortunately, we have the technology and the expertise to overcome these obstacles and make recycling a breeze.
Types of Recycled Building Materials
Many opportunities exist to use recycled materials instead of conventional construction products, with new ways being tested and implemented every day. The current use of recycled construction materials, combined with innovative deconstruction techniques, is just a fraction of our potential. We have the capability to turn our trash into treasure.
The construction industry is the ideal arena to address the environmental challenges of single-use plastic waste. Incorporating plastic waste can enhance the durability and longevity of construction materials while also diverting plastic from landfills and oceans.
Recycled plastic can be used in various construction applications, including roofing materials, insulation, and even structural components. Wood-plastic combinations can be used instead of lumber to make weatherproof decking, railings, and molding.
Concrete, a ubiquitous construction material, significantly contributes to environmental degradation due to its high energy and resource consumption. Recycled Concrete Aggregates (RCA) address this issue by reusing crushed concrete from demolished structures. This practice diverts waste from landfills and reduces the need for new materials. RCA exhibits similar structural properties to traditional concrete. These similarities make crushed concrete and asphalt from demolished structures a viable replacement for newly quarried aggregate in road-building projects.
Drywall waste presents excellent recycling potential in construction projects. New drywall scrap generated from offcuts during renovation can be collected, crushed, and processed. Afterward, it can be recycled to manufacture new drywall products. Technologies even exist to process full-used drywall sheets into recycled gypsum and recycled paper for next-generation drywall boards.
Even used drywall removed during demolition has recycling feasibility; its gypsum can be extracted and reused. Some manufacturers now offer drywall containing 96% recycled gypsum content from waste sources. These recycled-content drywall boards prevent landfilling of used materials and perform similarly to conventional drywall in metrics like mold resistance, strength, and moisture absorption.
The potential to reuse gypsum from old drywall shows it doesn't have to end up in landfills. By implementing widespread recycling and using recycled-content boards, drywall can become a sustainable building material.
Glass waste from damaged windows, beverage containers, and other sources has promising applications as a recycled material in construction. Crushing and melting down cullets from bottles and other glass products can transform them into stunning architectural features. From colorful tiles to sleek countertops, its versatility makes it a compelling choice for architects and builders aiming to incorporate sustainable design into their projects.
Used glass can be effectively cleaned, crushed, and processed into an aggregate material called “glassphalt,” allowing it to replace virgin quarried stone aggregates. Glassphalt can be a base material for underlying roads, parking lots, walking paths, and more. The crushed glass adds strength, stability, and reflective properties that enhance the paving performance.
Engineers have also developed methods to incorporate recycled glass into new insulation, cement materials, tiles, countertops, and glass fiber insulation. With increased commitment from contractors to specify recycled glass content in purchases of concrete, asphalt, and site furnishings, impactful landfill diversion becomes possible.
Reclaimed wood is a sustainable alternative to virgin timber, offering unique aesthetic qualities while curbing deforestation. Salvaged from old buildings, barns, and other structures, reclaimed wood reduces the demand for new logging and also repurposes existing materials. This type of recycled building material adds character and history to construction projects while embodying the principles of reuse and conservation.
Steel is a fundamental component in construction, but its production is energy-intensive. Recycled steel from scrap metal significantly reduces the environmental impact of steel production. It consumes less energy and conserves valuable resources.
The industry has found an innovative reuse solution for fly ash, a common byproduct of coal combustion. Fly ash enhances the durability and strength of concrete when mixed with cement. It helps site managers reduce new concrete production and manage industrial waste at the same time.
Wiring, a crucial component in electrical systems, can be reused in the construction industry through various sustainable practices. Copper wiring stripped from buildings during demolition finds new life in subsequent construction projects.
When upgrading electrical systems in a building, replacing all the existing wiring may not be necessary. Upgrading components such as outlets, switches, or circuit breakers may suffice, allowing the reuse of the existing wiring.
Asphalt is a common material in road construction. Asphalt pavement recycling has gained traction in recent years. Reclaimed Asphalt Pavement (RAP) involves reusing asphalt from existing roads, reducing the need for new raw materials. RAP not only conserves natural resources but also decreases energy consumption in the production of new asphalt.
Benefits of Recycling Building Materials
Recycling construction materials offers substantial benefits. One major advantage is that it simplifies waste management. Often, it leads to cost savings, making it economically sensible. With a few key initiatives, recycling building materials can benefit your company and the environment.
Using recycled building materials has a twofold benefit to the environment. First, it reduces strain on landfills, as less waste ends up in the trash. Second, it eliminates the need to process additional raw materials, conserving natural resources. Extracting and processing virgin timber and minerals creates air and water pollution (and takes far more energy than existing materials).
Using recycled materials can reduce overall building project costs. Recycled steel, for example, may cost less than newly manufactured products. Using waste materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill also provides cost savings on waste disposal fees. Many construction teams find it straightforward to salvage and reuse materials, enhancing efficiency. Finally, you can turn waste products you don’t have a use for into a new income stream. Other industries could find value in your waste or use it in post-industrial or post-consumer recycled materials.
Green building certifications reward the use of recycled materials. As sustainable construction becomes more popular, recycled products can help builders achieve high ratings from certification bodies. This, in turn, allows builders to market their projects as eco-friendly to environmentally-conscious clients.
Recycled Building Materials Boost Your Waste Report
Adopting recycled building products will significantly improve your project’s waste reporting metrics. Many building certification systems require you to disclose the amount of construction waste diverted from landfills. This includes how much concrete, wood, metal, gypsum, and other scrap materials were recycled or repurposed instead of getting dumped.
Choosing recycled over virgin materials is an impactful way to reduce waste sent to landfills and incinerators. When tracking overall waste, these recycled components count as diversion from disposal.
The more diverted recyclable building materials you use, the better your waste management report will look to sustainability certification groups. With enhanced effort and innovation from builders, architects, and material suppliers, the construction industry can work toward the circular economy model and achieve sustainability.
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