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How Recycled Resources and Waste Materials Can Improve Construction and Protect the Environment

Construction and demolition produce an unbelievable amount of waste. According to the EPA's most recent report in 2017, the construction industry generated 569 million tons of waste.

This number is more than double the amount of municipal solid waste.

However, with an increased focus on sustainable building, it's now possible to recycle materials and repurpose waste into new products. Let's look at how recycled materials improve construction, which waste materials you can reuse, and the steps to take to begin recycling on your construction site.

What is Construction and Demolition Waste?

Construction and demolition waste is any unused or demolished material thrown away from a construction, renovation, or demolition site.

Examples of common construction waste are:

  • Concrete 
  • Bricks
  • Wood and lumber
  • Roofing
  • Drywall
  • Metal

Construction waste is usually heavier and bulkier than ordinary garbage, making it more challenging to discard or recycle. Since this type of waste constitutes such a large amount of waste in general, it's crucial to investigate ways of reusing and recycling these materials.

construction engineer worker,Civil engineer checking work at the construction site, House construction concept.

What are the Environmental Benefits of Using Recycled Materials in Construction?

When you decide to use recycled resources in construction, you'll be able to take advantage of several benefits, including reducing landfill waste and saving natural resources.

Decrease Natural Resource Consumption

According to the Future of Construction, an organization curated by the University of Waterloo, the engineering and construction industry is the leading consumer of raw materials in the world. In fact, there are 800 billion tons of natural resources dedicated to the construction industry.

Among the natural resources commonly used in construction are sand, rock, stone, timber, wood, sod, and clay. When construction sites are able to recycle these materials, they remove some of the burdens of processing or mining for them. It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing procedures.

For example, quarries and rock mining for materials like granite and marble can be detrimental to the environment. Their extraction changes the landscape of the Earth and may even lead to water and air pollution. Plus, they are non-renewable resources with an energy-intensive manufacturing process. Luckily, both of these materials are easy to reuse.

Another example is wood and timber. Even though they're renewable resources, the drying process that prepares them for construction can adversely affect the environment. Illegal logging and poor forest management also contribute to deforestation. By recycling these materials, it's possible to reduce the amount of timber cut down and manufactured.

Reduce Landfill Waste

Overflowing landfills are enormous contributors to chemical leaching, habitat destruction, and climate change. Special industrial landfills accept construction waste, but that doesn't prevent environmental damage altogether. 

Recycling materials instead of sending them immediately to the dump also saves space in landfills for non-reusable materials.

Recycled resources and waste materials can improve construction and protect the environment

How Can Recycled Resources Improve Construction?

Apart from the environmental benefits of recycling resources, you can also improve construction methods and boost your business with sustainable techniques.

Cut Costs

Recycling construction materials saves you money across many stages of building. You spend less on transportation of both new supplies to the site and waste materials to landfills. You also avoid landfill disposal fees, which can be quite expensive, depending on the volume and weight of your waste.

Hauling fees are cut, as well, along with the high cost of purchasing virgin materials. Recycling center fees are generally less expensive than landfill charges, and you can save even more if you separate your materials ahead of time.

Durable Materials

Many materials made from recycled resources are stronger than the original product itself. In particular, recycled plastic contributes to the production of many materials that offer cost-effective yet durable solutions.

One example is plastic lumber. Made from engineered recycled plastic, it has a longer lifespan than regular lumber and requires much less maintenance. It's common to use it for outdoor decks thanks to its weather resistance.

Green Certifications Can Lead to More Business Opportunities

Construction companies earn green certifications if they meet specific sustainability guidelines. These certifications give construction companies a leg up on the competition, especially as consumers continue to become more eco-conscious.

One of the most popular is a LEED certification, awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. This certification assesses sustainable standards by giving green points for saving energy, reusing materials, recycling instead of disposing, and using water efficiently. You can continue to earn green points to reach higher levels of the LEED certification. 

Once you begin earning green certifications, you can leverage them to boost your marketing and promote your company. They may even attract developers interested in undertaking large-scale green building projects.

Save Time and Labor with Onsite Recycling

Onsite recycling reuses waste generated on your construction site for another project on that same site. It completely eliminates transporting and disposal costs while also reducing the cost of sourcing new materials. 

You minimize labor by eradicating the job of loading and hauling, freeing up your employees' time for other tasks. It may even help you complete projects faster.

An example of onsite recycling is grounding waste concrete and using it as fill or grounding wood, drywall, or cardboard to use in soil.

What Construction Waste Materials Can You Recycle?

You can recycle the majority of construction materials, from wood and timber to concrete. Doing so can improve construction by lessening costs, saving time, and earning your company new business opportunities.

Examples of recyclable construction waste materials are:

  • Paper and cardboard 
  • Windows and doors
  • Appliances and fixtures
  • Rocks, earth, and trees
  • Glass

Let's take a closer look at several of the most frequently recycled waste materials.

Lumber and Timber

Wood materials offer an excellent chance for recycling and reusing. The CDRA found that 40% of the incoming waste to recycling facilities was wood waste. Since it's already common to reuse lumber and timber, it's easy to find resources on best practices.

You can return untreated waste wood to recycling centers to have it processed again and turned back into lumber, or grind it to make an engineered or composite board. 

Most frequently, wood waste becomes mulch and compost though it also comes in handy for animal bedding, temporary roads, and wood pellets.

recycled wood materials can help improve construction projects while also protecting the environment

Concrete

Concrete waste is one of the most commonly recycled construction resources. According to the CDRA, it's possible to repurpose recycled concrete as a road base, ready mix concrete, asphalt, soil stabilization, pipe bedding, and landscape materials.

Recycling concrete is cheaper than disposing of it. Because of its weight, the labor-intensive process of loading and transporting concrete waste to an industrial landfill is costly. Plus, tipping fees, based on weight, are expensive for concrete due to its density.

You also conserve the environment when you reuse concrete. The Earth Institute found that concrete is the second most-consumed resource on Earth and that the concrete industry accounts for 5% of carbon dioxide emissions. Recycling can help cut back on these environmental costs.

Metals

Metal is another frequently recycled waste product on construction sites. A few common reused metals are aluminum, copper, and steel. 

The American Iron and Steel Institute reports that North America recycles 80 million tons of steel each year and that when you purchase steel now, you're always buying recycled. Recycled steel often ends up in car manufacturing.

Copper recycling is popular, too, since it is 100% recyclable and doesn't lose any strength when reused, according to the International Copper Alliance.  

Recycling metals is easy because it's so common. It can help you save money on your construction jobs and earn you green points for certifications.

Asphalt

Asphalt recycling makes monetary sense since you save money in reusing it and receive a more durable product in the end. When you recycle asphalt, it's usually crushed and made back into tougher versions of asphalt called reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) and recycled asphalt shingles (RAS).

The National Asphalt Pavement Association found that there were 82.2 million tons of RAP and 1 million tons of RAS used in 2018. 

Recycled asphalt materials generate energy savings, too, since crushing and binding is much less energy-intensive than creating traditional asphalt binders from oil. 

Gypsum

Gypsum is the mineral found inside drywall, and it's crucial to recycle it for environmental reasons. According to the CDRA, disposing of gypsum in landfills can lead to sulfate leaching. This leachate may end up in groundwater and can also cause an odor. 

Recycled drywall frequently gets repurposed to manufacture more drywall, produce cement, and improve drainage and growth in soil, crops, and fertilizers.

Plastics

Recycling plastic and using repurposed plastic products offers several benefits to improve construction. The Modern Building Alliance found that builders prefer using recycled plastic products thanks to their low maintenance, cost-effectiveness, durability, lightweight, and design flexibility.

How Can You Implement Recycling into Construction?

Though it may seem daunting at first, it's not too tricky to set up a recycling procedure on your construction sites.

Check Local and National Regulations

First, you should check with your municipal waste department for helpful information about landfills and recycling regulations in your area. They can also direct you to recycling centers where you can find even more assistance.

There are plenty of organizations dedicated to promoting sustainability in construction. They have tons of resources on the local and national levels and can help you learn about best practices.

Track Your Recycling

Once you understand the regulations and procedures involved in recycled materials and construction waste, you may want to set up a recycling tracking system. You want to know exactly how much recycling you’re doing for green certifications.

Tracking can also help you find areas where you can increase your sustainability efforts. As you develop your recycling practices, keep up with separating materials, and keep them as clean as possible.

protecting the environment through the use of recycled resources and environmentally friendly construction practices

Use Standard Dimensions

A critical component of recycling construction waste is working with standard dimensions. You accrue less waste, and it makes it easier to repurpose recycled materials for other projects.

As a bonus, it also saves time and labor since there's less measuring, cutting, and custom work.

Practice Deconstruction

Deconstruction, also known as selective dismantling, saves materials for reuse in housing projects. It involves the careful dismantling of materials like cabinets, doors, windows, and countertops. Other resources available for deconstruction are:

  • Flooring Light fixtures, like chandeliers and sconces 
  • Working appliances, like refrigerators and ovens
  • Air conditioners
  • Architectural details, like bookcases and molding

When you use deconstruction, you benefit from tax advantages for supporting community and charity projects. The EPA also found that deconstruction helps to support local economic activities and conserve old-growth forests.

New Building Materials Made From Waste

Thanks to our ever-advancing technology, it's now possible to use construction materials made entirely from waste. Here are two of the most promising.

Newspaper Wood

This material is an eco-friendly way to replace wood. Made from paper and solvent-free glue, you can use it anywhere you would typically use wood. Plus, it's waterproof and flame-retardant thanks to a sealing process.

Plasphalt

Plastic is one of the most prolific pollution offenders, making plasphalt a smart way of recycling a harmful substance. In this material, plastic replaces the grain and sand usually found in asphalt to create a tougher product than regular asphalt and perfect for paving roadways.

Final Thoughts

Scientists predict that construction waste will almost double to 2.2 billion tons by 2025. With that daunting statistic, it's more important than ever to find ways of recycling and reusing materials. 

Fortunately, you can recycle a wide variety of construction waste, including wood, concrete, bricks, roofing, drywall, plastic, and metal. These resources can repurpose into shingles, asphalt, cement, soil additives, and much more. 

Plus, recycling construction and demolition materials has already benefited the environment. According to the CDRA, recycling about 583 million tons of waste has saved 4,300 acres of landfill space. Recycling can also reduce energy costs, minimize emissions, and cut back on the sourcing of limited natural resources.

Because the construction industry produces so much waste, it's a useful place to start recycling procedures. Sustainable construction methods that focus on recycling waste materials have the potential to improve construction by saving costs, offering more durable materials, and protecting the environment.

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