Recycling Buildings: 10 Building Materials That Can Be Reused After Demolition
Construction and demolition waste are one of the heaviest and most
voluminous waste streams generated in the EU accounting for approximately 25%-30% of
all waste generated.
Demolition recycling is an important step in a building’s life cycle, as
material reclamation and good recycling practices can divert over 90% of
the building’s material from the landfill. RubberBond have been
investigating what materials can be recycled and what they can be turned into.
Concrete, Bricks & Blocks
Research indicates that the average wastage level of concrete is about
4%, while brick and block is around 6%.
Concrete and brick can be recycled by crushing them into rubble.
Once sorted, screened and contaminants are removed, reclaimed concrete
or brick can be used in concrete aggregate, fill, road base, or riprap.
The landfilling of gypsum and other wastes with a high sulphate content
together with biodegradable waste has been banned in England and Wales since
July 2005. This is to prevent the build-up of hydrogen sulphide gas which is
both toxic and odorous.
Gypsum is relatively easy to recycle. Contaminants need to be removed,
such as screws and nails, and separate the paper.
It can be ground into a powder or turned into pellets. The resulting
material is sold to manufacturers that use gypsum for different applications.
Wood waste from all sorts of building sites – including new builds and
refurbishments – amounts to around 0.85mt per year.
Wood can be reused, repurposed, recycled, or burned as bioenergy.
Wood can be used in pathways, coverings, mulches, compost, animal
bedding, or particleboard.
The UK manufactures 750,000 tonnes of flat glass each year, three-quarters
of which goes into glazing products for buildings. Currently, the recycled
content of flat glass produced in the UK is between 20%–30%.
There are various methods of recycling glass in order to make it fit for
repurposing such as crushing, screening to remove contamination, air
classification, optical sorting, size classification and washing and drying.
Glass can be used for pretty much anything including decorative
materials, fluxing agent in the manufacture of bricks and ceramics, insulation,
containers and even sports turf applications.
Britain exports 15 million tonnes of industrial waste each
year, half of which is valuable scrap metal
Metals are collected, sorted and then shredded. The scrap is then melted
and purified and finally allowed to cool to solidify.
Metals—including steel, copper, and brass—are valuable commodities to
recycle. Like glass, they can be repurposed into a vast array of items such as
appliances, furnishings, fixtures and lighting.
Approximately 275 million tonnes of aggregates are used each year in the
UK as raw construction materials, but a lot of it goes to landfill.
More than half (54%) of waste recorded as ‘Recycling and other recovery’
is ‘Mineral wastes’, while a further 12% is soils.
Concrete aggregate collected
from demolition sites is put through a crushing machine.
Crushing facilities accept only uncontaminated concrete, which must
be free of trash, wood, paper and other such materials.
Aggregate can be reused as a base material under foundations, roads and
Up to 1.3 million tonnes of plasterboard waste is generated within the
new-build construction and refurbishment sectors each year.
Standard plasterboard, which hasn’t been contaminated by paint or
similar, can be added to an aerobic composting system and is likely to have a
neutral or beneficial effect when added to the soil, especially clay soil.
According to National Geographic and the National Geographic Society,
91% of plastic isn’t recycled.
All plasterboard recycling goes through a thorough process
which takes away all of the added material which is left on the plasterboard
when it’s removed from the wall or ceiling.
In construction, plastics are generally used for pipework, interior
fittings, window frames, scaffolding boards and kerbstones. These can be
repurposed into packaging, textile fibre and clothing, street furniture to name
only a few.
Floor & Wall Coverings
Almost 600,000 tonnes of flooring is disposed of each year, of which
less than 2% is recycled. A small quantity is incinerated but the vast
majority, over 90%, goes to landfill.
Fibresolve – subjecting wood fibre to a vacuum and pressurised steam
with mechanical agitation at a high temperature.
Microrelease – using microwaves to reclaim wood fibres from the resin.
Thermohydraulic processes – separating the adhesive from the wood
There tends to be a lot of wastage when it comes to floor and wall
coverings due to over ordering, pairing this with the fact that a lot of it can
also be recycled afterwards, materials such as ceramic and terrazzo tiles,
wallpaper, carpet, carpet tiles, vinyl and linoleum and laminate flooring can
be repurposed into many things including road cone manufacturing and animal
In just 23 housing projects in the UK, the average amount of insulation
wasted was 1.0m3 per 100m2 floor area.
Insulation can be recycled by returning materials through take-back
schemes offered by manufacturers, but reclamation and reprocessing can only
happen after removing impurities such as nails and screws.
Similarly, materials involved in insulation such as glass and stone
wool, polystyrene, sheep’s wool, spray foam, polyurethane and fibreboard can be
transformed into concrete blocks, fibreglass board and fibreglass ceiling