The importance of recycling in Construction projects

10 January 2022
By Lorna Vaurasi

There is no way to sugarcoat it – Building and construction have an extensive overall direct and indirect effect on the environment. In the process of construction, occupancy, remodeling, repurposing, and demolition, buildings utilise energy, water, and raw materials (which also consume large amounts of materials and energy). These realities have prompted the development of green building standards, certifications, and rating systems aimed at mitigating the effect of construction on the environment through sustainable planning and design.

Increased population growth and rapid urbanisation have created demand for new housing, urban environments and infrastructure. This has further led to a phenomenal increase in the amount of construction and demolition waste in the process of renovating, renewing or developing roads, buildings and bridges generated around the world. Adapting to rising stockpiles of waste and the yet growing need for raw materials has led governments to impose new environmental guidelines encouraging the use of recycled materials in place of natural resources, or for products that have a lower environmental impact (such as lower VOCs).

Waste is seldom good news but, the truth is most construction and demolition waste is rarely at the end of its lifecycle thanks to technology. Materials can be processed into an endless source of new materials suited to different purposes.

As per the Waste Account releases (under the Common national approach to environmental-economic accounting in Australia), Australia generated 75.8 million tonnes of solid waste in 2018-19, which represented a 10% increase over 2016 to 2017. More than half of it (38.5 million tonnes) was sent for recycling, while 27% was shipped to a landfill for disposal, representing 20.5 million tonnes. Of this, 12.7 million tonnes (16.8%) was construction waste, while households, electricity, gas and water services produced 12.4 million tonnes (16.3%) and 10.9 million tonnes (14.4%) respectively.

Importance of waste management in construction

At Remedial, we take recycling very seriously, and have over-arching and site specific plans that work to reduce our impact on the environment – today and into the future. We have recognised, that from both an environmental and economic standpoint, recycling materials is important in the construction industry.

From a macro perspective, our stance is although the initial cost of adopting more environmentally friendly operations can be high (such as the setting up of recycling facilities), in the medium to long term, the process of recycling provides a cost-effective solution that can drive a circular economy especially with the right scrap management program in place on-site. And more importantly, it will work to help ensure there is an environment for the next generation and the one after that.

Economic benefits

Recover materials for new products

Waste from construction and demolition comprises multiple economically significant materials many of which can be sold directly or used in new products construction or energy production for example; reusable aggregates, bitumen, brick, cardboard, concrete, metals, mineral wool, and wood.

In an ideal world, there would be multiple recycling stations, reducing the need to transport materials long distances (which sort of undoes the good of recycling). These stations would turn discarded material into a steady stream of raw materials for the construction of new roads, buildings, bridges and urban landscape.

Cost-effective potential

Opting in for construction waste recycling saves on disposal and landfill fees as well as the purchasing of new materials in some instances. In fact, in some cases, using recycled materials or repurposed building elements (old wooden beams from the building that was previously on-site as an example) can not only reduce construction costs in purchasing new materials, but also reduce transport costs, and therefore, transportation pollution.

As building rectification specialists, we have found time and time again, that it is more effective to recondition and repurpose elements on a building (say treating corroded steel as opposed to replacing it) than installing new ones.

Green Certifications

Despite increasing significance being placed on green construction, many companies are still not taking advantage of the opportunity. This means there is still a competitive and public perception advantage that can be gained from engaging in green building giving a competitive edge over other non-compliant construction companies. Whilst this is not our modus-operandi, we have seen the benefits our green approach has had when working with a number of companies in recent years.

However, being a responsible recycler is not all about company image and client fulfillment, it is also about the potential for your company to save some money.

Environmental and Ecological Benefits 

With the need to look after our environment growing in importance every day – as evidenced by news cycles and social media discussion – the time to implement change is now. We have been active proponents of environmental sustainability for well over 10 years, having held ISO 14001 accreditation for this time. We actively strive to minimise waste in as many ways as possible – from reducing what goes to landfill to reducing the amount of product wastage as well. Recycling has financial benefits for our bottom line as does reducing product wastage.

A few things to note about recycling.

Saves energy

Recycling construction materials decreases the consumption of natural resources and massive amounts of energy. For example; the process of extraction and processing of raw materials to produce plastic uses large amounts of energy, CO2 emissions are also generated through the process and then there is the transportation impact as well (from overseas). However, recycling can reduce this as fewer intensive processes are needed to turn them into usable materials.

Similarly, research has shown that reusing construction and demolition waste can save eight times as much energy and prevent carbon emissions by tenfold. If we reduce the need for energy consumption, in the end, the production of materials will come down, meaning production costs can fall, a win for all involved.

Decreases waste in landfills

With landfill filling up fast, we need solutions. Five years ago (2016-17) Australia was producing 67 million tonnes of waste a year! We need to consider proactive approaches to landfills and find alternative means of dealing with construction waste. Recycling this waste will repurpose it for future use and these materials can then be used for the same purpose again or transformed into something new.

Whilst the structural integrity, aesthetics, and overall costs of what we (and others in the industry do) there needs to be consideration to the waste we are generating. We encourage clients to select contractors and suppliers that embody environmentally conscious initiatives.

If you are looking for one, and need structural repair or a commercial flooring solution, contact the Remedial team and ask to speak to a specialist today.