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What Construction Materials Can Be Recycled

28 May 2021

As the world grows more efficient in using renewable resources, construction is attempting to follow this trend with the use of renewable materials across the industry.

Traditionally, construction has used the same materials for several years and only in the last 5 years has there been an increased emphasis on the need to use recyclable materials in construction.

Before we take a look at what materials can be recycled, what are the benefits from using recyclable materials:

  • reducing material and waste disposal costs
  • increasing your competitive advantage
  • reducing your CO2 emissions
  • meeting your planning requirements
  • complementing other aspects of eco-design
  • responding to and pre-empting changes in public policy, such as increases in Landfill Tax
  • responding to client requirements

So just what materials can you recycle:

Glass

Glass is typically recycled during a project when a building has been demolished or when there is a refurbishment taking place.

There are many ways that recycled glass from construction work can be used for other things: 

  • crushing
  • screening or remove contamination
  • air classification
  • optical sorting
  • size classification
  • washing and drying
  • decorative materials
  • fluxing agent in the manufacture of bricks and cement
  • insulation
  • containers
  • sports turf applications
  • abrasives

Certain site changes will need to be implemented such as:

  • providing staff with training in the handling of materials
  • providing dedicated storage areas to reduce the risk of damage
  • arranging for materials to be delivered at the time and place on site they are required to reduce the risk of breakages during handling and storage
  • arranging transport to move glass waste to cullet collection centres
  • keeping records to prevent over ordering and minimise stock held on site

Plasterboard

Plasterboard often accounts for between 10-35% of the waste on site and that could be down to a variety of reasons such as off-cuts, damaged stock, poor storage and handling, over ordered and disposal of unused materials.

There several different ways a site can recycle wasted plasterboard:

  • returning off-cuts to the manufacturer for recycling through take-back schemes
  • sending waste to independent plasterboard recyclers to make into new plasterboard and cement
  • sending waste to household waste recycling centres
  • using gypsum (gypsum is what makes the plaster) as a soil conditioner
  • using gypsum to make bathroom furniture moulding

Some of the plaster does pose limitations to your site when recycling it and your site should aware that:

  • old plasterboard removed in demolition and refurbishment projects can be contaminated with other materials and is harder to separate
  • specialist types of plasterboard, such as foil backed, cannot be recycled using current technology
  • plasterboard made from composite materials is difficult to separate - eg insulation bonded

The recycle has various end uses and just emphasis' the need to use recyclable materials going forward. Some of the uses for recyclable plaster are new plasterboard products via suppliers' take-back schemes, dry-lining board for walls, ceilings and floors, road foundation construction and bathroom furniture mouldings.

Plastics

Plastics are a common material recycled in households every day and lots of plastic is required on construction sites today.

Typically, the plastic used on sites today is for pipes, insulation, wall coverings and flooring and window frames. Although the most common waste source of plastic is actually the packaging itself!

Although plastics can be recycled, they do come at an eye-watering cost:

  • the transportation costs - plastics are bulky and expensive to transport and store
  • separation costs - different varieties of plastic and mixed plastics contain different dyes and additives which produce poor quality recycle unless separated
  • it can be cheaper and easier to use new plastic rather than recycled plastic
  • plastic can only be recycled once

Plastic recovered from site though can be repurposed for a number of different things such as packaging, landscaping, street furniture, bin liners and traffic management products.

Wood

The majority of timber can be recycled, with the vast amount of waste coming from fibreboards and tree branches.

Wood waste on construction sites mostly comes from pallets, crates, beams, windows, doorframes, doors, floorboards, shuttering, fencing and panels like chipboards.

There are three ways in which wood can be recycled from site:

  • manufacturing wood wastes
  • reclaimable and recyclable wood materials - from demolition and construction, including pallets, the wood is chipped for other uses, excluding architectural salvage
  • non-reclaimable and non-recyclable wood wastes - eg old fencing, laminated floor coverings and rotten windows and doors

Minor changes to the way your site works can make for wood to be recycled more effectively and efficiently:

  • allowing time for waste management planning
  • providing staff with training in waste reduction and health and safety
  • selecting a secure storage area to protect materials from accidental and weather damage
  • separating wood waste to avoid contamination
  • arranging transport for collection of waste

So what are the potential end uses for recycled wood:

  • chipboard, oriented strand board and fibreboard manufacture
  • bedding products for animals
  • play surfaces and pathways
  • remanufactured products - eg fibre composites
  • architectural components
  • landscaping
  • commercial products - eg logs, fuel chips
  • liquid fuel (ethanol and methanol)
  • biofuel for combined heat and power plant

Paper

Recycling paper is becoming an increased part of business due to the huge benefits it possesses.

So, what types of things can you recycle that are paper:

  • magazine publishing
  • newsprint
  • tissues
  • packaging
  • corrugated flutings

So what are the advantages and benefits of recycling paper on site:

  • reduces the need for raw virgin pulp
  • is equal in quality to paper from virgin forest sources
  • is readily available
  • demonstrates your business is committed to sustainable procurement
  • reduces the volume of biodegradable waste sent to landfill
  • reduces energy use and CO2 emissions
  • increases your business' environmental credentials and supports a corporate social responsibility agenda

Organic Materials

Organic Materials are green and food waste that can be turned into things such as compost and biofertiliser by processes like composting and anaerobic digestion.

You can recycle materials that have been composted such as:

  • Mulch
  • Soil Conditioner
  • Top Soil Constituent
  • Turf Dressing

Anaerobic Digestion produces renewable energy such as Biogas. Biogas can be used to:

  • to generate electricity
  • to generate heat to power on-site equipment
  • as excess electricity exported to the national grid
  • as an injection to the gas grid
  • as a vehicle fuel

So what are the advantages of using recycled organic materials:

  • reducing your overall materials cost
  • improves your reputation as a user of recycled materials
  • ensures that you comply with existing and future legal requirements

The use of compost can also:

  • Help farmers meet soil management standards required for the Single Payment Scheme
  • provide valuable nutrients to soil by improving yield
  • increase soil organic matter and water holding capacity
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