Millions of tons of construction and demolition (C&D) debris are generated every year. In the US, approximately 40% of the waste stream is C&D waste, and in Arizona, that number is around 25%.
Most C&D waste (90%) comes from demolition and the rest comes from construction. And this has created a big problem across the world, especially as a linear economic system has prevailed for the last half century. But on the other side of every problem is opportunity.
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In this case, there is an opportunity to make the construction and demolition process more circular, extending the life of valuable building materials. This shift, however, will require a more intentional approach to deconstructing established built environments and recycling usable materials back into the system rather than putting them in landfills. It will also require buy-in from various stakeholder groups: home and building owners, construction professionals, and architects and designers.
Changing from a linear system
The built environment accounts for 40% of global raw material use, according to the US Green Building Council (USGBC). This adds up to approximately 3 billion tons per year and only one third of all C&D waste is recovered and reused.
Most of these materials, however, can be reused. They can take on a form other than their original purpose, but keep them in circulation and out of the landfill. Light fixtures, furniture and other equipment in commercial and residential spaces can also be reused. For example, surplus and carefully used items can be donated to a local nonprofit, or skilled individuals and designers can repurpose items for resale or to create unique spaces.
While the built environment contributes tremendously to the health, well-being and safety of any community, most building materials are also major contributors to carbon emissions. From extracting and transporting raw materials to processing them into a usable product, installation, maintenance and eventual demolition and disposal, every step requires energy and produces carbon.
Typically, the extraction and production phases account for most of a product’s total embodied carbon, but the impact can be significantly reduced the longer the product or material remains in use – as long as it meets health and safety requirements. . Deconstruction offers a way to reduce the environmental impact of the built environment.
Rethinking traditional demolition
Demolition has long been the preferred method for renovation projects, both commercial and residential. It’s fast and effective, but it’s not always necessarily the cheapest. Misconceptions also remain about what can be reused.
In most cases, there is a lot of potential locked up within the four walls of a building. Typically, more than 75% of a building’s materials, furniture and fixtures can be reused. For example, when the Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale was undergoing a renovation of 200 of its rooms, they donated the furniture, fixtures, and equipment to Stardust, a non-profit organization that provides deconstruction services and operates retail recycling centers. used and surplus building materials. This saved them from having to pay someone to bring in these items, they benefited from a tax break, these items were able to have a second life at a local nonprofit, and it kept tons of waste out of the landfill.
In addition to environmental impact, a circular system also supports economic vitality, particularly in local economies and communities.
Stimulating the local circular economy
It seems that the more new products or materials are consumed and produced, the more this would contribute to economies of scale. But circular systems, in most cases, have been shown to stimulate deeper economic vitality.
The idea of a circular economy is to keep things in use or circulation for as long as possible versus the linear economy which is more about “make, take, waste”. Take, for example, a kitchen renovation project. The demolition route may employ a small crew for a few hours to a day, but the value of all potentially reusable materials is sunk into the ground when they are landfilled.
When buildings and homes are deconstructed, however, more people are employed throughout the process. It also generates a number of materials and items that have the potential to generate revenue again or be donated to a local nonprofit in need.
Following the path of a set of usable cabinets, for example. Once mined, these lockers can be resold locally through a retail reuse center (which also offers local jobs). The individual who purchased them may need to hire a local professional to install them or perhaps they will refurbish them and sell them at a profit. The buyer of the renovated cabinets may then need to hire a professional to install them creating a flywheel of economic activity.
Deconstruction and reuse can:
• Compensate for refurbishment costs by providing a tax deduction for materials removed
• Conserve landfill space
• Preserve historically significant materials
• Reduce the environmental impact of producing new materials
• Provide accessible and quality materials to the community
• Reduce waste disposal costs
Recognizing the value of preserving usable materials and taking steps to keep them in circulation can benefit the local community and the environment in the long run. But it will require the active participation of owners, general contractors, entrepreneurs, designers and architects.
Author: Marcus Lang is Stardust’s Business Development Manager.