There are so many benefits to using recycled materials for construction projects, the real question is, why would some people choose not to? The answer is really down to ease of sourcing and habit. Contractors, like anyone else, have their preferred vendors and the certain ways they prefer to do things -- and a switch to other materials and other providers can simply be uncomfortable enough to provoke their resistance. However, whether you’re an investor, a developer, or a builder, it’s worth taking a closer look at all the recycled materials that are out there. Knowing how to use them wisely can bring a number of benefits to your projects, from cost savings to tax incentives.
What falls under the umbrella of "recycled building materials"?
This is a pretty broad category, and it encompasses any materials that came from another building site or another initial usage altogether. The term reused is a synonym.
Related terms in construction material reuse
These materials are often found on construction sites or teardowns. They served their original purpose or were unused surplus from an order where all the rest went into the project. Oftentimes these materials will simply be hauled away if no one shows up to make an offer for them.
Similar to salvage, but these materials may have already been broken down and transported off their original site. Reclaimed wood is a very big part of this category, especially since many people feel reclaimed wood looks better due to its age and patina. It’s also a potentially brilliant solution to a lumber shortage.
Diverting construction debris or surplus materials from landfill is a waste management benchmark for measuring sustainability and efficiency. The practice is referred to as waste diversion, or landfill diversion. The goal is to reduce the amount of waste and to find a usage for existing waste before it ever gets sent to landfill. Not only materials such as paper and glass, but also metal, floor coverings, insulation, and all types of construction and demolition (C&D) material can be diverted from landfill. Companies with a focus on corporate and environmental responsibility, as well as many communities, calculate landfill diversion rate as part of a focus on green practices.
Some products made from recycled materials may surprise you
If you only think glass, wood, and plastics are recycled, the true range of this answer will probably surprise you. Here's a partial list of building materials that can be reused or made from recycled resources:
- Timbercrete: a lighter form of concrete made with sawdust.
- Ferrock: a longer-lasting form of concrete made with repurposed steel dust.
- Newspaperwood: paper waste repurposed to wood.
- Denim insulation: yep, made of recycled blue jeans.
- Ecobricks: made of recycled plastic.
- Recycled cork: from bottle corks to flooring and wall panels.
Why would contractors try to incorporate recycled materials?
It’s smart to incorporate recycled materials into some aspect of a building project. The materials should be appropriate for the project, efficient to procure, and sustainable for the life cycle of the building. But working within those parameters, there are many benefits:
- Cost savings. It’s usually less expensive to salvage materials or buy leftovers from other contractors rather than buying all new.
- Environmental impact. With a continued rise in prioritizing environmentally friendly practices, many property owners and companies will look at this.
- City/community planning. Sustainable development is a goal for many cities and communities, so developers who can demonstrate how they will incorporate sustainable practices, such as using a percentage of recycled materials and minimizing landfill, may have an easier time getting buy-in from community groups and expedited permitting from city planners.
- Incentives. Additionally to goodwill and good optics, there are many green building incentives available at all levels of government jurisdiction. These come in the form of tax incentives, loans, bonus density, and even grants.
Is material recycling important for sustainability?
Unequivocally, the answer is yes. In fact, recycling and reusing building materials is the number one most impactful way to be more environmentally responsible in developing and building. With so many incentives and varieties of material out there, switching to use more recycled/reused material is simply a matter of changing old habits. That's never easy, but it’s worth it.