With the ever-increasing need to lower our carbon footprint and ‘green’ our supply chains, recycled building materials are becoming more and more popular. The term ‘Recycled building materials’ could refer to the re-use of existing construction materials such as recycled concrete blocks and recycled weatherboards, or building materials created from recycled materials such as recycled plastic bricks or bottle bricks.

Natural green building materials are most often sourced from sustainable timber forests. But there is also a trend where innovative manufacturing processes are being used to produce materials without carbon emissions, such as concrete and steel.

Recycled construction materials

Recycled bricks

Image credit: Flickr

This refers to the use of bricks from an existing site (usually due to its demolition) in a new building project. Using recycled bricks can be a very good solution for a build, as it reduces the cost of materials and the carbon footprint of the project. Bricks are also a very sturdy building product, and can be easily reused in builds of all types.

Recycled timber

recycled timber
Image credit: Pixabay

The use of recycled timber is becoming more common, especially for projects such as public landscaping works, hospitality fitouts or cubby houses. Timber does tend to weather and age over time, so it is typically recycled into projects where aesthetics are not as important, or the designer is looking to achieve a more rugged look. The main benefit of re-using timber is the fact that no additional trees are cut down and the project can still achieve a warm, natural feel.

Sourcing reclaimed building materials

Second hand building supplies can be sourced from salvage yards. Below. are some examples of salvage yards in Australia. Alternately, you can use Google to find a local yard near you.


Recycled Building Centre


402 Liverpool Road, Croydon, NSW 2132

0407 500 054


Urban Salvage


190A Hall Street, Spotswood, VIC 3015

(03) 9391 0466


The Demolition Yard


55 Cavendish Rd, Coorparoo, QLD 4151

(07) 3397 0166


Vinsan Salvage


25 Katanning St, Bayswater, WA 6053

(08) 9279 3880

Building supplies made from recycled materials

Waste plastic building blocks

Waste plastic building blocks
Image credit: ByFusion/Pinterest

Building blocks made from waste plastic are a new solution to the world’s plastic waste crisis. Some of these blocks have been made by sourcing plastic from oceans and using machines to compress the plastic into the dimensions of a typical concrete masonry unit. In many ways they are superior to traditional masonry, as they can have better thermal and acoustic performance, and they have a much lower carbon footprint. There are many ways this material can be used, but one prime example is low-income housing, particularly in countries which face severe waste management issues.

Recycled steel

recycled steel
Image credit: steelsustainability.org

Steel is one of the most recycled materials on the planet. It is particularly suited to recycling because steel projects create a lot of scrap metal, which can then be collected, melted down and made into new steel products. It can also be recycled time and time again without degrading its properties. Recycled steel is often used in infrastructure projects as it can help keep costs down in what are typically expensive builds.

Building a house with recycled materials

It is certainly possible to build a house with mostly (or even entirely) recycled materials. There are many high-end home design projects that use building supplies made from recycled materials, or building materials recycled from other structures. However, there are also methods geared towards disadvantaged communities that lack access to typical building materials. For example, Earthship construction is a method of building that uses upcycled and natural materials such as earth-packed tires and bottles.

Earthship Ironbank
Image credit: Allan Bjerre

Here is a picture of Australia’s first Earthship, Earthship Ironbank by Martin Freney from Earthship Eco Homes.

Future developments in recycled materials

There is a lot of research underway about how to turn waste products into good, strong building materials. One example is the research into using recycled carbon fibre to create new engineered timber materials.

Engineered timber has become increasingly popular in today’s builds, with designers competing to build the world’s tallest engineered timber tower. However, the use of engineered timber limits building height far more than the use of traditional construction materials.

Washington State University (WSU) researchers and the not-for-profit Composites Recycling Technology Centre (CRTC) are currently working together to create new mass timber materials from heat-treated wood and carbon fibre recycled from Boeing airplanes.

carbon fibre engineered timber
Image credit: plasteurope.com

Inspired by Washington State’s recent building code change, which allows the use of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and other forms of engineered wood in buildings as tall as 18 storeys, the team is investigating ways to convert timber into a more durable, stable construction material.