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    Greening construction: the wasted potential of building waste

    Nicholas Rider

    Not only is it beneficial to minimise construction waste; it is also necessary. As we witness an increase in green projects and initiatives around the world, the issue of how this can be done becomes increasingly apparent.

    In Australia, the Sustainable Living Guide says we produce more than one-and-a-half tonnes of waste per person per year. A massive 40 per cent of this waste comes from construction and demolition, with up to 80 per cent of construction waste made up of discarded materials that have the potential to be re-used or recycled.

    In short, this waste has wasted potential.

    So, what are the materials that make up construction waste? And what can we do with them after they’ve fulfilled their initial purpose?

    A report from the Australian Government entitled Construction and Demolition Waste Guide – Recycling and Re-use Across the Supply Chain identifies a number of materials that often wind up as construction and demolition waste. Concrete, bricks, asphalt, different varieties of metal, timber, plastics, plasterboard, rock, excavation stone, soil and sand are just some of the materials resigned to this fate.

    But that might not be their fate for much longer. Lately, a number of projects and initiatives have begun to address this wasted waste potential. The most recent of these (and a local one at that) is ResourceCo.

    33a128b83cb1f9ba4ba1152174992bc9bf9b203f.jpgResourceCo.'s plant in Wetherill Park will be able to turn non-recyclable commercial and industrial waste into alternative fuel. Image: ResourceCo. 

    ResourceCo. is currently in the process of constructing a plant at Sydney’s Wetherill Park that will, once completed, be able to turn non-recyclable commercial and industrial waste into a type of alternative fuel. Not only would this constitute a beneficial re-use of underutilised materials, the resulting fuel – a solid fuel known as Processed Engineered Fuel (PEF) – would reduce the carbon profile of cement.

    The Wetherill Park plant, which is due to be operational by March 2018, is expected to turn 150,000 tonnes of waste a year into PEF. In doing so, it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, avoid soil and water contamination and conserve resources. Even prior to its completion, ResourceCo. is already planning a further plant in a yet-to-be-announced state.

    Another local example of a construction waste initiative is the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star ratings system, which encourages the minimisation of construction and demolition waste. The rating system consists of a ‘Construction and Demolition Waste’ credit which aims to encourage and reward management practices that minimise the amount of construction and demolition waste from base building and/or interior fitout works that is disposed to landfill.

    We’ve also seen projects and technologies overseas that acknowledge construction waste.

    house-in-rotterdam-made-from-waste-architectuur-maken_dezeen_2364_ss_1-1024x731.jpg
    This Rotterdam house by Architectuur was built using bricks from rubble. Photography by Ossip van Duivenbode

    One of these is a house in Rotterdam designed by Dutch architecture firm Architectuur Maken. The house was built using bricks made from rubble in an effort to divert construction waste from landfill and reduce the demand for virgin materials – in the EU, construction waste accounts for one-third of overall waste. The bricks were sourced from StoneCycling, a company specialising in bricks made from recycled materials with 15 tonnes of compacted industrial waste used to build the tall, skinny house.

    Yet another example is a California-based company called Watershed Materials who have developed technology to repurpose excavated waste on building sites. The technology allows the excavated waste to be turned into building materials, therefore eliminating the problem of waste disposal and bringing the materials full-circle in a process of re-use. The company’s onsite pop-up plant repurposes excavated material right at the job site to create concrete masonry units (CMUs) for use in the development. It also helps the environment by eliminating truck traffic, reusing waste, and reducing the need for imported materials.

    Watershed-Materials.jpgWatershed Materials' onsite pop-up plant that repurposes excavated material right at the job site to create concrete masonry units 

    With these examples in mind, it’s clear that people are recognising the potential of what was previously considered un-useable. As more initiatives continue to emerge, the benefits of recycling and re-purposing construction materials will only become more apparent.

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