Construction waste is a growing problem. According to a report in Construction, Demolition and Recycling, the 1.3 billion tons of construction waste that is produced globally each year is set to reach 2.2 billion tons every year by 2025.

Reducing construction waste

There are several factors that can help in reducing construction waste. Managing, minimizing and reusing construction materials is very much possible. Deconstruction, where a tear-down of a building takes place before demolition, allows building professionals to salvage reusable materials. Items like doors and windows, if in good condition, can be reused, sold or donated for other projects, giving these elements a new lease on life while diverting them from landfills.

Minimizing waste in building design

Minimizing construction waste can also happen in the building design stages. One example, as cited by the Environmental Protection Agency, suggests that adaptability, disassembly and reuse can be planned in advance.

Designing a building to support adaptation, disassembly and reuse can reduce waste and extend its useful life, providing economic and environmental benefits for builders, owners, and occupants, and the communities. This practice can also avoid building removal altogether, and allows materials to be easily, cost-effectively and rapidly taken apart and directed for further reuse. By designing for adaptability, disassembly and reuse, design practitioners are finding new opportunities early in the design process to reduce environmental impacts, conserve resources, and reduce costs.

The use of prefabricated building materials, where modular elements are produced in an off-site, controlled environment, can be specified in the design process. These conditions allow for less chance of errors, rework, or damage that may occur on-site, and also allow for better control of product inventory. As well, traditional construction may require additional materials that generate additional waste.

Adaptive reuse

A massive amount of waste can be saved through preservation, or adaptive reuse, of existing buildings. Adaptive reuse – where an existing building is repurposed for a use other than its original design – can also provide significant cost savings, while leaving historical elements of a building intact.

Another consideration is the embodied energy and carbon taken to produce the initial build. Embodied energy refers to the human and mechanical energy initially used to produce the build, which is permanently lost after a building is torn down. Similarly, embodied carbon reflects the greenhouse gas emissions that are emitted when constructing a building and its materials.

Recycling benefits

A more obvious element in reducing construction waste is recycling. Many of the common materials such as concrete, drywall and asphalt are commodities that can be recycled into new products. Under the LEED certification process, points can be gained for reusing building materials, recycling on-site construction waste, and using materials that contain recycled content. There’s also a business case to be made for recycling construction waste. Per Construction Business Owner:

Besides environmental benefits, recycling can have economic benefits for your business. Some recyclers charge less money to accept materials that can be recycled, especially if they are separated from other materials. Additionally, recycling or using material onsite can reduce your material hauling and disposal costs.