In 2018, the construction industry in the United States generated 600 million tons of construction and demolition (C&D) waste — which is twice the amount of municipal solid waste produced. It’s also estimated that nearly half of global CO2 emissions stem from construction. With global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions becoming an increasing concern and focus worldwide, what can the construction industry do to be more sustainable? The answer may be in circular construction.
- Understanding Circular Construction
- The Benefits of Adopting Circular Construction
- How to Implement Circular Construction
- Sustainable Construction Services
- Environmentally Responsible Waste Management for Construction
Understanding Circular Construction
Most current construction practices are linear. This means raw materials are extracted from the environment and made into what they need to be for the construction project, such as two-by-fours, metal railings, or concrete blocks. The construction project is then completed, whether it’s a building, a stone wall, or something else. Should the structure need to be demolished, the materials are discarded after demolition. You might think of current construction materials as single-use items. Once they have served their purpose, they are just thrown away.
With circular construction, if a structure is demolished, the materials used in its construction would then be recycled and repurposed. Therefore, instead of natural resources being harvested to be used only once, they are used as long as possible. Once their useful life ends, they can be responsibly disposed of, repurposed, or recycled, depending on the product and the circumstances.
Circular construction aims to create building material loops. Instead of maintaining the current linear flow of harvest, consume, and discard, circular construction implements practices such as recycling, refurbishing, repurposing, upcycling, and repairing.
The Benefits of Adopting Circular Construction
The most significant benefit of adopting circular construction is reducing the consumption of natural resources and construction and demolition waste generated. However, there are other benefits as well.
1. Reduction in Material Costs
Costs of raw building materials are increasing across the United States and worldwide, making construction projects an even larger expense than in years past. Within the first three months of 2022, building material costs had already jumped 8% in the U.S. Additionally, companies must also pay landfill and disposal fees when products are thrown away. When items are reused or recycled, businesses can avoid these fees. Currently, demolition represents over 90% of the total C&D debris generation.
Recovered materials might also be able to be donated to nonprofit organizations, which can provide tax benefits to construction companies. Transportation costs can be reduced as well if on-site materials are used instead of having to bring in resources from an outside source.
2. Fewer Disposal Facilities and Less Landfill Space Required
If fewer items need to be disposed of, there can be fewer disposal facilities. Land can remain natural or be used for other purposes that can benefit both the environment and the population. Also, if fewer waste materials are produced, landfill space can be better conserved.
3. Reducing the Environmental Impact of Harvesting and Producing Raw Materials
Every time a natural resource is harvested, whether wood, metal, or soda ash and limestone for glass, there is a potentially negative environmental impact. From moving required equipment into the area to processes like mining, plants, animals, and their habitats are all affected. If already-constructed materials are recycled and repurposed, the raw materials don’t need to be harvested, thus reducing the harm done to the environment.
How to Implement Circular Construction
When it comes to implementing circular construction, there are three principles to keep in mind.
The first principle to consider with circular construction is to eliminate pollution and waste, beginning in the design phase of the construction process. Construction companies can examine how long certain building materials will last, what they can be used for now, and what they might become later. They might also consider how the structure can be sustainably demolished should the need arise and how the completed project will interact with the surrounding environment.
The second principle relates to materials and products. While the goal is to increase the amount of refurbished and recycled materials available on the market, some items are already frequently recycled. These items include wood, masonry, metal, and glass. However, using these materials requires construction companies to know they exist and choose to use them to complete projects.
This principle refers to how the products used affect the environment around them. For instance, how could an item used in a current construction project be reused or repurposed later? Another component to consider here is an item’s recyclability. Wood and metal are environmentally friendly and can be easily reused and recycled. Wood can be broken down and made into products like animal bedding and mulch. Metal is nearly infinitely recyclable since it can be melted and reformed into just about anything. Products like vinyl flooring, on the other hand, are much more difficult to recycle because of their chemical composition.
When a construction company is looking for products to use, it can keep this principle in mind. For flooring, for example, you might opt for recycled cork instead of linoleum or vinyl flooring.
Sustainable Construction Services
Creating a sustainable construction business means being open to new methods for completing tasks. Since circular construction involves repurposing items, that can be an ideal place to begin. Some products that can easily be reused include:
- Doors, door knobs, and other hardware can be reused in a different construction project or donated.
- Gypsum that is de-papered and crushed can be used as ground cover and mulch.
- Extra insulation from exterior walls can be added to interior walls for sound deadening.
- Packing materials can be returned to suppliers to be used again.
If items like doors or hardware show damage or don’t currently fit in with the aesthetic of a different project, they can also be refurbished. Doors can be sanded down and painted or stained so they can be reused. In addition to reducing the environmental impact, sustainable construction can drastically reduce costs.
Environmentally Responsible Waste Management for Construction
At VLS Environmental Solutions, we care about helping companies reduce their environmental impact and commit to sustainable waste management. Our environmental standards are high, and we work to establish positive relationships with our clients and their communities.
Our trusted and industry-leading waste-to-energy solutions provide an innovative option for sustainable waste disposal. We can convert non-hazardous waste into an alternative fuel for gasifiers and cement kilns. Our other services include:
- Recycling used oil
- Product destruction
- Wastewater treatment
If your construction company is looking to improve its environmental impact with responsible construction waste management, count on VLS. Contact us today to learn more.