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Three easy ways to repurpose construction material

Published: 11 September 2018 - Sarah Mead

Whether you’re remodelling an existing building, demolishing a structure, or engaging in new construction, there is going to be leftover debris. Don’t assume you have to dispose of it; it is possible to recycle a wide array of construction materials, even concrete debris. Here are three easy ways to repurpose construction material.

Identify items that are easy to reuse in new projects

Timber, such as for hardwood flooring, wood paneling, and laminated beams, is readily used in new construction, whether it is salvaging these pieces of a demolished building for use in the new or donating it to someone down the street who’d love to have native timber. Plumbing fixtures, doors, stairs, and electrical fittings can be reused in a remodeled building or for another project. Insulation is often disposed of but can be reused assuming there isn’t an issue such as mold growth. Clay and concrete roof tiles, metal cladding, and joinery should be saved for later reuse by someone, even if it isn’t yourself. Identify items that can be reused so that you can recycle them in the next phase of your project or donate them to those who would use them.

Consider recycling materials instead of buying new material

Construction debris and related rubble is one of the most labor intensive and costly removal tasks that contractors face. Choosing to recycle it saves everyone time and money. The question for many is how that can be done and one option to consider is gabions wall construction. You can fill gabion baskets with crushed concrete and other concrete debris to create economical retaining walls. Fill gabions with rubble, and you can use them to protect embankments and structures. They function well due to their weight and density, and in the case of embankments, you can use large pieces of recycled concrete in the project. Another option is using large pieces of crushed concrete for riprap revetments to control stream erosion.

Very small pieces of concrete can be used as gravel in new road construction. If the concrete is free of contaminants, it can be crushed and used as dry aggregate for brand new concrete. Some crushing facilities grind up the concrete to make “urbanite” as a substitute for landscaping stone. This material can be used in garden walls, raised beds, and patios.

Sometimes you can design a project to recycle things from the demolition project on site, while other items can be tossed into an appropriate recycle bin so that they can be recycled by a third party. For example, you can mulch untreated timber and dead landscaping for the new flower beds. Have a plan to return unused paint still in the container. Set up recycle bins so that plastics, cardboard, paper and aluminum can be collected and sent for recycling. Have a plan for salvaging bricks if they can be used in some way on site.

Know what must be disposed of

Not everything can be recycled, and a number of items simply must be disposed of. For example, items like fluorescent lights and any fluorescent lamp ballasts made before 1978 are hazardous waste and must be treated as such. Batteries, any roofing or wall membranes containing asbestos, and materials containing lead all need to be identified and removed as hazardous waste. Any refrigeration or air conditioning equipment may be classified as hazardous waste if it contained CFCs.

Recycling as much construction material as possible reduces the environmental footprint of your project. It can save you money on transport and disposal costs, while it may reduce construction costs. All it takes is careful planning from the start.

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