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Construction industry

Recycled buildings


The construction industry has a poor record when it comes to waste management. Which is why researchers are trying to develop a 'sustainable' architecture, with buildings using recycled materials and designed so that most of the demolition debris can be recovered.



Un urgent need: the more systematic recovery of debris from building demolition.

More than 25% of the waste produced in Europe comes from the demolition or renovation of buildings and half this waste ends up on public tips. Just 30% of the materials used in construction are estimated to be recycled, when practices in some European countries show that as much as 90% is potentially re-usable.
What is more, the construction industry not only poses a problem when its products reach the end of their life-cycles, but also at their beginning. The industry is a huge consumer of raw materials, using six to eight tonnes of materials per inhabitant every year .

A dual approach
'Recycling requires a dual approach: the increased use of construction materials containing recycled materials and a more systematic recovery of the debris from demolished buildings,' believes Carlo De Pauw, general coordinator of the European research network on construction technologies.

The second of these is by far the biggest challenge, because of the long life of buildings. Many structures being demolished today were built in the first half of the 20th century, without a thought for such matters. Recycling, however, is an activity which requires upstream preparations, in the choice of materials and the way they are assembled. The attention we are now giving to the design of sustainable buildings - that is their recycling potential - will therefore benefit future generations.

On the other hand, the role of the construction industry as a purchaser of recycled or recyclable materials is much more relevant to the present day. To demonstrate the fact, one of the members of the European research action Recycling in Construction, the Centre Scientifique et Technique de la Construction (CSTC - Belgium), recently constructed an experimental building using these materials.


Waste from steel-making, aggregates from crushed computer screens and TV sets, recycled PVC and waxed cartons are all recycled materials used in the construction of this experimental house built by the Centre Scientifique et Technique de la Construction (Belgium).

Recovered but reliable
It uses various techniques. The walls, for example, are built with blocks of concrete in which the gravel has been replaced by waste from steel-making. The finish on the facing bricks is obtained using aggregates from crushed computer screens and televisions. The window-frames are in recycled PVC. The parquet floors are made out of the waste from waxed cartons used in the food industry. 'It is a demonstration house,' explains Edmond Rousseau of the CSTC. 'We have identified a range of 210 recycled materials which are already available on the market. These come from all over Europe. But in all cases these materials must clearly satisfy a series of technical requirements to ensure they bear comparison with traditional materials.'

Such an approach also presents a psychological challenge. The architects and building contractors are liable for 10 years for any defects which may affect their buildings - which explains a certain reluctance to use these new materials. To encourage the wider use of recycled materials which meet the strictest specifications, the CSTC is a partner in the ETN-RECY thematic network and is at present working on setting up an electronic fair. 'It is also necessary to organise the control networks required to ensure the origin of the recycled materials,' adds Mr De Pauw. 'It is better not to use concrete from a nuclear plant to build a house, for example.'


Jan Desmyter -
Edmond Rousseau, CSTC

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