Putting plasterboard waste to good use
Creating a real circular economy in Europe, where natural resources are saved and nothing is wasted, means going beyond the theory to confront specific problems in individual sectors and finding the techniques to resolve them. This is now happening in the plasterboard industry.
Gypsum has been quarried and exploited in building and decoration for thousands of years, to make plaster, alabaster and cement. The EU co-funded Life+ project Gypsum to Gypsum is demonstrating how this valuable mineral can be recovered and reused.
Christine Marlet, Secretary General, Eurogypsum
Able to resist fire and reduce noise, gypsum is in growing demand worldwide in the manufacture of plasterboard. In Europe alone, more than 1600 million metres of plasterboard is used in building interiors every year.
Gypsum is also ‘indefinitely’ recyclable – known as ‘closed-loop’ recycling – because its chemical composition does not change.
Construction and demolition waste (CDW) currently accounts for some 30 % of all waste generated in the EU. Much of it goes to landfill, even though many of the materials could be reused, which is why the European Commission has prioritised CDW for recycling initiatives.
Material of the future
The project ‘From production to recycling: a circular economy for the European gypsum industry with the demolition and recycling industry’, launched in 2013, brought together 17 partners, led by the European association Eurogypsum. It received €1.7 million from the EU's Life+ environmental programme. ”The project was designed and driven by Eurogypsum,” says General Secretary Christine Marlet. “We are convinced in our industry that recycled gypsum will become a major secondary raw material in the future. But one obstacle is that buildings are currently demolished and not dismantled.”
Major plasterboard manufacturers, recycling and demolition firms took part in five pilot projects to explore decontamination, sorting, reprocessing and reuse of recycled gypsum powder in the production process.
In Belgium, for example, New West Gypsum separates the paper and powder in plasterboard for reuse. “Segregation of materials is becoming more efficient and easier to control,” notes John Rimmer of British demolition firm Cantillon.
The project proved that close cooperation is vital along the whole value chain, from demolition to production. Two of the five pilot projects reached the 30 % target for recycled gypsum, without any adverse impact on the plasterboard’s quality.
It also enabled recyclers and producers to agree scientific-quality criteria for recycled gypsum. With the recycling business expanding in several EU countries, this will help the gypsum sector to set reliable quality controls.
“GtoG is very important because it embodies the concept of the circular economy,” concludes the Commission’s DG Environment Director-General Daniel Calleja Crespo. “Some of the elements of this project could certainly be transferable to other materials. The construction sector is a big challenge because there are many different materials, so the most important thing is to be able to separate them. Innovation can play an important role.”