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Waste & Recycling October 12, 2022 12:32:07 AM

How to Recycle a 14-Story Office Tower

Waste Advantage
ScrapMonster Author
Even in the Netherlands, though, creating a truly circular economy is challenging.

How to Recycle a 14-Story Office Tower

SEATTLE (Waste Advantage): In recent years, concern about waste and the climate has led cities like Portland, Ore., and Milwaukee to pass ordinances requiring certain houses to be deconstructed rather than demolished. Private companies in Japan have spearheaded new ways of taking high-rises down from the inside, floor by floor. China promised to repurpose 60 percent of construction waste in its recent five-year plan. But perhaps no country has committed itself as deeply to circular policies as the Netherlands. In 2016, the national government announced that it would have a waste-free economy by 2050. At the same time, the country held the rotating Council of the European Union presidency, and it made circularity one of the main concepts driving the industrial sector across the bloc. Amsterdam’s city government has set its own goals, announcing plans to start building a fifth of new housing with wood or bio-based material by 2025 and halve the use of raw materials by 2030. Cities like Brussels, Copenhagen and Barcelona, Spain, have followed suit.

Even in the Netherlands, though, creating a truly circular economy is challenging. Nearly half of all waste in the country comes from construction and demolition, according to national statistics, and a stunning 97 percent of that waste was classified as “recovered” in 2018. But most of the recovered waste is downcycled — that is, crushed into roads or incinerated to produce energy. A 2020 report by the European Environment Agency pointed out that only 3 to 4 percent of material in new Dutch construction was reused in its original form, which means that trees are still being cut for lumber and limestone still mined for cement.

The nature of modern building materials is one of the trickiest parts of implementing circular ideas. In many cases, refurbishing things is so expensive, demanding time and expertise, that it is cheaper to simply buy new. “Part of the problem is that so many of the materials that get used in conventional construction in the U.S. in particular are laminated, they’re multiple assemblies,” Paul Lewis, a principal at LTL Architects in New York, said. “Insulation is a foil-backed polyurethane foam, right? So those become their own inhibitors to take it apart and reuse productively in another life.” So far, much of material reuse in construction is limited to boutique, aesthetically driven choices like selling weathered wood from old barns to use as interior cladding in hip coffee shops. And there are the additional expenses of finding somewhere to store stuff while it awaits its next life and upgrading old components to meet new demands and requirements.

Courtesy: www.wasteadvantagemag.com

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