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Sustainability can Start at Demolition

It is understandable that when people begin to think about sustainable design and construction buzz words like efficiency and new technologies come to mind. Often enough, cost is quick to follow. While it is true that every year equipment, design, and various technologies improve, it begs the question: what are we doing with the old? While manufacturers dictate the conversation of sustainability around what is new, there is immense opportunity to benefit the planet in the quieter, less profitable methods of green design within dismantling, retrofitting, and reusing what is already there.


Sustainable Construction

Let’s bring demolition into the conversation of sustainability. According to the EPA’s (United States Environmental Protection Agency) 2018 Fact Sheet, the US generated 600 million tons of construction waste in 2018. According to a 2018 article by Joe McCarthy with Global Citizen, “the US is on pace to run out of room in landfills within 18 years, potentially creating an environmental disaster […] The Northeast is running out of landfills the fastest, while Western states have the most remaining space.”


Taking a step back, the EPA defines construction waste, also referred to as C&D materials, as bulky, heavy materials such as concrete, wood (from buildings), asphalt (from roads and roofing shingles), gypsum (the main component of drywall), metals, bricks, glass, plastics, doors, windows, plumbing fixtures, trees, stumps, earth, and rock (from clearing sites). The United States already produces the most household waste by volume of any country. In 2018 the EPA found that the total waste from construction-related projects was double that of municipal waste from households and businesses. In addition to these startling statistics, waste generation has only continued to increase year by year. Landfills have been well documented in their contribution to global warming as they generate a mixture of methane gas and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus increasing the planet’s temperature. In addition, within the US, manufacturing accounts for almost a quarter of direct carbon emissions. The results of which we are continuing to see the repercussions of at an exponential rate in natural disasters throughout the world.


The sad truth of the matter is that no matter how efficient new technologies are the consequential emissions of C&D waste, along with the emissions created through the manufacturing of newer/greener equipment, is so great that the equipment is not guaranteed to even meet carbon neutrality throughout its life.


On the bright side there is a lot we can do to combat this! Dismantling rather than demolishing is the practice of reducing source material use by carefully dismantling existing buildings and areas of renovation; designing a building or renovation to support adaptation, disassembly, and reuse; along with prioritizing longevity. Retrofitting is the practice of preserving existing buildings or parts, using alternative framing techniques, and reducing interior finishes. Reuse is the practice of recovering used but still valuable resources such as doors, hardware, appliances, fixtures, wood cutoffs, de-papered and crushed gypsum, brick, concrete, masonry, excess insulation from exterior walls, paint, and packaging materials.



Sustainable Construction

The benefits of reducing the volume of C&D materials to be disposed of are immense. Architects, owners, contractors, and engineers have the power to create economic activities in companies that care about our planet and provide business opportunities within local communities. According to the EPA, in 2012 the recycling of C&D materials created 175,000 jobs. Reducing waste can decrease project expenses — by minimizing new product purchases, disposal, and transportation costs, and obtaining tax benefits from donating recovered materials to qualified 501© (3) charities. In addition to helping those within and around our construction projects, the benefits of thinking about sustainability starting at demolition will reach across the globe by reducing demand on disposal facilities and the associated environmental impacts, reducing the demand and environmental impact of extracting and consuming virgin resources, and conserving our depleting landfill space.

Before embarking on your next green project, consider investing some time to figure out how to preserve what is already there during your demolition efforts. Consider looking into the plethora of data and resources available on www.epa.gov. Finally, consider furthering your collaboration efforts as we all begin to do what we can for our planet.



Written By:


Sarah Buckley


Sarah Buckley

Plumbing Design Engineer








Sources:

Source Citation:

1. Nichols, Laurie M. “What Is Construction Waste and Ways to Reduce It.” Family Handyman, Family Handyman, 13 July 2023, www.familyhandyman.com/article/construction-waste/.


2. “Habitat for Humanity Restores.” Habitat for Humanity, www.habitat.org/restores. Accessed 1 Sept. 2023.


3. EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/smm/sustainable-management-construction-and-demolition-materials. Accessed 1 Sept. 2023.



5. “Where Will the Trash Go When All the US Landfills Are Full?” Global Citizen, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/us-landfills-are-filling-up/#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20the%20US%20is%20on%20pace%20to,amount%20of%20solid%20waste%20being%20produced%20is%20rising. Accessed 1 Sept. 2023.


6. BigRentz. “Bigrentz.” BigRentz, 30 May 2023, www.bigrentz.com/blog/construction-waste-statistics.


7. “How Manufacturing Can Raise the Bar on Global Climate Goals.” World Economic Forum, www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/06/manufacturing-industry-climate-change-goals/. Accessed 1 Sept. 2023.

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