Where Can Recyclable Materials Fit Into Building Design


Society's steady transition toward sustainability has given way to incredible innovations in design. As values and priorities shift, architecture has adapted to reflect these changes, and the results are often inspiring. High standards of environmental compliance aren't restrictive, but they provide opportunities for exploration. 

As architects and design professionals contend with some of today's challenges, they've used recyclable materials to fantastic effect. These materials are a modern solution to waste, making something new with something old. Their integration represents a much-needed revision in outdated construction practices.

So how are these materials implemented, and what are some examples of their successful use in recent builds? We'll answer those questions and many more, examining the exciting methods of recycling and reuse that construction companies have adopted at the frontlines of the green revolution.

Recyclable Materials for Construction

Where Can Recyclable Materials Fit Into Building Design

Potomac Yard Buildings by Davis Carter Scott Design

To see the potential of recyclable materials in building design, the EPA buildings at One and Two Potomac Yard in Virginia are prime examples. They're both U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold certified, and each one contains an average of 27 percent recycled material. So which parts are reused?

It began with a C&D materials management plan from the project team, who, prior to development, determined which components would comprise the final build. The major groups of recycled materials they settled on were wood, steel, paper, cardboard, drywall, asphalt, concrete and concrete masonry units.

In choosing these materials, the project team diverted a considerable amount of refuse from landfills. Their ingenuity and resourcefulness won them several awards for green design, and the EPA buildings at One and Two Potomac Yard remain an outstanding achievement in sustainability and eco-friendly construction.

Beyond the EPA buildings, recyclable materials aren't uncommon in the construction process, though they're sometimes difficult to notice. These materials have seen use in many other projects in both expected and unexpected places. In fact, 71 percent of reinforcing steel comes from recycled materials.

Recyclable Materials for Design

Where Can Recyclable Materials Fit Into Building Design

Container Stack Pavilion by People's Architecture

Recyclable materials have a diverse range of applications in building design. These materials aren't limited to the overall structure of a large commercial property — architects and design professionals can integrate eco-friendly solutions that improve occupant experience and reduce the building's impact.

As an example, building professionals don't have to select the standard options of hardwood or carpets for their flooring. While reclaimed hardwood is available, they also have access to bamboo, wool, cork, glass and even rubber for alternative flooring materials. These types of flooring come with a long list of benefits. Glass tiles, for example, are non-absorptive and won't foster any mould or mildew.

Concrete has gained in popularity as well, attractive for its durability and ease of cleaning. As an environmental bonus, we have increasingly found new ways to incorporate recyclable materials into the mixture. In one example, Michigan State University tested the use of recycled glass as an aggregate, using it for flatwork and curb construction across campus. Creating workable building materials out of industrial waste is a step toward reducing a project's carbon footprint.

Lastly, we can't forget how many fun statement pieces can be built from recycled materials. Consider apartment buildings made from shipping containers or a pavilion created from a mesh of entwined bedsprings. If you're planning to incorporate the perfect conversation piece in a new design, recycling unexpected materials can lead to unique and sustainable ideas.

Achieving Ecological Harmony

Recyclable materials have proven value in the construction process. From design to development, wood, steel, concrete and other building components are accessible without harming the environment. It's possible to divert waste from landfills while channeling it toward something useful.

Whether it's a large project like the EPA buildings in Virginia or a statement design piece, resource management is critical to improving construction practices. More than that, resource management is critical to preserving the environment and conserving what materials are available.

Today, and moving toward the future, recycled materials will play an important role in both eco-friendly construction and the restoration of ecological harmony.

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