Assessing The Potential For Reuse And Recycling

Designers and specifiers constantly are faced with choices between alternatives. So that deconstruction and subsequent reuse and & recycling can be brought into the process of choosing, alongside cost, performance, durability etc, suitable selection criteria need U to be established.

Decisions about how and why to choose reuse or recycling, and how best to minimise the quantities of materials sent to landfill, will be influenced by the criteria used to evaluate the environmental impact of the alternatives. It will be important to ensure that the criteria for assessment and evaluation are agreed among the members of the project team, and with the client, early in the project.

This process will be especially difficult to follow rigorously since none of us knows how suitable today's building components and materials will be for reuse or recycling in 30 or 50 year's time. Furthermore, it is difficult to assess the potential for future reuse or recycling since there is no agreed methodology for such assessments. Many different and incompatible approaches are possible, for example:

  • If the mass of materials sent to landfill is used as the decision criterion, efforts to reduce environmental impact will favour increased recycling of high-density materials and sending low-density materials to landfill. (This is the situation at present with the UK Landfill Tax which is assessed according to the weight of material deposited).
  • If the volume of materials sent to landfill is used as the decision criterion, efforts to reduce environmental impact will favour increased recycling of low-density materials (eg timber, expanded polystyrene, insulation) and sending high-density materials to landfill (eg concrete). As the number of landfill sites available decreases, future pressure will be to reduce landfill volume, and taxes are likely to reflect this.
  • If embodied energy were the criterion, this would encourage the reuse and recycling of high-embodied energy materials such as steel and aluminium.

H If market value were the criterion, this would encourage the reuse and recycling of high-value materials (eg metals) and sending low-value materials to landfill (eg rubble).

H If toxicity were the criterion, this would encourage the reclaiming of materials known to pollute the ground, air or water. ^ Many such materials are already legally banned and more are likely to join this list in future.

U ■ If ability to biodegrade were the criterion, this would encourage organic products to be sent to landfill (eg timber) and non-degradable materials would need to be eliminated or fully reclaimed (eg many polymers).

CD iH

  • In practice, almost all the criteria above influence the assessment of what is best for the environment. Government policies will
  • need to change to reflect the current thinking about these issues. At present, it is far from clear what criteria will be used even 10
  • or 20 years from now.

p Decisions about how best to design for deconstruction to facilitate reuse and recycling are further complicated by needing to assess the ease with which buildings and their components can be taken apart and their constituents reclaimed.

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