When we show people who are new to the industry around a site, one area of questioning that always arises is around recycling. We like to engage with schools and the communities near our sites and there is, of course, an increased focus on environmental matters, hence the recycling question often arises.
“How do you recycle when there’s so much to sort? How can you recycle concrete? That’s all mixed up, how can you recycle that? That must be so difficult!”... and so on.
All very valid questions and ones that we are keen to answer so that people understand more about what we, and demolition contractors as a whole, are doing to improve our positive contribution to society.
First of all, we should explore the benefits of recycling materials that are extracted during a demolition project.
• Environmental impact – With so much waste produced by demolition projects, there is clearly a huge benefit to be derived as far as the environment is concerned. Greater recycling rates means less goes to landfill, there is a lower chance of onward contamination, lower rates of incineration and waste exports, and, perhaps the biggest benefit, fewer new materials need producing for construction projects, thus greatly reducing the carbon footprint of such projects.
• Financial – Disposing of waste materials in landfill is an expensive activity. At the time of writing it costs over £90 per ton in tax alone, ignoring the collection and sorting costs. Conversely however, despite there being costs involved in sorting materials, recycling presents not only an opportunity to save, but an opportunity to generate revenue. As an example, copper sells at thousands of dollars per ton. As previously mentioned, recycling means that fewer additional materials need to be brought in for construction works, again saving money.
By working closely with our clients, we are able to identify every opportunity to increase recycling rates and pass these savings on to them.
• Reputation – At Rye we are acutely aware that demolition and construction can be perceived as a wasteful sector and reputations can be tarnished. We have a strong focus on protecting the reputations of our clients, ourselves and the industry as a whole, so believe that by employing good practice and educating the market about how this challenge is tackled, both perceptions and support for our industries can be enhanced. In short, recycling is an activity that, if done well, offers great financial benefits to clients and demolition contractors alike, whilst also delivering a significant positive to society as a whole.
When seeing mountains of rubble interlaced with steel cabling and beams, timber, ceramics, soil and wiring, people are often surprised about just how much can be recycled relatively easily.
The advancement of technology has been a huge aid in helping demolition contractors become so efficient at recycling. At Rye we have invested in a variety of machines to aid this effort and now recycle around 90% of waste generated on our projects.
Sorting machines sift different size materials allowing us to separate out large masonry work from soil, whilst crushers and industrial magnets enable intertwined metal and concrete to be separated and re-used in appropriate applications.
Clean timber is easily extracted and used for bio-mass in power stations, whilst plasterboard is re-processed and turned into new plaster for future use. Some bricks and tiles can be cleaned and reused, whilst the rest is combined with other waste concrete and masonry work which is then used in foundations and piling mats for construction works. In essence there are few elements of a construction project that cannot be recycled and the rates continue to improve.
The industry is already very efficient at recycling and continues to look at ways in which to further improve performance in this area. There are challenges of course; some sites are not large enough to execute recycling on site so materials must be shipped before being sorted and there will always be opportunities to improve rates through technological advancements. One of the major challenges that must be addressed is around future construction. Recycling is only possible on materials that are recyclable. Therefore, we are keen to see a continued focus on the utilisation of sustainable materials in construction projects. Positively there is a commitment to this area across the industry and it certainly presents a focus for us at Rye.
We will continue to improve our tracking of recycling rates, invest in technology, train our staff and work with industry partners such as the NFDC (National Federation of Demolition Contractors) to drive improvements in this area and lessen our environmental impact whilst delivering financial savings for our clients.
Recycling is a continuous battle yes, but one worth having and one we are winning.