Recycled Forms of Building Materials
Metals – Steel and aluminum building elements are highly recyclable. Between 50 to 70 percent of the energy and pollution caused by steel production can be avoided by recycling steel. Remelting aluminum avoids up to 85 percent of the energy and pollution of aluminum manufacturing.
Plastics – Although most plastics are recyclable, the process is often difficult to accomplish. Different types of plastic must be separated, an expensive and labor-intensive task. Plastic recycling is not yet a viable option for building materials, since they are usually combined with additives, coatings, and colorants. Companies are working to solve the problem, however, and more plastic may be reused in the future.
Glass – Remelting glass offers few energy and pollution savings. As a result, little recycling of glass building products occurs.
Masonry products and ceramics – Recycling concrete, clay, and other similar materials are difficult, but it can be done. Masonry products are often crushed and then reused for granular fill in roads and sidewalks.
As you consider the building materials to choose for any construction project, ask yourself these questions:
Can I build with salvaged materials?
Products such as doors, cabinets, glass, and metal can be salvaged and reused. You can cut your costs significantly by using salvaged materials, and their quality is high.
Are my construction materials available from local sources?
Where possible, try to use local materials. That way you avoid excess transportation and environmental costs.
Am I using materials from renewable sources?
Renewable materials include wood, wool, plant fibers, and other resources that can be replaced within a few decades or less. Sustainable wood products are becoming more readily available.
Have I considered the long-term costs of my materials? Will my maintenance costs be high?
Even though a building product may initially cost more, it may be the least expensive alternative in the long run. Some materials, for example, need to be replaced regularly over time, while others are long lasting and maintenance-free. Paint that is twice as expensive but lasts four times as long may be a better buy in the long run. Make sure that you consider the life-cycle costs of your materials.