A report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency shockingly suggested that 30% of the waste in landfills comes from construction and home improvement projects.
This indicates that both construction companies and DIY remodelers alike have some way to go when it comes to achieving better levels of sustainability with their projects.
One of the best ways of reducing the amount of landfill waste you create in home improvement projects is by knowing what materials can be easily reused or recycled, and what materials will likely end up in landfills.
This article will explain exactly that, as well as offer some advice on how to keep the use of non recyclable products to a minimum.
Common reusable and recyclable building materials
The following building materials can be easily reused recycled – I’ll also include how best to reuse or recycle these materials because a lot of them cannot just be thrown into recycling bins:
You have two options when it comes to reusing or recycling bricks.
If you have a large number of leftover bricks (at least 50) and they are in good condition, chances are that you will be able to sell them.
Bricks are a sought-after building material among professional contractors, so as long as the bricks are free from cracks and crumbling then it’s worth contacting local masonry and construction professionals in your area to see if they are interested in buying them.
If bricks are in a less-than-perfect condition, then they can still be recycled at specialist construction and demolition waste recycling centers. Recycling bricks involves crushing them into a very fine powder and then reusing that dust to make new bricks. You can find your nearest construction and demolition waste recycling center here.
Wood, regardless of the type or condition, can always be reused or recycled.
Leftover lumber that is still in good enough condition to be used in building projects (this is usually the case if it is free from cracks, moist areas, or warping) can be donated to organizations like Habitat for Humanity. These organizations will resell the wood for you, making sure that it does not end up in a landfill.
Wood that is in poorer condition cannot be thrown straight into your home recycling bin but can be taken to almost any recycling center. These centers will have special sections for wood. This wood will likely be pulped and reused as paper or mulch.
If wood is treated, painted, or varnished then it will need to be taken to a hazardous waste center to have the treating removed before it can be recycled. While usually free for individuals (they charge businesses for this service) this can vary from city to city.
Most recycling centres accept drywall and will recycle it, rather than throwing it into landfill.
Gypsum, the primary component of drywall, can be used as an organic plant fertilizer. This is the primary way that it is recycled.
Please remember that drywall needs to be free of any paint, wallpaper or nails to be recycled in this way so please remove these prior to taking drywall to a recycling center.
There is always demand for good quality tiles, so if your tiles are in any sort of condition you should consider donating them to a thrift store.
If they are in poorer condition then they can be recycled at most recycling centers. Recycled tiles are crushed and their powder is used in filtration devices.
Building materials that are difficult (or impossible) to recycle
The following materials are either difficult or impossible to recycle and therefore you should think about ways that you can potentially sell or reuse them before opting for them as a building material:
Although glass bottles can be recycled, the way that glass building materials are treated in their production makes it very difficult (read: impossible) to recycle.
As well as being impossible to recycle, construction glass is also relatively difficult to reuse given the fact that it is generally cut to fit a specific space or purpose. Once removed, you usually cannot use it for anything else.
Imitation wood including composite and vinyl
Composite wood and vinyl flooring cannot be recycled due to the large number of additives in these products.
Although these imitation woods are usually cheaper than wood itself, you may want to take their lack of eco-friendliness into account when choosing a material for flooring, decking or siding.
Both oil, latex, and lead-based paints cannot be recycled, with the latter requiring extensive treatment before it can even be disposed of into landfill.
Even paint pots with dried on paint, and otherwise recyclable materials that have paint on them often cannot be recycled.
When working with paint, you should therefore do the following in order to minimize the amount of landfill waste you create:
Clean any residue out of paint pots
Have a plan to reuse or sell any leftover paint
Measure out how much paint you need for a project before you start so you do not end up with too much excess.
Reducing and reusing non-recyclable products
It’s very difficult to complete a large home improvement project without creating some landfill waste. However, even when using some unrecyclable (and difficult to reuse) products, there are a few ways that you can keep landfill waste to a minimum.
Separating recyclable and non-recyclable materials
All too often, recyclable materials end up in landfills because they are attached to non-recyclable materials. An example of this would be drywall (recyclable) which has wallpaper (usually non-recyclable) glued to it.
Since the majority of the commonly used building materials (particularly those used in smaller scale DIY projects) often are recyclable, you’ll likely be surprised by how little goes into landfill once you have taken the time to separate all the various materials you use.
Knowing what recycling facilities are local to you
A lot of common building materials cannot be recycled at your local recycling facility center, and therefore get thrown in general waste just because people are unsure of where they can be recycled.
It’s therefore a good idea to get yourself clued up on where your local specialist recycling centers are. You can find a list of these here.
Planning what materials you will need before starting your project
The most effective way of avoiding waste is to only buy materials that you will actually use on your project.
This is something that you will naturally get better at estimating as you get more experienced in these types of projects. If you are unsure, it may be worth either asking a professional contractor or experienced DIYer before you buy your materials. This can also save you money.
One final tip would also be to take a little bit of extra time to see what materials you can use that are themselves second hand or recycled. You can buy second hand or recycled bricks, metal, wood, and tiles, and this will indirectly reduce the amount of landfill waste created by your home improvement project.
About the Author: Volodymyr Barabakh is the Project Director of residential construction company Fortress Home.