Reinventing, recycling and reuse of building materials

Reinventing, recycling and reuse of building materials

Construction and demolition waste are one of the heaviest and most voluminous waste streams generated in the EU accounting for approximately 25%-30% of all waste generated. Demolition recycling is an important step in a building’s life cycle, as material reclamation and good recycling practices can divert over 90% of the building’s material from the landfill.

We at SpaceShapers have been investigating what materials we can recycle and what we can turn them into.

As the following list of materials demonstrates, the recycling and reuse of building materials is possible.

They are still very valuable if we repurpose them from site works.

Concrete, Bricks and Blocks

Research indicates that the average wastage level of concrete is about 4%, while brick and block is around 6%. By crushing them into rubble, concrete and brick can be recycled easily. In terms of re-use, once we sort, screen and remove its contaminants, we can use reclaimed concrete or brick in the concrete aggregate, fill, or road base.


England and Wales have banned the landfilling of gypsum and other wastes with a high sulphate content together with biodegradable waste since July 2005. This is to prevent the build-up of hydrogen sulphide gas which is both toxic and odorous. Gypsum is relatively easy to recycle, once we remove the contaminants: screws, nails, and paper. It can then be ground into a powder or turned into pellets. The resulting material is sold to manufacturers that use gypsum for different applications.


recycling and reuse of building materials wood

Wood waste from all sorts of building sites – including new builds and refurbishments – amounts to around 0.85 metric tonnes per year. This material is very easy to recycle: wood can be reused, repurposed, recycled, or burned as bioenergy. Resulting uses include pathways, coverings, mulches, compost, animal bedding, or particleboard.


The UK manufactures 750,000 tonnes of flat glass each year, three-quarters of which goes into glazing products for buildings. Currently, the recycled content of flat glass produced in the UK is very low between 20%–30%. There are various methods of recycling glass in order to make it fit for repurposing such as crushing, screening to remove contamination, air classification, optical sorting, size classification and washing and drying. We can use glass for pretty much anything including decorative materials, a fluxing agent in the manufacture of bricks and ceramics, insulation, containers and even sports turf applications.


recycling and reuse of building materials metals

Britain exports 15 million tonnes of industrial waste each year, half of which is valuable scrap metal. They collect, sort and then shred metals. Then, they melt and purify the scrap and they finally allow it to cool to solidify. Metals including steel, copper, and brass are valuable commodities to recycle. Like glass, we can repurpose them into a vast array of items such as appliances, furnishings, fixtures and lighting.


Approximately 275 million tonnes of aggregates are used each year in the UK as raw construction materials, but a lot of it goes to landfill. More than half (54%) of waste recorded as ‘Recycling and other recovery’ is ‘Mineral wastes’, while a further 12% is soils. Concrete aggregate collected from demolition sites is put through a crushing machine. Crushing facilities accept only uncontaminated concrete, which must be free of trash, wood, paper and other such materials. We can reuse aggregate as a base material under foundations, roads and railroads.


Up to 1.3 million tonnes of plasterboard waste is generated within the new-build construction and refurbishment sectors each year. One very simple way to recycle this material is for use as composting. We can add standard plasterboard, which hasn’t been contaminated by paint or similar, to an aerobic composting system and is likely to have a neutral or beneficial effect when we add it to the soil, especially clay soil.


According to National Geographic and the National Geographic Society, 91% of plastic isn’t recycled. All plasterboard recycling goes through a thorough process which takes away all of the added material which is left on the plasterboard when we remove it from the wall or ceiling. Generally, we use plastics in construction for pipework, interior fittings, window frames, scaffolding boards and kerbstones. We can repurpose them into packaging, textile fibre and clothing, street furniture to name only a few. There are numerous manufacturers who use ONLY recycled plastic materials.

Floor and Wall Coverings

Almost 600,000 tonnes of flooring is disposed of each year, of which less than 2% is recycled. A small quantity is incinerated but the vast majority, over 90%, goes to landfill. The key to recycling and reusing these products is to separate the composites. There are numerous simple methods where we can do this.

  • Fibresolve involves subjecting the wood fibre to a vacuum and pressurised steam with mechanical agitation at a high temperature.
  • The micro release uses microwaves to reclaim wood fibres from the resin.
  • Thermohydraulic processes separate the adhesive from the wood fibres.

There tends to be a lot of wastage when it comes to floor and wall coverings due to over ordering. Pairing this with the fact that we can recycle a lot of it afterwards, we can repurpose materials such as ceramic and terrazzo tiles, wallpaper, carpet, carpet tiles, vinyl and linoleum and laminate flooring into many things including road cone manufacturing and animal bedding material and, of course, ‘composite stone’.


In just 23 housing projects in the UK, the average amount of insulation wasted was 1.0m3 per 100m2 floor area. We can recycle insulation by returning materials through take-back schemes offered by manufacturers. However, reclamation and reprocessing can only happen after removing impurities such as nails and screws. Similarly, we can transform materials involved in insulation such as glass and stone wool, polystyrene, sheep’s wool, spray foam, polyurethane and fibreboard into concrete blocks, fibreglass board and fibreglass ceiling tiles.

Building reclamation yards are located everywhere in the country. It is fairly easy to ensure that you send the waste to the right place for recycling and reuse. The key is foresight in waste disposal policies which contractors put in place for all their projects.

Our sustainable building design team prioritises making your building fully responsive to its climate and topography, to be sure we are achieving minimal energy consumption feasible with a light footprint for the build. Contact us to learn more: 020 3092 6183 / 07972 80345

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