Select Your Strategies
Material Recovery

The reuse or recycling of building materials and components

When a building has reached the end of its useful life, typically it is demolished and its embodied energy is destroyed with it. In the US alone, approximately 1 billion square feet of buildings are demolished and replaced with new construction every year.1 According to studies, it may take up to 80 years for a new building to overcome the impacts that its construction had on climate change, while reusing an existing building can be nearly 50% more efficient with resources than building anew. 2 Preservation and adaptive reuse often are the most responsible option. There are various ways to reuse existing buildings:

  • Reuse of the entire building
  • Repurposing of components
  • Recycling materials

A study of recycling and building waste found that the potential savings through recycling was approximately 50% of the embodied energy.3 But one of the greatest challenges in material recovery is the ability to disassemble components and separate materials. Disassembly can be encouraged through:

  • Installing for easy separation (Design for Disassembly)
  • Selecting parts that are easy to handle
  • Using a predictable product configuration
  • Reduce variability

In addition to reducing environmental impacts, recycling can also produce economic incentives such as reducing landfill disposal fees, possible tax breaks, and profiting from product resale. Recycled materials can be more affordable, as well.

Whenever possible, evaluate the end-of-life feasibility of each material or component to create a closed loop system (cradle to cradle). Ideally, every material would either return safely to the earth (biodegradability, for example) or be recycled without decreasing in value.