Zero Waste Principles and Effect on Construction

When it comes to producing waste and contributing to our planet’s pollution, the construction industry is at the top of the list. In fact, in 2018, construction and demolition projects filled landfills in the US with up to 145 million tons of waste. And considering that the demand for new buildings and houses keeps growing, that number is sure to keep increasing. 

While it may seem that construction waste is inevitable, that’s only the case if we follow the linear economy principles. The circular economy and zero waste movement are looking for alternative solutions that lead to the reduction and complete elimination of construction waste. We still have some ways to go before achieving that goal, but some solutions are already here. So, let’s take a look at how the zero waste movement influences construction and where that might take us. 

What Is Zero Waste? 

Just as the name implies, the zero-waste movement’s ultimate goal is to eliminate all waste by following the circular economy principles. In the circular economy, there is no throwing away of used material. Starting from the design stage, all products are made with reusing, repurposing, and recycling in mind. That way, even once they are no longer usable, we can dismantle them and use the materials elsewhere. 

If you’re wondering who started the zero waste movement, it’s a little more difficult to tell. It seemed to have gained traction in California back in the 1980s, with the founding of the salvaging market, Urban Ore. This market showed the world that it was possible to divert waste from landfills and reuse it in various ways. 

But the movement truly gained popularity in the last few years, when it became clear that we need to change something — and fast. Now we’re trying to think up and implement different zero waste strategies in various industries. And construction is certainly one we’re most concerned about. 

Implementing Zero Waste Principles in Construction 

Eliminating waste from the construction industry is no easy task. If we want to succeed, we have to implement zero waste principles at every level, starting with the materials we use. So, let’s take a look at some creative approaches. 

Using Biodegradable Materials in Building Design 

Currently, the most used material in the construction industry is concrete. You’ll find it everywhere — in building foundations, on the roads and streets, and parking lots. But while its universal presence may not be strange, it’s certainly not good. Actually, concrete is one of the biggest polluters in the world, responsible for 4‒8% of the world’s CO2 emissions. As such, it goes completely against any eco-friendly movement’s principles. 

So, how do we replace something that seems so crucial for building? Well, by finding and using new, biodegradable, and non-polluting materials. Some interesting ones are already making their way into the construction industry, and those include: 

  • Cork 
  • Bamboo 
  • Timber 
  • Hemp 
  • Linoleum 
  • Mycelium 

All these are rather innovative solutions, but mycelium is particularly eye-catching. After all, it’s actually a part of a fungus, made up of interwoven fibers produced by spores. When combined with certain other substances, this entirely organic material proves rather sturdy and excellent for building. And the best part is that it can easily decompose once it becomes waste. 

While mycelium seems promising, it’s still too early to put all our hopes into it. The material is currently being tried and tested to see how much we can rely on it. But if it passes the tests, it might replace concrete in many building projects. 

Turning to Modular Building During the Construction Stage 

Conventional building involves gathering all the necessary construction materials, bringing them on-site, and then cutting and assembling them there. While that has its advantages, it’s also known to produce a lot of waste. Some of it is caused by poor weather conditions during construction, but most of the material is lost because it’s excessive, and collecting it on-site is difficult. 

On the other hand, modular building produces up to 90% less waste! That’s because, in modular construction, different sections of a building are constructed off-site in manufacturing plants. Then, builders bring these finished sections and assemble them on-site without having to transport any materials. 

Of course, there will be some excess material during the initial construction stage in the manufacturing plant. The difference is that manufacturers can easily gather it and use it for other projects. And that’s not quite as simple when working on site. 

Improving Waste Management 

Using biodegradable materials and modular building is sure to drastically reduce the amount of waste construction produces. Still, some will surely remain, and in such a case, we need proper ways to manage it. According to the zero waste principles, all excess material should be collected, repurposed, or recycled. And that’s impossible without good organization. 

Luckily, with the development of new technologies, we can easily track our waste production. Then, the information we gain from this tracking will help us organize better in order to streamline the waste’s separation and recycling. And as time goes by, these technologies are sure to become even more sophisticated, leading to better results. 

In Conclusion 

If any industry is in desperate need of change, it’s the construction industry. Its waste production is enormous now, but applying zero waste principles is sure to change that. We shouldn’t waste time, though — the ideas are already here, and we need to start implementing them as quickly as possible. After all, our planet is in danger. 

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