Recycled concrete production not only meets a growing need for materials, it is also driving the sustainability agenda in construction.
Construction is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, with the production of concrete being a particularly significant source of emissions. Government figures indicate that from residential to commercial buildings, the UK’s built environment is responsible for 25% of UK emissions and the construction sector has been asked to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035.
However, there is a way to reduce the carbon footprint of construction projects: using recycled concrete.
Recycled concrete is concrete that has been used before and would otherwise be discarded as waste. It can be collected from a variety of sources, including demolition sites, road projects and building renovations before being processed and used again in a variety of applications, including new construction projects.
Using recycled concrete has several benefits, including:
- Reducing waste: By using recycled concrete, we can reduce the amount of waste that is sent to landfills and incineration facilities. This helps to conserve natural resources and reduce the environmental impact of waste disposal. Indeed, construction and demolition (C&D) waste accounts for a significant portion of the total waste stream, so using recycled concrete can have a significant impact on reducing waste.
- Conserving natural resources: Recycling concrete conserves natural resources such as sand, gravel, and crushed stone, as it reduces the need to extract and process new raw materials. This helps to preserve these resources for future generations and reduces the environmental impact of resource extraction. In many parts of the world, there are limited reserves of these materials, so using recycled concrete can help to extend the life of these resources.
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions: One of the biggest benefits of using recycled concrete is its potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The production of cement, a key ingredient in concrete, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for about 8% of global emissions. By using recycled concrete, we can reduce the demand for cement and, in turn, reduce these emissions. In addition, recycling concrete reduces the need for energy-intensive processes that can be significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Quality matters in recycled concrete
One of the key challenges in using recycled concrete is ensuring that it meets the same quality standards as new concrete. Recycled concrete can be more porous and weaker than new concrete. However, advances in recycling technology have made it possible to produce high-quality recycled concrete that meets the same standards as new concrete.
It is important to note that the environmental benefits of using recycled concrete depend on the specific circumstances of each project. For example, the carbon emissions savings will be greater if the recycled concrete is used in place of new materials that require a lot of energy to produce, such as cement made with coal-fired energy. However, even if recycled concrete is used in place of cement made with low-carbon energy sources, there are still significant carbon emissions savings to be gained.
In addition to the environmental benefits, using recycled concrete can also have economic benefits. Recycled concrete is often less expensive than new materials, which can help to reduce construction costs. In addition, using recycled concrete can help to stimulate local economies by creating jobs in the recycling and construction industries.
While using recycled concrete is a step in the right direction for reducing the carbon footprint of construction projects, it is not a silver bullet. To truly lower carbon emissions in construction, we need to take a holistic approach that includes a variety of strategies such as improving energy efficiency, transitioning to low-carbon energy sources, and reducing waste. However, by incorporating recycled concrete into construction projects, we can make a significant contribution to a more sustainable future.
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