According to the United States Green Building Council, building structures account for 38 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, and 39 percent of the total energy used, nationwide. Environmental concerns have made the use of natural and recyclable resources a priority. Not surprisingly, green building’s use of recycled materials and efficient designs is becoming a popular alternative to classical building construction.
Building construction uses large quantities of natural resources; in fact, construction activities use 60 percent of the raw materials, other than food and fuel, used in the entire U.S. economy. And the nearly 170 million tons of annual building construction, renovation, and demolition derived wastes (commonly referred to as C&D materials) account for nearly 60% of the nation’s non-industrial, non-hazardous solid waste generation.
Salvaging building materials and reusing them saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing the need to extract and process raw materials and ship new material long distances; it also reduces the economic and environmental impact from waste disposal (for example, greenhouse gases generated from waste decomposition, the need to build new landfills or the emission of air pollutants from waste incineration). Also, some salvaged building materials are rare and sought-after, such as marble mantles, antique fixtures, old growth hardwoods, wide-plank lumber and knot-free, fine-grain wood.
Buying recycled-content materials helps ensure that the materials collected in recycling programs will be used again in the manufacture of new products. Examples of construction materials that can be readily found with recycled content include:
- Drywall (many utilize recycled paper and post-industrial gypsum)
- Insulation (including cellulose, mineral wool, fiberglass, and recycled cotton insulation)
- Plastic lumber
- Kitchen countertops
- Glass tiles
- Landscaping materials
- Carpet and carpet padding
There are also some recycled innovations used in the buildings such as Mirra Work Chair from Herman Miller. 42% recycled aluminum and steel, minimum number of parts, 96% recyclable by weight.