Recycling building materials after a demolition

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Trees are cut down, bricks are fired, metal is smelted; all to produce the building materials that go into a house. When a house is demolished, what happens to all this? By default, it all goes into landfill, never to be used again. It’s a terrible waste.

In keeping with our green principles, we tried to recycle or reuse our building materials where possible. But let me tell you, it isn’t easy! This is how we fared in Sydney:

  • Metal: Sims Metal will pickup old metal (corrugated roof sheets, pipes, etc) for free, and the matal is recycled. For some reason they didn’t take everything, but this was still the easiest stuff to get rid of.
  • Interior fittings: before the demolition started, we stripped out all the interior fittings worth keeping. Some of these were put on eBay (such as the dishwasher), but most went to a new home via Freecycle. (More on this in a separate post.)
  • Floorboards: our beautiful hardwood floorboards were bought by a local lumber yard for $800, and these will end up in a new home. Plan for half a day of backbreaking work to get the floorboards out. (They also gave us $200 for a pile of old hardwood, plus some doors and windows.)
  • Wood: we kept some of the better beams for use during building, but most ended up in the skip. In theory, wood can be chipped and used sold as garden mulch, but we couldn’t find a way of doing this on our scale. (Taking stuff in a trailer just doesn’t work when demolishing a house.)
  • Treated pine: considered industrial waste, the only option is landfill.
  • Kitchen: a tragedy, straight into the skip. Kitchens are very cheaply constructed, with mixed materials that don’t last well. Too poor condition to sell or give away.
  • Intact bricks: kept, to be recycled back into the building. Be warned though: probably only worth doing if lime mortar was used, rather than concrete. There’s also a lot of manual labour to clean 3,000 bricks by hand.
  • Broken bricks: plan on 10-30% of the bricks getting broken during demolition (old bricks are very weak). Luckily these can be recycled via Botany Building Recyclers (ask them for a recommendation on a skip company to pick up the bricks). Cheaper than a disposing of normal waste, and the bricks are ground down to form road base.

In all, three skips of waste left the building site. Better than it could’ve been, but not up to Michael Mobb’s standards.

The reality is that new materials are cheap, and labour is expensive. For most people, it’s simpleynot worth the time and money to recycle materials, easier just to start afresh with new stuff. No doubt this will change in time when resources get more scarce, but at least some practical steps can be taken now despite the challenges…

Any tips on recycling options we missed?