Interior design

Exploring the Potential of Upcycled Construction Materials

July 20, 2023

While all forms of recycling are certainly better than a fate at the landfill, upcycling has significantly more potential for positive impact than downcycling.

Upcycling vs. Downcycling Differences

Recycling and Upcycling Construction Materials

Although there is a significant amount of waste generated in the construction industry, the good news is that many commonly-used raw materials can be recycled and upcycled indefinitely should stakeholders be ready to take on the initiative and partake in the circular economy through their construction waste management practices.

The following are examples of construction materials that can be recycled indefinitely. In most cases, they can also be upcycled as part of closed-loop processes with limited to no degradation in quality:

  • Steel: Although steel makes up only 2 percent of the total weight of materials used in buildings, due to the emissions associated with its extraction and final manufacturing, it accounts for 25 percent of their carbon footprint. In the United Kingdom, an estimated 87 percent of constructional steel is recycled, 10 percent is reused, and 3 percent goes to landfill.[4]
  • Aluminium: The recycling process for this metal requires only about 5 percent of the energy used to produce the primary form. According to European Aluminium, increasing the production of recycled aluminium instead of importing primary aluminium reduced CO₂ emissions between 2020 and 2050 by 880-1500 million tonnes.[5]
  • Glass: According to a Deloitte study, the correct recycling of all construction glass waste could help mitigate tonnes of landfilled waste per year and could save approximately 1.23 million tonnes of primary raw materials each year.[6]
  • Stone and stone wool: Stone is one of the planet’s most abundant raw materials. Basalt stone is a natural by-product of volcanic activity that is melted and then spun into stone wool fibres, which are closed-loop, fully recyclable materials when used to produce stone wool over and over again.

The following are examples of stone wool products that were disassembled and upcycled into new acoustic solutions ready for new projects and constructions:

Now more than ever, it’s important that we choose materials that have the potential for circularity and multiple service lives instead of exhausting the resources available to us.

Recycling – or, even better, upcycling – is how we can achieve this.