New This WeekNewsletterSustainable Design

Working Toward a Circular Economy of Building Materials

LEED Fellow Kjell Anderson shares with the homebuilding community that single-use items are prominent within the current conventional design strategies in the United States, because almost nothing we buy is deconstructed, repaired or refurbished and then reused in buildings.

According to the U.S. green Building Council (USGBC), It doesn’t have to be this way, though. As stewards of the natural environment concerned about the effects of toxins and climate destabilization, we need to do better. As designers of the built environment, we have an opportunity to create a circular economy, where deconstruction feeds into a repair and refurbishment economy, and where new designs call for repurposed or refurbished materials that bring their previous stories and character to a new project. Instead of a material’s “end of life,” we should talk about its “end of use,” since a circular product may be reincorporated into many buildings over many years.

Materials in a circular economy are recyclable or compostable. Solid materials, such as many metals and unfinished wood, can be reused, recycled or composted. Most plastics are not recycled, despite labeling that encourages it. In addition, materials should be free from toxins, as these make recycling and composting difficult and hazardous.

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