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Last edited 01 Jul 2019
A recycled material is one that is adapted or transferred to a new use after its former use has been brought to an end, whether by accident or desire. The new use may be similar to the former use (e.g recycled bricks used in new construction work) or it may be completely different, e.g steel which was once a universal column or beam recycled into automobile panels.
Recycling is probably the best way for humans to make a positive environmental impact on the planet. It saves resources, reduces waste, minimises air and water pollution and, because fewer, new resources are consumed for manufacture, it reduces the amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere.
A building may be reconstructed if it has reached the end of its life or is deemed no longer to be useful. In either case, it may not mean that the building can no longer serve its original function. Rather, economics have dictated that a new building may bring more financial returns or a greater general benefit to the community. In either case, deconstructing the building may yield a rich harvest of materials that can be recycled, depending on the original construction technique. Metals can be recycled relatively easily, bricks, roof tiles and roof slates can be reused, but wood if it has been fastened excessively with nails or strong adhesive can be very difficult to remove without damage. (Wood fragments can be broken down into strands to make new structural timber components such as laminated veneer lumber (LVL)).
Materials that can be directly recycled include metals (especially aluminium and steel), glass, paper, cardboard, plastics, electronics, batteries, textiles and tyres. A more indirect form of recycling is the composting or other conversion of biodegradable waste e.g food and garden waste. Some standards offer recycling guidance such as ISO 15270:2008 for plastic waste and ISO 14001:2015 for environmental management control of recycling.
In recent years, general recycling has been greatly facilitated by recycling centres that allow the public to discard their waste responsibly rather than just throwing it into the rubbish to end up in landfill. Household collections also encourage recycling of a host of recyclable materials including paper, cardboard, plastic packaging, and food waste.
 Ending the linear economy
Recycling discards the old linear economy model comprising 'make, use and dispose'. In that system, the earth’s limited resources are, in the long run, wasted as the product usually ends up in landfill. Recycling (and reuse) break this mould, as once the life of a product in a first use is over, it can be recycled (or remanufactured) for a new life in another use. The mantra of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ replaces the linear model.
Recycling is part of the circular economy as in theory products like steel, aluminium and paper may be recycled many times over with little wastage at each reprocessing point. However, with complex goods such as computers this is more difficult as an old computer cannot be recycled into a completely new computer: some of its components may be used in new computers or else some of its parts may be recombined to create a new smaller electronic device e.g a tablet or a mobile phone perhaps. When those items come to the end of their useful life, they may be broken down to form other new products. This means that although at each stage of the remanufacturing process there is a degree of wastage, the components in the original products are put back into the circular economy and their life is extended with minimal wastage. In theory, this process can be repeated many times over.
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- Circular economy - transforming the world’s number one consumer of raw materials.
- Climate change act.
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- Design for deconstruction.
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- Impact of the sharing economy on construction craft labour and equipment markets.
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