My family and I recently moved and decided to jettison a lot of the belongings we had been hoarding for years. The hoarding was, consciously speaking, unintentional. However, we had also consciously avoided dealing with the excess items we owned. And once we addressed the situation, we not only made some money selling or giving away some of our old items, but we also realized how many things we owned that we no longer wanted or needed in the previous ten years or so could be used and appreciated by others. Furthermore, it was a way to minimize the amount of refuse ending up in our landfills. Some of these items included an old printer, which one of our employees wanted for her teenage daughter, who now prints out a lot of her artwork. In addition, old dishes are now being used by a young group of roommates recently on their own, and so on.
The idea of reusing and repurposing is, of course, nothing new. Second-hand shops, for example, have been around for a long time. However, this practice has increased dramatically as inflation continues to rise, which makes goods more expensive; people start caring about their carbon footprint; and because many professionals, especially in the built environment industries continue to adopt more sustainable practices; for example, reusing, recycling and repurposing construction materials garners certification points when it comes to certifying “green” buildings. As civil engineers, we provide detailed descriptions of the materials to be used on a construction project in the form of project specifications as part of the construction documents. Therefore, we have the opportunity to specify construction materials that are being reused or recycled. They include:
- Demolished concrete, which can be used as pavement base and sub-base
- Piping, which, if still in good shape, can be used for storm drainage
- And even storm runoff, which can be used for irrigation and toilet tanks
Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This concept is of great interest to many of us who have children and see sustainability as a way to not bankrupt our children, with respect to the availability of natural resources, by ensuring that we do not infringe on their future needs by wasting valuable resources in our lifetime. The idea is sound and feasible, but it takes a different mindset than we are typically accustomed to. For example, so often, it is much easier to cut and paste old plans and specifications to save time and money in the short term, but what we need to do is think creatively and innovatively about each construction project we are involved in and, thereby, find ways to use recycled and repurposed materials. And one way to achieve this is by doing some research ahead of time and networking with suppliers and contractors who deal with demolishing existing construction sites and recycled materials. Then, assume and make it a professional challenge to use a certain amount of recycled materials for each civil project and then increase that amount for each future project. Future generations will be glad you did this!