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Use of Recycled Materials in Modern Construction

Over the last century, the construction industry has grown tremendously, with technological advancements playing a key role. With over 400 million tons of materials used each year, the construction industry is one of the most resource-intensive industries. The industry is estimated to consume 40% of the world’s raw materials, and their extractions negatively impact the environment. According to the World Watch Institute, the construction industry was responsible for 23% of air pollution, 40% of drinking water pollution, and 50% landfill mass. These figures are expected to rise year after year.

The construction sector has environmental impacts throughout the development life cycle, from the construction period to the operational period and demolition once the construction has served its purpose. Although the construction phase is shorter than the other stages, it impacts the environment (Ansah). The most visible form of pollution caused by construction is air pollution, which contaminates the air we breathe by releasing harmful and toxic particles. Airborne particles from hardwood used in construction and dust can travel long distances in a short period. They have been linked to asthma and possibly heart disease. Exposure to silica dust produced during concrete production is harmful to human health (“Impacts of Air Pollution from and on the Built Environment | World Green Building Council”). Construction sectors are one of the leading sources of greenhouse gases due to fossil fuels such as gas and diesel—methane and hydrofluorocarbons, when released into the atmosphere, exacerbating the long-term effects of global warming.

Furthermore, construction is a major source of noise pollution, affecting millions of people daily. The massive machinery used during construction generates loud noises that affect both workers and residents and lead to health problems such as ear irritation, cardiovascular effects, high blood pressure, and sleep deprivation. These health issues can affect people of all ages.

Another major environmental hazard caused by construction is water pollution. When it rains, construction site sediments such as diesel, oils, cement, VOCs, and other toxic chemicals may leach into underground water and pollute it. These sediments could be washed away and contaminate groundwater, which could be used for domestic purposes. If domestic animals consume contaminated water, they are at risk of developing health problems (“Construction Sites Pollution | Environmental Pollution Centers”). Pollutants contaminate not only domestic water but also affect recreational waters, increase flood risk, and reduce commercial fisheries. Construction site water pollution is underappreciated and has the potential to cause hazardous environmental problems.

Monetization of environmental impact/ CNY

(Yao et al.)

In addition, the construction industry contributes significantly to land and soil pollution. Housing is becoming increasingly important as the world’s population grows. As a result, construction activities are necessary to accommodate the increased population, resulting in a significant waste of plastic, wood, metals, and bricks. Improper waste disposal contributes to land pollution, which contributes to soil pollution. The consequences are dire, as eroding soil can contaminate water surfaces, resulting in land infertility, flash floods, and erratic rains (“Land Pollution: Causes, Effects, and Prevention | TDS”).

By promoting eco-friendly methods, the construction industry can help build a world that will improve the lives of future generations. Enabling sustainable construction refers to building with renewable and recyclable resources and materials. With the inexorable rise in the number of buildings worldwide, it is critical to select construction materials wisely. Eco-friendly materials such as bamboo, cement, and concrete are among the few that do not harm the environment whether they are used in production or discarded. Their main advantages are that they save energy and can be easily recycled, thereby preserving the environment.

Bamboo is a natural building material that grows in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, America, and Oceania and has been used for centuries. Its flexibility, rapid growth rate, availability, durability, tensile strength, lightweight nature, and unavoidable renewable nature make it highly desirable and eco-friendly construction (Yadav and Mathur). Bamboo can be used effectively as a sustainable material in building designs, and its flexibility and lightweight nature allow it to be carved and molded into any desired shape. Its immediate availability, high compressive strength and low weight make it an excellent alternative to concrete in constructing modern houses, bridges, and scaffoldings in areas where it is abundant reducing costs and promoting green energy (Yadav and Mathur).

Green building is a movement and concept that cement and concrete have steadfastly embraced. The sustainable materials stand out and are difficult to replace because of their durability, permanence, thermal qualities, flexibility, and indestructible nature (Balogh). According to research, 3.5 billion tons of cement are produced each year, with up to 622kg of CO2 emitted per ton, accounting for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Brogan). However, a group of MIT researchers has developed a new method of making cement production carbon-free making it lighter and cheaper. The thermal mass of concrete and its ability to retain stormwater protect the environment by preventing soil pollution flash floods and saving on home energy costs (Balogh).

Aside from using sustainable materials in construction, recycling waste products such as papers, glass, and plastics and converting them into construction materials contribute to promoting green energy and reducing construction pollution. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that approximately 300 million tons of waste products are produced each year (UN Environment Programme). Newspaper is a standard waste product discarded every day and accounts for at least 25% of landfill waste (“Building on Paper Waste: Newspaper Wood Resets the Paper Lifecycle”), but recycling it into wood saves energy and money while also promoting a greener environment. These papers are turned into wood by gluing each sheet of newspaper and then compressing it into tin layers until it forms a wood grain texture. Recycling paper into wood not only reduces construction pollution but also turns the wood into a sustainable construction material.

Plastic’s valuable properties also make it impossible to decompose fully, so it takes a long time to degrade, contributing to environmental pollution. Traditionally, roads are built with non-renewable materials such as sand, cement, and bituminous materials, but recycling plastic and incorporating it into asphalt results in a more stable, strong, and durable pavement (Sasidharan et al.). Plastic recycling reduces pollution, saves energy, and promotes a cleaner, greener environment.

Despite being one of the most common waste products, glass’s high intrinsic strength and low gas permeability have made it appealing in the construction industry. Recycled glass can make masonry blocks, paving stones, mosaics, and concrete supplementary materials. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University has worked on recycling waste glass into building materials such as architectural cement mortars, self-compacting and concrete paving blocks (Lu and Poon). These findings have prompted the incorporation of glass recycling into a wide range of concrete products. Aside from converting recycled glass into sustainable building materials, it has also helped conserve the environment by reducing pollution.

Works Cited

Ansah, Samuel. Impacts of Construction Activities on the Environment: The Case of Ghana. 2015.

Balogh, Anne. “Is Concrete Sustainable? Green Building with Concrete – the Concrete Network.”, 31 Aug. 2020,

“Building on Paper Waste: Newspaper Wood Resets the Paper Lifecycle.” Shanghai Mamas, 30 May 2016,

“Construction Sites Pollution | Environmental Pollution Centers.”, 2017,

“Impacts of Air Pollution from and on the Built Environment | World Green Building Council.” World Green Building Council, 2019,

“Land Pollution: Causes, Effects, and Prevention | TDS.” Texas Disposal Systems,

Lu, Jian-Xin, and Chi Sun Poon. “Recycling of Waste Glass in Construction Materials.” New Trends in Eco-Efficient and Recycled Concrete, 2019, pp. 153–167, 10.1016/b978-0-08-102480-5.00006-3.

Sasidharan, Manu, et al. Using Waste Plastics in Road Construction. 2019.

UN Environment Programme. “Visual Feature | Beat Plastic Pollution.”,

Yadav, Madhura, and Arushi Mathur. “Bamboo as a Sustainable Material in the Construction Industry: An Overview.” Materials Today: Proceedings, Mar. 2021, 10.1016/j.matpr.2021.01.125.

Yao, Fuyi, et al. “Evaluating the Environmental Impact of Construction within the Industrialized Building Process: A Monetization and Building Information Modelling Approach.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 17, no. 22, 13 Nov. 2020, p. 8396, 10.3390/ijerph17228396.


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