When things go up, they have to come down eventually, and there are two ways this can happen: demolition or deconstruction. What’s the difference? Demolition is one of the most hazardous processes to our planet, whereas deconstruction aims to reduce the environmental footprint through recycling and reusing materials.
Although demolition might not mean the destruction of the entire structure, it does mean that you will need to knock down walls, tear up floors, and destroy or remove furniture, producing an abundance of dust, debris, chemicals, and even hazardous materials, exposing demolition crews and neighborhoods to these dangerous substances. In other words, those considering or living near demolition projects have a lot of environmental impacts to consider.
One of the major misconceptions about waste in the US is that the majority comes from paper, plastic, and glass. However, that is not necessarily true. In fact, 25 to 30% of annual municipal waste in the US comes from the demolition waste produced from home construction and remodeling projects, and 130 million tons of waste are produced a year from solid waste. In fact, most of these demolition projects come from single-family homes, those of which that are full-house teardowns often send more than 50 tons of waste to landfills through demolition. Without recycling or reusing any of the materials from these projects, and with the massive influx of construction projects requiring demolition, the construction material percentage of annual waste is only increasing along with the levels of waste in the country.
The waste produced by demolition does not solely consist of large building materials but also of all the hazardous substances produced in the demolition process. Through an appropriate eco-friendly process many of these materials could meet the technical requirements for reuse and recycling; however, through the intense industrial process of demolition, these are all lost. With demolition, we ignore the natural resources—the forests, metals, gravel—we deplete from extracting more materials instead of reusing them. Especially if you are considering the fact that we often replace small homes with those that are much larger, we can always look for trying to conserve as much material as possible from the old home to not waste materials in extracting from natural resources. For these reasons, demolition produces an incredible amount of waste, and we must consider other options to save our planet.
With deconstruction, saving materials and not wasting them can already help reduce the environmental impact of construction projects on our planet. Materials can be recycled multiple times, producing conservation benefits and savings and diverting materials from landfills. For example, 95% of asphalt is recycled and reused, and if we consider the percentage of the rest of a home or teardown that can be repurposed in the same way, consider how much we can save. Even wiring, door frames, and screws can be recycled. There is a great deal of opportunity through deconstruction that will be extremely beneficial.
By reducing the amount of waste we generate, deconstruction can also diminish climate gas emissions and limit the use of landfills and incinerators. Yearly, the US buries approximately 33 million tons of wood-related construction and demolition debris in landfills, and it will release 5 million tons of carbon equivalent methane gas. To put this in perspective, consider that this number is equivalent to the yearly gas emission of 3,736,000 cars.
Deconstruction can help steer the construction and demolition industry away from consuming and disposing of patterns that pollute our country. It drives our planet towards sustainability and reusing patterns. Most importantly, we can preserve our national resources and protect our environment from the air, water, and ground pollutants produced by extracting, processing, and disposing of raw materials. With deconstruction, producing new materials from recycled parts will consume less energy, burn fewer fossil fuels, and produce fewer greenhouse gasses. Every ton of wood that we can reuse will allow us to avoid the creation of approximately 60 pounds of greenhouse gasses. We must strive to turn to deconstruction as a way of reducing the environmental impact of building projects on our planet.