The importance of recycling aggregates in a sustainable world

The importance of recycling aggregates in a sustainable world

High-rise offices. Leisure facilities and campuses. Modular commercial properties. Home developments. Motorways. Walkways. Visit any city – or town, for that matter, in the UK – and there’s always some sort of construction underway. Read on to learn about recycled aggregates and how they can benefit construction.

recycling aggregates

That’s progress, right?

With development comes opportunity, prosperity. A chance to bring communities – people – together. To shape the landscape and improve the lives of everyone, locally, regionally, even nationally, depending on the scale of the project.

Earlier last year, it was reported that Britain’s construction industry was growing at its fastest pace for 24 years amid booming demand for homes and commercial property. This is after experiencing a slump in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. Today, the industry bounced back strongly, leaving supply chains struggling to meet demand.

Believe it or not, commercial construction is growing at its fastest rate since 1998, residential since 2003. Construction companies are, it would seem, swamped.

What about the environment?

To say that businesses have put the sustainability of their operations in the spotlight over the last few years is an understatement. In 2021, it’s not enough to practice a modicum of sustainability here and there, sustainability has to be an integral part of many commercial operations.

Blue-chips and SMEs are under considerable pressure to use materials that have been sustainably sourced. Why? Sustainability has become a primary selling point – something that customers actively look for.

Now, there is a larger conversation to be had around sustainability in the construction sector, however, for this article we’re going to focus on a popular and cost-effective solution to using concrete again and again, and again – recycled aggregates.

What are recycled aggregates?

To put it simply, recycled aggregates are repurposed, granular raw materials used in previous construction developments. These can include concrete, sand, bricks, gravel, crushed stone and asphalt.

Construction projects generate a lot of waste, regardless of size and scope of the project. By recycling aggregates, that would have otherwise been wasted, the construction sector produces less waste, promotes sustainability and, just as important, meets legal standards.

Fifty-seven million tonnes of recycled aggregates are used as raw materials every year. This accounts for 28% of the UK’s aggregate demand. In Scotland, the amount is twenty-nine million tonnes, or 20% of Scotland’s demand.

However, as impressive as these statistics are, the construction industry is under pressure to increase the volume of recycled aggregates to further promote sustainability.

The benefits of using recycled aggregates

Choosing to be more environmentally conscious and using recycled aggregates, rather than just sending materials to landfills by the tonne, is something that construction businesses across the UK are increasingly focusing on. There are a handful of distinct, attractive benefits. These are:

Protecting the natural environment

The construction industry has, for quite some time, been scrutinised for its consumption of so-called virgin (or raw materials.) By adopting more and more recycled aggregates, the industry is no-longer plundering the natural environment for resources, instead using recycled materials.

For example, let’s look at the use of recycled gravel. Why is it so much better? Quite simply, recycling gravel means less mining which, in turn, has less of an impact on the environment.

Changing landfill regulations

Over the last few years, landfill regulations have become more and more refined, making it difficult for construction businesses to dispose of materials on a large-scale. One of the more notable materials found in abundance in landfills is concrete. But why is this a problem?

Concrete takes up a lot of space in landfills. The more that’s deposited, the fuller landfills become. This can cause a build-up of leachate (contaminated liquid that is generated when water gradually passes through solid waste.) The problem with this is that leachate contaminates the earth, polluting vast swaths of earth and groundwater, leaving the environment stewing in a ‘chemical soup.’

In short, large landfills are polluting the earth. Recycling concrete solves this problem.

The same quality materials – Only cheaper

Recycled aggregates have the same quality as non-recycled aggregates. They’re also cheaper. Moreover, recycled aggregates are produced locally which, not only supports the local economy, but reduces the cost of transport.

How knowledge and planning can spur change

Project managers and contractors can pave the way for a more sustainable future for the construction industry by implementing sound organisation and project planning – no more it this ethos more pertinent than by using recycled aggregates.

The key to a cleaner, safe worksite is to adopt a proactive, solution-oriented set of procedures, all geared towards sustainability. This can include keeping regular inventory checks and site waste reporting. It can include conducting routine analyses of operations and the amount of waste produced and assessing how adopting stricter waste management can improve profit margins or partnering with an expert waste consulting or management service.

With a little knowledge, project managers can reduce site waste and save fiscal expenditure with careful inventory management, but does this optimise sustainability? Not really. If we’re focusing on fiscal expenditure, there are many factors which influence cost. These include:

The global economic outlook – Yes, this affects the cost of materials. How? Should oil prices rise, so too will the price of materials. Why? Businesses need transport to collect and drop-off materials to sites across the UK. Higher oil prices mean higher transport costs.

The ease of which materials can be transported – Some materials can be compacted, and therefore more can be transported from one location to another.

How materials are processed – Concrete, steel and glass are cheaper to recycle because they require less processing and therefore can be recycled over and over again without compromising quality. Conversely, paper and plastic are often more expensive to recycle because they could require special processing, for example removing ink.

There is, however, one big caveat to this: each of the three conditions above really only serves to benefit business revenue and profit. This is not what sustainability is all about. Sure, choosing to be more sustainable in your operations might have an added bonus of also being cost saving, but it is not the sole consideration for adopting different processes.

The circular economy

As the impact that our industry has on the environment becomes more and more pronounced, more and more sectors are turning to alternative economic processes than the traditional linear economy (take, make, waste.) This is where the circular economy comes into play.

What is the circular economy?

Simply put, the circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy. Rather than a take, make, wate cycle, it seeks to reduce waste, recover resources at the end of a product’s lifespan, channelling them back into production. This make, use, recycle approach is key to sustainability.

Why? It significantly reduces pressure on the environment, drives greater resource productivity, delivers a more competitive UK economy, positions the UK to better address emerging resource management in the future, and helps to reduce the environmental impact of production and consumption both in the UK and abroad.

Recycling aggregates is just one example of how the UK can grow sustainably in the decades to come. Reusing resources as long as possible is how we will avoid scarcity and work together for a better future.

OCL regeneration

Few businesses exemplify the importance of sustainable operations in the construction sector than OCL Regeneration. Their commitment to recycling waste generated from road maintenance which can then be reused is a clear example of the optimal use of aggregates in a circular economy.

Having found a way to treat and utilise the highly toxic asphalt waste containing coal tar (AWCCT), a material that is notoriously difficult and expense to dispose of, thereby reducing annual hazardous waste costs, the need for virgin products which reduces the carbon footprint helping to achieve climate goals, OCL Regeneration has positioned itself as a business at the forefront of sustainable construction enterprise in the UK.

If you’re interested in learning more about recycling aggregates, or the range of services offered by OCL Regeneration, from crushing, screening and mixing to surfacing and safely disposing of AWCCT, get in touch with OCL Regeneration today.