Steve Tomlin’s article: due to be published in Demolition & Dismantling Magazine later this year.
Transforming demolition and reclamation
The Demolition and Reclamation industries are inseparably engaged in a debate that will transform our respective sectors beyond all recognition in the next twenty years.
The irony may be that neither side is overtly aware that both stand on the threshold as the principal protagonists of the most important debate: how we become a sustainable society.
This is no vanity on our part and may sound incredible from the perspective of this moment in time.
Why are the Demolition and Reclamation industries so significant today?
It is highly unlikely that anyone in 1910 would have any truck with a description of how the late twentieth century would conclude. Similarly, it may be difficult to appreciate why the Demolition and Reclamation industries are such significant components of the sustainability debate.
Setting aside as temporary any of the recessionary issues that have affected the scale of the economy in the last year, the future for the demolition industry from now will be dramatically different from its experience over the last thirty years.
The cost of exhausting our raw materials
The world’s resources of raw materials are being rapidly exhausted and increasingly commanded by market forces in the name of the Chinese and other fast-growing economies.
We simply cannot obtain sufficient virgin material to replace the materials we profligately send to landfill. The cost of replacement is reducing our competitiveness and, as a nation, we cannot fulfill our treaty obligations to reduce our carbon footprint if we continue to concentrate on Recyclates and Energy Recovery from waste.
Not for one minute do I believe that the quantum change required is so imminent that demolition will be transformed overnight, but if we do not redirect our approach to material recovery we will be like the WWI Generals who denied the possibility the horse could ever be replaced by armoured vehicles.
Even if it takes thirty or forty years, these changes will come about or our economy will be completely bankrupted. This does not even consider the environmental disaster and consequences that change could mitigate.
Let me take these thoughts out of the abstract and address, directly, the issues.
The issues of Recycling vs Reuse
When we recycle and make claims of 80% plus achieved targets, allowing politicians to boast ‘green credentials’ and the general public to feel reassured by such utterances, we display a complete failure to understand the truth.
If you floor a steel frame building and save 99% of the volume of steel by sending the skipped materials to the local metal brokers, you recover only 7% of the embodied carbon. If you dismantle the steel for reuse then you recover 100% of the embodied carbon, less the costs of dismantling.
The politicians like the former process because they can tell the public they have achieved very high recovery levels which sounds good and wins votes from the gullible. In fact, it represents a deception justified by pragmatism and a belief that it is the only way forward. BUT, it doesn’t stop the problem of wasted embodied carbon.
We need to recover higher embodied carbon values
The industry needs a change of attitude and an altered perception and understanding of why we demolish and where we should be heading. Yes, we will continue to need bulk aggregate (recyclates) and inevitably some materials will be designated for incineration (energy from waste). However, we need to segregate more materials and recover higher embodied carbon values from construction materials.
The old chestnut defence of most demolition contractors that many buildings are not recoverable begs the question, and points in the direction, of one vital change that must be given priority: we need to design out waste in our future architectural and planning practice and build for deconstruction and material recovery.
In the meantime, as we plan for change ahead, we need to ensure pre-demolition audits become accurate and sincerely attempt to identify materials available for higher recovery.
Who will pay for this?
Again I hear the cry “who will pay for this?” and ”how can we overcome time constraints defined by clients unsympathetic or ignorant of the need to change traditional practice?”.
The reality is to improve voluntarily or face inevitable financial penalties from the European Waste directives in the form of waste disposal increased charges and the removal of existing recovery note credits.
MASCo’s Sustainability investigations
Before others object that all this is fanciful, MASCo Sustainability has just completed exhaustive two year long trial investigations into major demolition projects. Results show that by planning, pre-demolition auditing, and buy-back supply line strategies, we have saved one of the largest UK retail chains massive savings by ending traditional demolition practice.
The combination of future elimination of waste by end-of-lifecycle designing, and the changes briefly described above, means demolition will become primarily deconstruction and material recovery in the next fifty years.
Coping with commercial volumes, skilling up, going forward
The greatest challenge for the reuse and reclamation side of this equation is the inadequate capacity and capitalisation to be able to cope with the commercial volumes. The National Federation of Demolition Contractors (NFDC) has been exemplorary in its encouragement of the deconstructors to skill up and obtain nationally recognised qualifications.
Central government will need to address these problems of capacity and skill or all ambition will fall at the first hurdle.
This should be a huge opportunity for the big demolition players to establish deconstruction teams, provide skills training, and direct capital to the creation of material stockholding centres.
The demolition industry more than any comparable trade has transformed itself faster and more comprehensively in the last thirty years; the challenge now is to go further and advance again.
Steve Tomlin is the owner and Managing Director of MASCo Architectural Salvage and Walcot Reclamation. National Chairman of the Reclamation Industry Trade Association (RITA UK); Stakeholder in material recovery projects with BRE and Bio Regional; Contributor to the Sustainability Agenda for the 2012 Olympics; Public speaker on all matters of Environmental Sustainability; Principal advisor on matters of future commercial sustainability to one of the UK’s largest retailers; Advocate of Demolition by deconstruction.