Concrete as a Recycled Material?

Concrete is a building material, which some feel, represents a modern and refined way of living.  Nothing says power and success like concrete and steel. All modern cities harness the amazing qualities of concrete to build vertically and horizontally in elaborate dedications to its stiff resilience. These same people, however, would be surprised to discover that the process to acquire the materials to make concrete is responsible for 5% of all man made carbon emissions. Many times, I feel products which cause more damage than good represent an old way of doing things and that an innovation is right around the corner. While concrete, as a product, has evolved to include many products which perform differently in different situations, concrete's resilience is overshadowed by its environmental cost. Much like the quest for a fully recyclable clean-burning fuel, the path to building a tough yet refined structure without environmental remorse is obstructed by traditional ways of thinking. Until now.

While the world and its contractors are comfortable with their trusted methods. New products are emerging in the material market which will lessen and sometimes eliminate the Eco-conscious burden we should feel. Over time, I have come to recognize bamboo as the ultimate sustainable building material short of shipping. Bamboo is slowly overcoming its stigma as a building material of the poor. The most prominent bamboo architect and engineer Simon Velez is having some success with mixing bamboo with some elements of concrete to appeal to a more modern consumer. Upon reading this, I sighed with disbelief as I realized that the only way to use bamboo for a modern consumer is to mix it with a very unsustainable product. I am the kind of designer who is always looking for improvements in materials to achieve a standard of eco-conscious  living that is analogous to a native ancestor walking through the forest barefoot. This may be tough to achieve, but our own standards as a global citizen make it more possible.

In my part of the world, most building products have traveled quite some distance.  So, in addition to recycled building materials, I have very few choices to find a suitable replacement to concrete. While clay is abundant locally, so is moisture. Ultimately, there are very few replacements for concrete in cities and infrastructure. The only way I could ease my conscious in regards to using concrete would be if concrete could be formed from recycled materials, locally or regionally. This is where the article I found represents a eureka moment for me. Once contractors find the initiative to demand environmentally responsible products in their projects, then old materials like concrete will seem, dare I say, traditional. Please click on the title to this entry to read about true progress in building sustainability.