Avoiding the Landfill: Upcycling/Recycling in Healthcare Design


There are so many methods to deal with construction waste these days that it can make your head spin. Have you really stopped to think about what happens to all of that stuff once it leaves your site? Did the contractor recycle the carpet tiles as per the specifications or did they just get thrown into the dumpster along with everything else?

On several projects, Array has completed for St Elizabeth Healthcare, we have worked with Messer Construction to minimize sending materials to the landfill. Coordinating the efforts with owner, client and design team is the best method of making sure every party is onboard to minimize waste in the landfill. Simple methods of up-cycle or recycling can aid in minimizing off-gassing and extend a product’s life. At the beginning of a construction project, there was a coordination meeting to determine what products are to be reused by the client, what materials to be up-cycled to a non-profit organization, what materials are to be recycled and what materials are to be sent to the landfill.

Up-cycling is a great way to extend the life of a product with little to no energy. Messer has reached out to Building Value, a local non-profit organization in Cincinnatti, Ohio that salvages reusable materials for sales to the public. Many items from the project construction site are salvaged and donated to Building Value with little to no cost to the project. It saves money in dumpster fees and could bring potential tax deductions to the client. Up-cycling not only brings financial gains but it also creates jobs in the local community and the materials sent can be used as architectural treasures to another company or individuals.

Messer recycled metals scraps and copper from the job site. Recycling metal helps minimize the use of raw materials. “The United States recycles 150 million metric tons of scrap materials annually.” (1)  Metal recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions and uses less energy than making metal from virgin materials. Messer was able to turn the money they received from recycling the metal and roll it back into the construction project.

There are additional ways to up-cycle. Working with your design team is the first approach to making sure every option is pursued. Researching your local area for companies similar to Building Value is a great method of up-cycling while at the same time promoting your local community. Another company that provides the same services but on a larger scale is ANEW. ANEW’s mission is to unite social responsibility with environmental sustainability. ANEW will go the project site and remove all of the items that are capable of being up-cycled. They will take the materials, such as furniture, flooring, ceiling tiles, etc …, and give the client a 100% guarantee that none of the items will be sent to a landfill. Many of the salvaged items are given to non-profit organizations that benefit greatly from the contributions. It helps lower the capital expenses for the non-profit organization which allows their services to extend even further. This process helps lowers construction costs because most of the ‘gutting’ of the construction site has been completed before the contractor is on the job site. It also allows the design team to see the structure and services that were once hidden behind ceiling tiles before the contractor discovers them. This aids in avoiding change orders which may extend the construction timeline.

Many manufacturers offer a recycling program of their materials and other manufacturer’s materials. This helps close the loop of the raw extraction, manufacturing, use and disposal. The materials being recycled help minimize the amount of raw materials being extracted and materials being sent to the landfill. Interface, Inc. has a Mission Zero program that was established in 1994. They have goals to minimize their environmental footprint, reduce their energy consumption, eliminate the use of petroleum, eliminate waste being sent to landfills and increase their usage of renewable energy. They are on track to meet their goals and becoming a leading example to other manufacturers in their industry. Interface is able to do these sustainable initiatives because they are constantly researching better methods to improve their manufacturing.  One major way they are meeting their goals is by taking back used carpeting. They evaluate all of the carpet that is sent in for recycling to see if they are able to up-cycle the carpet to local non-profit charities or recycle it. Recycling the carpet aids in producing materials for new carpet Interface manufacturers on a daily basis.

Interface is one of many companies that takes back used materials and recycles them into new product. Working with your design team and construction team will aid in the process of selecting the best methods of which path to follow. Each company has their own set of procedures of how the materials need to be evaluated, packaged and sent back to the manufacturing plant for recycling. Researching the companies and working with your design team will give you the best outcomes.

Whether you up-cycle or recycle, keeping material from the landfill is the best option for your project, community and environment. Challenge your design team, contractor and manufacturers to provide the best, sustainable services for your project.

Jolene Mudri, previously with Array Architects

(1) http://environment.about.com/od/recycling/a/metal-recycling.htm