For years, there's been a huge global effort to recycle. From aluminum cans to cell phones, Americans are urged to consider recycling rather than just throwing things into the garbage and overloading landfills. But what's the point of all the recycling if there isn't an end use for all that material? That's the question posed by Sandra Leibowitz Earley, principal of Sustainable Design Consulting, a Richmond, Va.-based firm that specializes in green building.
Earley suggests that more multifamily developers and owners should consider using building materials with recycled content. “These days it's pretty easy to find building materials that aren't all ‘new,'” she says.
Plus, projects that are constructed with materials that have recycled content are one step closer to being recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, commonly known as LEED), the national system that rates building performance in five major areas: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.
Materials with recycled content are available both for exterior and interior uses, Earley says. For example, steel has a high percentage of recycled content and is appropriate for a variety of structural uses. Additionally, roofing materials such as copper shingles not only use a high percentage of recycled materials, they also are low-maintenance and long-lasting.
Beyond the exterior, there are a lot of opportunities to use finish materials with recycled content, Earley says. “That's where it can be the most fun, because it's very noticeable.” She suggests using salvaged wood products for cabinets and countertops made of recycled glass and plastic. “These products are absolutely gorgeous and can add a lot of character to an apartment or condo,” she points out.
There are even more choices when it comes to flooring. From wood flooring manufactured with recycled wood chips to carpets made from old soda bottles and recycled fibers, Earley says there are options for every project.
“For multifamily developers and owners, there are enough products out there that can make green building mainstream,” Earley says. “Materials that are made of recycled content are not much more expensive than those that are made with completely new materials.”
Jennifer Popovec is a freelance writer in Fort Worth, Texas.