The current president of the Building Materials Reuse Association has created a “bucket list” of what he hopes to see happen in the industry before he exits this world. A list that was published BMRA’s September 2011 newsletter, but one that is worth reprinting here. Thankfully, Napier was not only willing to share his list with Vision 2020, but give us a little insight into his vision as well.
Reports of high diversion rates and deconstruction efforts may be constantly popping up on Tom Napier’s news feed, but to him, this only proves how far we are from the ultimate goal. “When they stop making news, I think that’s when we are achieving something,” he says. “If the whole industry can migrate more toward conservation as a standard practice—as a matter of course—then we are getting some place.”
Bucket List Item 1:
The conflict between demolition and deconstruction disappears. The routine is to reuse what can be reused, recycle what can be recycled, and landfill the little bit that’s left.
“Buildings have to be demolished,” Napier admits. “That’s just a fact of life. What we are trying to do, once a decision is made for a building to come down, instead of the default being to put materials in a landfill or recycling the steel, there are additional avenues of conservation that can be practiced that are not as common as the mainstream. We just want to bring those into the tool kit as well.”
This, he adds, will require the construction industry to actually think about the best use case—and best life-cycle path—for materials. “The building across the street is being torn down, and the steel beams are being sent to China to be recycled into new steel beams that are going to be installed in the new, greener building across the street,” Napier quips. “It sounds ridiculous, but that isn’t a far off scenario.”
Bucket List Item 2:
Promoters of “green building” rating systems fully appreciate the impacts of waste and life-cycle benefits of materials reuse, and give full credit to reuse as a major contributor to sustainability.
Based on his own research, Napier has found that reusing materials could reduce the environmental impacts of water use, emissions to air, emissions to water, waste, and chemical releases up to 99%. “That’s almost a total reduction of adverse impacts compared to manufacturing new items,” Napier says. “That kind of an impact is not reflected in the point systems.”
He also says that today’s point systems focus too much on percentages and not enough on what is actually being done to the materials. For example, shredding perfectly good Douglas fir timbers and using them as alternate daily cover in a landfill counts every bit as much as extracting timbers, refinishing them, and using them in a timber-frame home or millwork.
“The path of least resistance becomes that which the point chasers exercise,” Napier says. “In a perfect world, there would be some kind of hierarchy—the closest use to the original form gets the most points and the farther you divert, or the more resources you put into making something different, then you get fewer points.”
Read the entire bucket list via The Vision for Reuse – Reuse, Recycling, Building Materials, Construction Waste Recycling – EcoHome Magazine.