Benefits of recycled concrete not fully realised

Cape Brick recycled the rubble from the Athlone Cooling Towers and manufactrued new bricks and blocks No Gravatar
Cape Brick recycled the rubble from the Athlone Cooling Towers and manufactrued new bricks and blocks

Cape Brick recycled the rubble from the Athlone Cooling Towers and manufactrued new bricks and blocks

The many benefits of using recycled concrete as a construction material are generally overlooked and not by any means fully utilised in South Africa, says Bryan Perrie, MD of The Concrete Institute.

Perrie says the use of recycled concrete could reduce the carbon dioxide emission of concrete as well as lower the depletion of natural resources and dumping of concrete at landfill sites.
“The demolition of in-situ, precast and tilt-up reinforced concrete can be achieved relatively easily by modern, cutting, breaking and lifting equipment. Once demolition of reinforced concrete has been completed, the concrete and reinforcing steel can be separated for recycling. Recycled concrete can be used as aggregate for building products such as bricks, blocks, layer works in road construction, or land reclamation thereby reducing the amount of material sent to landfills. This recycling also reduces the need for new virgin materials thereby saving resources and the energy required to process them. Crushed concrete also absorbs carbon dioxide.”

At ready-mixed concrete plants, wash water can be collected and reused in fresh concrete, and aggregate from returned concrete can be screened out and reused. This would reduce the amount of waste generated at the plants.

Perrie says precast components from structures can also be reused in new buildings instead of demolishing and recycling the concrete. Structures using precast elements can be designed for such reuse.

In former industrial areas and inner city precincts, there are many old factories or old warehouses that can be converted into acceptable dwellings. Concrete buildings can often be adapted relatively easily for new uses, for example unused office space can be retrofitted as residential accommodation. The benefits of reuse and retrofitting include:

  • Saving of natural resources, including raw materials, energy and water required for new structures;
  • Reducing the quantity of solid waste sent to landfill; and
  • Lowering the energy consumption and pollution emanating from the extraction, manufacturing and transportation of virgin materials.

“The durability of concrete structures is a key factor in their suitability for reuse. The architect or designer needs to apply many different strategies to ensure that the structure is sustainable in terms of its environmental and social impact, to minimise the use of energy, to minimise the use of water, and the generation of waste during the life cycle of the building. All of this can only be assessed by carrying out a full life-cycle assessment of the structure,” he adds.

Perrie believes recycled concrete has a significant role to play in creating a sustainable and ecologically responsible built environment.

He says when considering a building that has reached the end of its first life, the order of decision making should be: reuse of the building, reuse of the components and then – as last resort – demolition with the recycling of materials.

Recycled concrete aggregate made from crushed concrete has proved viable and makes economic and ecological sense. As a coarse aggregate, it is particularly appropriate as bedding material, in concrete roads and pavements, floors, reinforced concrete, precast and masonry elements, and foundations.

Call The Concrete Institute’s on +27 11 315 0300 or email or go to

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