Can concrete be recycled? Yes, it can and it should be. The population is still growing and recycling of elements is more important than ever and so is producing greener concrete. The same goes for concrete and it should be a responsible thing to do. Most of the time it’s not because the concrete is too old, but people can’t come up with uses for the building.
Old buildings are demolished all the time and that leaves brick and concrete waste that can still be used. And a lot of it goes to recycling as over 60% of the secondary concrete waste after crushing can be used to build new roads as the lowest layer of the road, same goes for parking lots etc.
Also, high-quality concrete has been made from scrap aggregates that are free of contaminants so it should be used for building as well. Some studies have shown that it’s not energy efficient as it needs more cement and water again, but most recycled aggregates should have been mixed with virgin ones to eliminate that.
Reusing the concrete waste can also lower construction cost as it doesn’t have to be transported to landfills and recycling of concrete eliminates the disposal cost. What happens to the old concrete when it’s time to be reused?
First, the concrete must be broken away from the building with big machines like an excavator. Then it’s crushed with a concrete crusher to optimal sizes near the construction site to minimize the cost. After that, it can be sorted for its different uses.
Where to recycle concrete
Concrete is quite heavy so unless it’s a really light amount that you can put in your car/rent truck or reuse in your own landscaping, you need other solutions. One is renting a metal bin for concrete, quite often seen on construction sites. It might be the most affordable solution depending on how much concrete you need to dispose of.
There is also the option of using companies whose business is concrete removal. It’s good to compare the prize as it might vary a lot. Some landscaping companies might accept it for free as they use it for their business, delivery should be sorted out though.
What’s an efficient way of handling the concrete waste really depends a lot on the amount on hand. Small amounts could be done cheaply if there is free access to a truck. Medium to large amounts would depend on the deal if bin or landscaping company would be a better option. Social media might help as well, as some people are always looking for free stuff (surprisingly even concrete will do in some cases).
How to recycle concrete yourself?
Recycling concrete can be heavy, but it’s also quite easy to do yourself. You need to identify the place where you can drop it or find a recycling project at your home like broken concrete retaining wall.
To make it easier for yourself, you can organize the waste by size and use proper means for transporting it. The following will be more about these topics.
How to find concrete recycling near me?
My go-to method is actually good old internet search. No need to search phone books anymore and it’s easy to see where the nearest concrete recycling center is. Some might even have information about how they deal with their concrete waste as landfills are reported to be choking on concrete around the world.
Illegal dumping is also one kind of problem. Personally, I think that as a worker/hobbyist I want my waste to go on recycling and not become a problem for nature/animals/humans like it is in some developing countries where the concrete disposal isn’t done correctly and they might just dump it all on nature.
How to organize my own concrete waste?
We have been using concrete recycling bins for years at work. It’s cheap to get rid of it as clean rubble. Extra wet concrete and mortar can be left to wooden boxes with fabric that lets water trough. When you leave the concrete or mortar there to harden/cure or wash your tools upon it, it lets the extra water through it. The box mustn’t be waterproof so the extra water will go to the ground.
It’s also important to empty that box after a lifting amount of concrete has cured as it gets heavy fast if used daily like we might do when we render a building facade with mortar. For home projects it’s unlikely, but still possible if we do bigger projects like concrete decks.
Working with movable amounts and movable size is important as concrete gets heavy fast. If it has absorbed water on the ground it’s even heavier. When moving on a car, truck, or trailer it’s good to check max carry the weight so that transportation means won’t get broken in the process. Maximum capacity will be met quite fast when loading.
How to handle concrete waste that has great size/weight
One way to handle big pieces is by making them smaller. If you haven’t started demolishing, it might be smart to cut it with a diamond cutter before removing it with a hammer drill or jackhammer. If it feels uncomfortable to handle these tools or too expensive to invest in, it might be better to consider a contractor to do it.
If the concrete is underground like fence foundations or deck foundations, it’s good to use leverage to pull them out. First, the surrounding of the foundation is good to dig free so the earth itself won’t resist the concrete.
Then an iron bar, wooden 2×4 plank, or something else can be used to place under the piece of concrete and pull or push the leveraging tool against the ground. The longer the leverage, the easier it will be to lift it.
It’s good to be sure that it has enough strength to handle the bending when using leverage. Iron bars might be too short most of the time and 2×4 planks should be used with the wide part up so it can handle more weight. I’ve seen some use their cars even, but even with machines, it’s good to have physics on your back and make sure the lifting force goes up instead of having the rope pull underground structures sideways. That’s not going to work 99% of the time.
My last thought on this subject is how to manage bigger projects so that it won’t be intolerable to clean at the end of it. I’ve worked on many concrete renovation projects where cracked concrete has been removed, reinforcements cleaned, and then the patches have been filled. Finally maybe rendering on the surface.
If the waste starts to add up day by day, maybe something that takes 30 minutes to clean. In a hundred days it’s already 50h job to clean it all. Sounds stupid, but it’s not so unusual, and usually that 50h won’t be enough at that point as it’s harder to clean.
When I started in my teens, many jobs were cleaning the rubble where no one had touched it from the spring to the end of summer. For months dumpsters full of concrete and mortar had filled the ground and scaffolding, I won’t lie when I say it took weeks to get it clean enough to hand over the project.
My point when I work today is always work so I don’t have to do that ever again and no one else has to clean up my mess. That’s why I take that 30 minutes every working day to clean up my mess so I have to work less in the end. It saves time as you don’t have to work with big amounts of rubble.
A clean working environment also keeps customers happy, seems professional, and truly is a happier place to work. I always feel my mood go down when I have to work in the middle of garbage, which brings productivity down. At home projects, it’s also nicer to have your living grounds clean rather than messy and it helps coming up with cleaner-looking projects as well.