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Urban Mining: Sustainable Solution for the Future of Construction

In various locations in the United States, the deconstruction of houses, buildings, and other infrastructures has been positioned.

By Tufail Ganie
New Update
Urban Mining: Sustainable Solution for the Future of Construction

Urban mining is a concept that consists of extracting valuable resources from the waste generated in urban areas. With the increasing demand for resources and the negative impacts of mining on the environment, urban mining has become a viable solution to promote sustainable resource management.

In the construction industry, urban mining can play a crucial role in promoting Urban Mining, where materials are reused and recycled, reducing the need for virgin materials.

Deconstruction of houses, a new option

"Deconstruction has intensified and it's happening all over the US," said Neil Seldman, co-founder of the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Sufficiency. A national non-profit organization that focuses on local community development.

"It was a permanent part of the system in the 1920s and has returned due to economic, environmental and sustainability necessity, " he said.

Figure 1: The carbon-emitting steps involved in this model of constructing buildings (Source: McCown Gordon Construction)

What really is urban mining?

Urban mining is the process of recovering valuable materials from discarded electronic devices, household appliances, and other waste generated in urban areas. This approach involves sorting e-waste, extracting metals and other valuable materials, and then recycling or reusing it.

Urban mining aims to reduce the amount of waste in landfills, recover valuable resources, and reduce the environmental impact of mining new resources. It is an important component of the circular economy, where waste is seen as a resource that can be reused or repurposed, rather than something to be thrown away.

Global Warming Potentials of different materials (Source: Gensler)

Increased revenue from reuse

The United States produced about 600 million tons of construction and demolition debris in 2018. More than double the amount of municipal solid waste, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. Almost two-thirds of the construction waste went directly to landfills.

However, in a typical home, only 5% to 15% of the materials cannot be reused or recycled, according to the Delta Institute. A Chicago-based non-profit environmental organization.

Revenue from deconstruction and reuse has tripled since 2008 in the US, to about $1.4 billion last year.

The implications of that waste are enormous, said Build Reuse President Mark Gable. Globally, the construction industry uses half of the 100 billion tons of material extracted from nature each year. And it is responsible for a third of the world's waste and 40% of carbon dioxide emissions.

Figuring out how the site-specific deconstruction and reuse business can help address those environmental challenges is the "100 billion tonne question," he said. "If this can be integrated into the way building renovation and demolition is approached, we can create digital inventory systems," he added.

Urban mining in India

Urban mining has emerged as a viable alternative to geological mining in India as the country's resource consumption continues to grow rapidly due to population growth, urbanization, economic and industrial growth, and rising incomes.

The formal and informal sectors are already involved in the recovery of materials from mainstream waste streams, such as e-waste, end-of-life vehicles, and construction and demolition waste.

With India's renewed focus on the principles of sustainability and circular economy, the adoption of urban mining is becoming increasingly relevant and critical, helping the country achieve its carbon and pollution reduction targets.

Urban mining can also help avoid environmental and social problems associated with mining expansion, which has caused conflict in the past, especially in areas rich in biodiversity and inhabited by indigenous peoples.

India has various environmental policies and regulations, including the Environmental Protection Act (1986), and an extensive network of regulatory bodies at various levels of government to help implement these policies.

The benefits of Urban mining

Urban mining offers several benefits for the construction industry and the environment. These benefits include:

Reduced Waste: Urban mining reduces waste generated during construction and demolition, leading to less material going to landfill and less pressure on natural resources.

Cost Savings: Reusing and recycling materials can save costs associated with purchasing new materials, transportation, and waste disposal.

Environmental Sustainability: Urban Mining promotes the use of environmentally sustainable materials and reduces the carbon footprint of the construction industry.

Enhanced Resilience: Urban Mining improves the resilience of buildings and infrastructure by designing them to be more adaptable, flexible, and durable.

How urban mining promotes circular construction

Urban mining plays a crucial role in promoting circular construction. By extracting valuable materials from waste streams, urban mining reduces the need for new materials, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry. In addition, urban mining promotes the reuse and recycling of materials, reducing waste and saving costs associated with waste disposal.

Construction and Demolition Waste

Construction and demolition waste (CDW) is one of the largest waste streams generated in India, estimated at around 500 million tonnes in total. CDW consists of materials such as dirt, sand, gravel, concrete, bricks, and various other materials.

While the informal sector already removes some valuable components, such as metal fittings and wooden frames, from the waste stream at demolition sites, a significant part of this waste is still dumped in landfills or illegally in open areas.

CDW can be reintegrated into the construction sector by using soil, sand, and gravel as fill material in earthworks and by converting concrete and bricks into aggregates and construction materials such as ready-mix concrete and pavers.

While pilot programs to collect, segregate and convert CDW into construction materials are already underway in cities like Delhi and Ahmedabad, they need to be scaled up and implemented in other urban regions.

Electronic waste (E-waste)

India is one of the largest producers of e-waste, with more than 2 million tons generated each year. E-waste contains valuable materials such as copper, aluminum, and gold that can be extracted through urban mining. The extracted materials can then be reused for other applications, reducing the need for new materials and minimizing waste.

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