Building rubble – a headache no matter the size of your project

Rodrigo and I were rather naïve at the start of our building project…we were going to make designated, clearly marked areas for each type of waste or building rubble and were going to make sure that the builders separated waste as they went along.

To some of you reading this post, the situation I just described might sound completely normal and logical, but unfortunately it is far from the reality in most construction projects in Chile and Latin America. And I’m not just talking about “small scale” house projects like ours, the same challenge exists in large scale projects as well. Everything ends up in the same skip and almost nothing gets recycled.

I have worked with the construction industry as a sustainability consultant for more than 5 years now, and I have heard so many versions of the same phrase “for every one truck that enters a building site with materials, at least 2 trucks leave with building rubble”.

Conclusion: Waste management in the construction industry is a HUGE problem and the environmental and social impact is enormous.

So, you may ask how our dream of designated spaces turned out…clearly not so great:

This photo shows our large pile of rubble, everything from concrete to polystyrene offcuts, wood, plastic, metalcom, SIP offcuts etc…and we hadn’t even started with the finishings yet so there were no paint tins, tiles, cardboard and goodness knows what else

Many of you reading this blog will know that in October last year, Chile experienced the biggest social uprising in a long long time and we had one week when our builders were not able to come to Maria Pinto. And since my work had also basically ground to a halt due to the protests, we made the most of the time to start sorting through our rapidly growing mountain of rubble:

Rodrigo starting work on the polystyrene and plastic in the pile
And I sorted through all sorts of wood offcuts. You may notice the vacuum cleaner in the left of the photo (next to a black bag)…I was crazy enough to vacuum up all the tiny balls of polystyrene that were floating around.
Eventually we had more or less organized the rubble into different piles and could figure out what could be salvaged for later use (metalcom and wood mostly), what could be recycled (eg. Cardboard) and what was rubble.

But looking at these piles, I was not satisfied with the idea that we could only recycle the traditional items such as cardboard. I knew there must be alternatives for at least some of the other items.

Luckily, due to my sustainability and family links (thanks Marite Ferrada), I was able to get in touch with Nicolas Behar, founder of Recylink (www.recylink.com). This is a platform that aims to facilitate a sustainable and responsible disposal of building waste by connecting construction companies with recycling companies, transport companies and authorized disposal sites. Nicolás came to give a talk at a course I was teaching in a Masters in Building Administration and I made the most of the opportunity to ask him all sorts of questions about where I could recycle various materials we have. He was kind enough to give me great advise and to this day I keep bugging him every so often with photos of some kind of rubble, looking for a sustainable solution.

So how did we solve our rubble problem in the end:

Cardboard and general plastic: I am really surprised at the amount of cardboard a building project produces, especially in the final stages. I suppose it shouldn´t come as a shock though, considering that every single product comes in a cardboard box. All cardboard and general plastic went to the Triciclos collection point at the Sodimac in Melipilla

Metal: Although we saved a lot of pieces of metalcom that could be reused in other projects, we did have a large pile of small offcuts. On two of our many trips to Sodimac in Melipilla we stopped by the local junkyard and dropped off at least 20kg and 8kg of metal. Although we weren´t really concerned about how much money we would get, the first payment was enough for us to enjoy a nice lunch after spending hours in Sodimac buying materials. The second payment was enough for an ice-cream. We will have to make a third trip to the junkyard soon as we have now finished with the roof and gutter system.

Polystyrene: After building such as well-insulated house, I never want to see another sheet of polystyrene in my life. I really hated the idea of just throwing away all the offcuts we had, but thankfully Nicolas told me about Ideatec (https://idea-tec.cl/) which recycles polystyrene (mostly from domestic products such as vegetable packaging etc) into paint used for road markings and other industrial uses. I got in touch with them and due to the volume of polystyrene that we had, we arranged for me to drop off the material at their recycling plant.

I spent hours sorting through the offcuts that were too dirty or damaged with concrete splodges or other building related marks, as the material needs to be 100% clean to be accepted. You won´t believe it, but I even washed pieces in order for them to be able to be recycled.
Up to now I have made two trips to Idea-Tec and have dropped off a total of 27 large black bags of material to be recycled. I have at least one full load waiting for my next trip to that part of Santiago.

Drywalling:

We have a huge pile of drywalling offcuts that I have stored behind the workshop container for now. Nicolas told me that a company in Chile in doing a pilot program to recycle this material and I am hoping that one day soon I will be able to give them all these offcuts and not send this huge pile to a rubbish dump

Everything else… And after recycling as much as we possibly could and saving what may be useful in the future (metal and wood), we were still left with a rather large pile of rubble that unfortunately we had to get rid of in the traditional way.

But even finding a rubble removal company that can be trusted and will do such a small scale job as ours was difficult. Once again Nicolas came to our aid and gave me a contact.
And then finally we were only left with our mountain of concrete which was a mix of the walls around the pool (which had been installed by the previous owner and we moved to make space for the house) and a mound of solid concrete which was the result of a miscalculation when we were laying the slab and Cemento Melón had to dump the remaining concrete that we didn´t use.

After trying to find someone to break it up and remove it, we had no other option than to bury it, so we got in a local digger:

Now it is time to start dreaming about what I will plant in this area…being very water conscious of course…

And that is where our rubble story ends for now… as I said, we have salvaged a lot of wood and metal that we have already put to use. I suppose it is inevitable that on a plot you will always have a pile of “stuff” that may come in handy one day…

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