Recycled Materials

Many materials can be remanufactured and reused, which has both economic and ecological benefits – reducing landfill, raw material extraction and refinement. However, it must be remembered that although recycling is a more environmentally friendly option than using virgin materials, the process still requires energy and other resources (e.g. water). As such, recycling has a significant environmental footprint of its own, although this is generally smaller than that of non-recycled material production.

Minimising our environmental footprint is effected not so much in the process of sending waste off for recycling but in our purchasing behaviour. To cut our eco-footprint, the most effective action we can take is to reduce the volume of resources that we use. Before making a purchase, we must therefore, first decide whether we actually need the item in question. If the answer is ‘yes’, we should then explore whether we can reuse existing material that would otherwise end up as waste, to fulfil our needs. Here at The Living Rainforest, for example, bricks from previously demolished buildings and composite timber beams, formed from small sections of mostly waste timber, were used in construction of the Human Impact Building. Reuse minimises the need for manufacture and reduces landfill.

If a product is needed but existing materials are unavailable for reuse, recycled products are generally the more eco-friendly option. Using recycled products also closes the loop, creating a market for materials manufactured from items that have been sent for recycling. Within the Human Impact Building a number of recycled materials have been used:

  • Recycled vehicle tyres to produce the floor covering;
  • Recycled concrete for paving slabs and concrete blocks;
  • Lime mortar made with recycled (crushed) glass aggregate;
  • Recycled newspaper insulation.


In each case, non-recycled materials could have been utilised, but by substituting these with recycled materials the environmental footprint of the building was reduced.

The Living Rainforest has also chosen materials with low embodied energy for use in construction of the Integrated Greenhouse project buildings. Embodied energy calculations take the energy consumed during the entire lifecycle of a product, including its disposal, into consideration. To this end, materials have been selected on the basis of their life expectancy and their ability to be reused and recycled upon future refurbishment and/or disposal.

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