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NEWS
Recycling Construction Waste
November 1, 2007

The truth in the adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” is evident in the sheer volume of “recycled” merchandise Americans purchase at thrift sales, secondhand stores and flea markets.

Now, engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of New Hampshire have launched the Recycled Materials Resource Center (RMRC), an effort that encourages a similar waste-to-resources approach in the construction industry. “It’s really to look at how we can build our infrastructure in a way that doesn’t rely so much on virgin materials, and to reuse things that traditionally have been considered waste and managed as waste,” says Craig Benson, a UW-Madison professor of civil and environmental engineering and center co-director.

Manufacturers generally landfill materials such as used foundry sand, coal-combustion byproducts, asphalt shingles and textile scraps from auto interiors. But with minimal processing, these materials could find new life in everything from road-building applications to insulation. “You’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions because you’re not excavating new materials or buying new materials to build things – you’re using materials where you’ve already expended the carbon to get them,” says Prof. Benson. “And so, the amount of carbon that you need to translate them into a construction project is far less than what it would take to go out and get virgin materials and process them.”

Funded by a four-year, $6.2 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration, the RMRC will focus in particular on using recycled materials in transportation infrastructure applications. It capitalizes on complimentary research strengths at both universities – at UW-Madison, expertise in geotechnical engineering and transportation infrastructure and, at New Hampshire, in environmental aspects of recycled materials and life-cycle analysis methods.


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