Repurposing materials in construction

One project’s trash could be another project’s treasure.

This adapted proverb encapsulates how construction materials can be repurposed instead of going to the trash.

As a developer and landlord, Dart often finds itself in the position to be able to repurpose surplus and lightly used materials from previous construction projects, or items left behind by relocated tenants. These materials range from furniture, art and appliances to various construction materials such as tiles, panels and doors.

DIY on a commercial scale

Dart Construction Manager Nick Natale recently renovated a Dart office space by using mostly repurposed materials and delivered an office solution well suited for its intended occupants.

“The team needed a bigger location with multiple offices," he said. "The previous tenants in the office space had panels of glass in an open floor plan, so I figured we could break them down and use the panels as individual office walls — if we didn’t repurpose them, they would have been tossed.”

Natale has an eye for these things — easily identifying items that can be saved and repurposed to avoid costing the company down the line.

Other areas of the office space benefited from repurposed materials such as surplus art from the build-out of Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, as well as cabinets, tiles and a backsplash in the kitchen area from other projects. 

“A lot of it has to do with timing, and by having various projects going on at once, we can move things around," he said. "I try to keep a mental note of the materials we have access to. If there is a certain item I know the value of — especially if it’s a high-ticket item — I try to incorporate it where possible to avoid throwing it away."

For example, the office fit-out required a meeting room that could seat up to 20 people. A boardroom table that size could easily cost $10,000 or more; however, Natale stepped in with essentially a free solution.

“Another tenant recently relocated and left behind a variety of office furniture, including a perfectly sized boardroom table and additional items such as desks and chairs, which were used for this and other projects.”

By repurposing those and other items, Natale was able to shave thousands of dollars off the project’s budget. 

Limiting trash

Martin Edelenbos, Dart’s engineering coordinator solid waste management, said the future integrated solid waste management system on Grand Cayman will adopt a "reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, dispose" waste management hierarchy to significantly reduce the amount of waste that requires landfilling.

Encouraging individuals and various entities to reuse or repurpose construction and fit-out materials is an important strategy in reducing the waste that is landfilled.

“We are expecting to receive about 8,000 tons of construction and demolition waste annually as a portion of the approximate total of 110,000 tons per year," he said. "That waste is made up of a mixture of rubble, wood, metal, concrete, drywall and similar materials."

Salvageable items from construction and demolition sites are often sold, but the waste that remains will be sorted and treated at the appropriate facilities. 

“Separation of these materials will be managed at the construction and demolition facility," said Edelenbos. "If the items are mostly combustible, they will then go to the Energy Recovery Facility; appliances will be used for scrap metal recycling; and if no other suitable disposal method is left, it will go to the landfill.”

Edelenbos said several companies on Grand Cayman specialise in marketing repurposed materials such as furniture, so reselling for others to repurpose is also an alternative that additionally minimises the material management that will be required at the new facility.

Benefits for everyone

Seizing opportunities to repurpose materials supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals such as Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, and Goal 13: Climate Action. These efforts save on the natural resources being used to create new materials and reduce the carbon footprint of shipping the new materials to the Cayman Islands. Repurposing also ultimately reduces the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill and is a cost-effective development solution.

For Natale, repurposing materials will continue to be one of his secret weapons.

“I don’t like to see things being thrown out, especially when I know its value, so I do my best to incorporate and reuse it and avoid the possibility of it ending up in the landfill," he said.

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This article appears in print in the October 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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