Sunday, November 26, 2006

Reclamation Protocol Part 2

London UK - Part Two follows Part 1 (below) and was a summary of a fuller version printed in the journal Salvo Monthly, April & May 1995

A RECLAMATION PROTOCOL by Thornton Kay of SALVO in 1995

Many building materials are being reclaimed throughout the world, but in Europe and North America, much more could be done. In these environment-conscious times we believe that more is being trashed in richer countries than ever before. This would seem to suggest that reclamation is not as successful as it should be due to the consumer ethic that "new is best". The main reason for this is not lack of interest from consumers, who are showing an increasing willingness to buy reclaimed material, but ignorance of the market and an unhelpful attitude on the part of producers of new materials who are understandably reluctant to relinquish market share.

There are limits to the total amount of material available to be reclaimed and these limits are determined by many factors, the most important of which is the primary supply from the demolition industry of components from whole buildings and the abundant amounts placed in skips from smaller demolitions during the course of alteration and repair works. If every scrap of material available were to be reclaimed, about 30,000 tons a day in Britain, we reckon that this would still only provide reclaimed alternatives to fulfil around 5% to 10% of the total building materials market. At present we reckon that less than 1% is currently sourced from reclaimed material, and it is this small, but significant, loss of material taken to landfill sites for which we are trying to encourage a market. The majority of this material is in the form of bulk items such as timber, bricks and masonry. However, much is still lost in the form of Victorian fixtures and fittings, early 20th century features, and incredibly we still hear all too often of very valuable features, such as, in February 1995, a carved marble Georgian fire surround from Edinburgh's New Town district in a skip going to landfill.

The recycling protocol that was embodied in the sustainability clause - known as Agenda 21 - at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit gives priority to the preservation of energy content when reusing resources. Broadly speaking it states that if it takes more energy to reuse an item than it does to make a new one, then in energy terms it is better to make a new one and throw the old one away. This relates directly to the voluntary efforts being made to reduce the amount of fossil fuel expended on producing new materials, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions and so reducing global warming. The reasons for wanting to reduce global warming are primarily that future generations will have to cope with the considerable extra financial burden of minimising the effects of climate change, not least of which will be rising sea and river levels, which will require reduction in land mass or the expense of increased flood protection schemes. However, this is only part of the equation.

Agenda 21 also gives priority to preserving resources and respecting cultural identity. This does not have a simple formula, like the energy example above. How do you value resources such as old mahogany against new Iroko, or 300 year old Sitka spruce against 30 year old plantation Sitka? Many of the old indigenous timber species are known to be more durable, but there is no formula for making a comparison with plantation species. The environmental damage caused by forestry methods is now becoming known as a contributor to soil erosion and acid lakes and rivers. There is no formula to make comparisons between old and new timber but logic would say that it is sensible to reclaim timber rather than destroy it. It is also true that timber disposed of in unmanaged landfill will generate methane which is a greenhouse gas. As mentioned above, reclaimed timber will never replace the demand for new timber but it could reduce it by 5% to 10%, and so help preserve forests, which in turn will allow the greater use of these forests as habitat for wildlife and people. If timber is not demolished in large enough sections to be reusable, then it is possible to recycle smaller pieces. An Austrian firm is attempting to manufacture blockboard using recycled timber. If after attempts to reclaim or recycle prove impossible, then the timber should be used to provide fuel. All demolished construction materials have similar patterns of reuse opportunities, but the simple energy-based criteria is not the only one. Even energy formulae are difficult to produce. For instance, do you take the energy costs of felling wood, transporting it and converting it, do you add the energy involved to make the logging machinery, and house and transport logging workers?

The traditional manufacture of construction materials often overlap with, or even rely on, reclamation and recycling. For example, in Britain the Campaign for Real Iron is attempting to prevent the early 19th century charcoal-made wrought iron panels of early iron structures from being scrapped alongside modern mild steel, and melted down to make into new steel products. Charcoal-made wrought iron is impossible to manufacture in Britain, so as a resource it is invaluable if, like Yorkshire blacksmith Chris Topp, you make wrought iron railings with blown leaf scrolls and appreciate the difference. Outside Agenda 21, although remaining inside the Rio cultural protocol, a case can be made that old buildings and architectural items form part of the history of a culture, and so should be preserved for re-use. Even though something of the original integrity of an architectural item may be lost if that item is reused out of context, we believe that it is better used out of context than placed in landfill. Many examples exist where items rescued in the past and reused out of context, have been subsequently repatriated in their historically or architecturally correct setting at a later date. Ordinary people tend to appreciate the efforts made, although the current fashion in Britain is dictated by a small minority of historical architecture fundamentalists (which include the leading lights of Britains' conservation organisations) who would rather see both demolished buildings, and all the materials they contain, continue to be landfilled. Salvo has devised a recycling protocol with respect to the built environment that gives the following priority list for what to do with old architectural items:

1. Re-use a building without demolition or alteration. If this is not possible then:-
2. Reclaim components in as intact a way as possible. Relocate entire buildings, Reuse facades and structural elements, Reclaim whole features such as windows with their surrounds, shutters, and window furniture. Finally dismantle and Reclaim the individual items that were used to assemble a building. We define Architectural Antiques as manufactured items usually with a degree of skilled labour involved, such as carved items, doors and fireplaces, and Reclaimed Building Materials as the basic building components such as bricks and timber beams. If reclamation is not possible then:-
3. Recycle and remanufacture a new product. Reclaimed wood can be recycled to make furniture, floorboards or even blockboard. Concrete can be crushed to make recycled aggregate. Plastics can be remanufactured into new plastics products like polythene bags. If recycling is not an option then:-
4. Beneficially Destroy with energy recovery. Scrap wood and other carbon-based products can be used to fuel power plants, or for local heating or cooking. Methane can be recovered from landfill sites where carbon-based demolition waste has been tipped.

All political parties should adopt this sensible protocol in environmental policy documents on demolition waste - Reuse, Reclaim, Recycle, Destroy. This would at least create the correct theoretical background against which targeted effort and practical measures can be applied.

The UK Planning Acts have produced a planning process that creates an emotive link between local public opinion and old buildings. The concept of reusing buildings or their components again, or relocating whole buildings, does not enter into that process. Thus the local community is encouraged to believe it faces a stark choice - save intact or destroy completely. A sensible approach would be to offer a compromise - save some intact, relocate the historically important, reclaim the rest for local reuse, don't destroy anything. The old PPG15 (Planning Policy Guidance note - used by Local Authorities to interpret the Planning Acts) encouraged planners to make rarely-used conditions on demolition requiring that demolished material be reused. The latest PPG dropped these suggestions, for which the DoE said there was no room in the White Paper - which was not true, and merely pandered to the SPAB element of English Heritage. Conservationists prefer the stark choice believing that this concentrates peoples' minds and saves more buildings. This is not borne out by the facts. Even listed buildings are demolished in whole or part, and hundreds of thousands of historic unlisted buildings are demolished every year. The planning process itself also encourage eventual rapid demolition. Vandalism and theft occur as a result of buildings being left empty for years while planning disputes are resolved. During this period millions of tonnes of reclaimable materials are lost to fire and water-damage. Old buildings should never be allowed to remain unoccupied, it should be illegal. Instead, more buildings are now left unoccupied and boarded up pending their future than ever before.

Some local authorities' building control departments refuse to allow the reuse of reclaimed material. The most common reasons are that reclaimed materials contain dry rot, even if they are sound, or that reclaimed materials do not comply with modern standards. The dry rot brigade are wilfully ignorant since the spores exist in the air permanently so even brand new materials contain dry rot spores. Dry rot is created by environmental conditions that are independent of materials. Equally, planning and conservation departments have been known to refuse to allow the reuse of reclaimed materials in works requiring planning permission or listed building consents because they say that it encourages theft and demolition, and confuses the history of a building. Although theft is a problem, particularly of garden ornaments, the volume of materials stolen is small, and invariably results from the deliberate policies that allow buildings to remain empty for long periods of time. Those who believe that reclamation encourages demolition are even further down the track of complete insanity. With respect to confusing history, most buildings have changed and adapted over the years, many using old materials, or materials reused from one part of the building in another. If such policies require that materials, like a Louis XVI marble fireplace, can only be installed in an unlisted 1930s' semi, it makes a mockery of freedom of choice and good architectural sense.

The establishment of reclamation businesses is discouraged in the UK by planners, who see them as non-conforming undesirable businesses. In some areas they have ceased trading after planners have picked on them. This is despite the recycling commitment given by John Major in signing the Rio Accord. There is a glimmer of hope since the DoE planning inspectors who are called in at appeals seem to have a more sympathetic approach. We suspect that Conservation Officers have a hand in influencing decisions on local reclamation yards' planning problems. A well respected conservation-aware Midlands reclamation dealer was refused entry to an ACO sponsored conference (Association of Conservation Officers) solely on the grounds that he was a reclaimed building materials dealer. More or less every reclamation dealer has had problems with planners. What should happen is that planners should encourage reclamation, councils should earmark land and premises, conservation officers should require demolished materials to be sold to reclamation rather than landfilled, and local municipal, education, and health authorities should develop reclamation-only policies for all their demolished buildings and for a percentage (say 5%) of the procurement of construction materials. Partnership arrangements should be made between reclamation dealers and local authorities to save materials for local reuse. This could all be achieved voluntarily.

The new EC Construction Products Directive sets out to ban the sale of reclaimed materials if they are not manufactured to current euro-standards. Which, of course, they are not. Even if they were, it is no longer possible to prove since most materials are older than 75 years and detailed records of the manufacturing processes are not available. Even if they were, the quality control procedures would not have been recorded in the correct way to comply with modern standards. The Directive says that if you can't prove reclaimed materials (and they mean every single brick) comply with the standards then they must be substandard and therefore illegal. Our visit to Brussels, and meeting with Carl Heinz Zachmann, the Head of the Construction Directorate (DG12), made it absolutely clear that reclaimed materials were considered substandard, and would be banned. Even if the bureaucrats were sympathetic, legislation in Europe is dominated by small lobbies of powerful vested interests, who dictate the commercial agenda. I was told that environmental logic is of no importance in Brussels. Power talks.

A committee has been meeting to discuss an EU Demolition Waste Strategy which will inevitably lead to a Directive requiring national targets to be set for the recycling of demolition waste. From what we can glean, plans are at an advanced stage for this Directive. It will not follow the EC's own Recycling Protocol but will give any of the four recycling methods (Reuse, Reclamation, Recycling, Beneficial Destruction) equal merit. The drafting committee is being led by Germany and Denmark whose expertise in the field of reclamation is very weak and who appear to have a pathological dread of using old materials unless they have been remanufactured into something new. German federal recycling laws require that all demolition waste is separated and recycled. Specially licensed demolition contractors are paid additional money for recycling costs. But bricks are crushed and no reclamation takes place. Fly-tipping, illegal burning and the illegal export of demolition waste to neighbouring countries is common. We suspect that commercial and political pressures will result in the UK acquiescing to a proposed Demolition Waste Directive and that this will damage the UK, French, Belgian and southern European reclamation industries by encouraging recycling over reclamation. A target-driven directive will result in more capital intensive recycling, and less employment extensive reclamation. After the Directive is passed, the only recourse for the Reclamation Industry and its customers will be to break the law.

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T Kay 1995

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