Reusing and Recycling in Construction and Architecture

Today’s world is moving towards a more sustainable living. This can be best implemented in construction by following reuse, recycle and upcycle strategies for various materials. This would lead to effective use of waste, less usage of processing and transportation energy, and an overall lesser carbon footprint. Additionally, recycled or upcycled materials add a touch of uniqueness to the aesthetics of the building.

Some construction materials that can be reused and recycled are- 


  • Concrete sourced from the demolition of old structures, waste from testing, and damaged buildings can be repurposed as aggregates.
  • Benefits include
  1. Reduced need for gravel mining
  2. Alternative to a nonrenewable material
  3. Local sourcing of material
  4. Reduced cost
  5. Reduced waste in landfills
  • Concrete made with repurposed concrete as aggregates has slightly lesser strength than usual concrete. This can be made better by the suitable use of admixtures.

The Upcycle Studios by Lendager Architects

The Upcycle Studio
The Upcycle Studio
  • This award-winning project in Copenhagen turned 1,000 tonnes of waste into building materials, without compromising on quality and aesthetics.
  • The buildings make use of recycled concrete, repurposed double-glazing windows, and discarded flooring boards.
Recycled concrete used in the building
Recycled concrete used in the building


  • Discarded glass from used bottles and jars can be crushed and mixed with other materials to create new objects.
  • This saves energy and reduces waste in dump yards.
  • Recycled glass finds its use in
  1. Concrete as fine aggregate
  2. Thermal insulation in prefabricated panels
  3. Lightweight bricks
  4. Tiles 


  • Plastic is one of the most widely used materials today. It is also the highest contributor to pollution when improperly discarded.
  • Plastics can be highly recycled and are favorable for construction as they are strong, durable, and waterproof. 
  • Recycled plastic mixed with virgin plastic yield a material highly favorable for construction and can be used in the form of-
  1. Roofing tiles- light, easy to install and have a low carbon footprint.
  2. Concrete- concrete exposed to gamma radiation and powdered added to a cement paste increases the strength and durability.
  3.  As insulation
  4. As structural lumber- it is resistant to insects and weather and doesn't need to be sprayed with protective chemicals.
  5. In pvc windows- high durability
  6. As bricks- plastic in a building block form

Case study- Othalo’s patent for building plastic houses

  • It is a proposed idea to make use of plastic waste for shelters in places with housing problems.
  • Plastic would be collected from various volunteering groups.
  • This plastic is then sent out to factories where they are processed, powdered, mixed with additives, and converted to beams, pillars, and blocks.
  • They can be used to make easy-to-assemble houses that are cost-efficient and easy to maintain.


  • It is a biodegradable material most often found in the form of closures for wine. 
  • Advantages of cork include that it is waterproof, resistant to abrasion, fire retardant and an acoustic insulator. 
  • Ground-recycled cork finds its uses in-
  1. Building insulation
  2. Floor tiles
  3. Pinboards
  4. Shoe soles

Case study- Upcycle house by Lendager Architects

View of the upcycle house
View of the upcycle house
Shipping container used as exterior
Shipping container used as exterior
  • It is located in Nyborg, Denmark.
  • The outer structure is made of shipping containers.
  • Champagne cork is repurposed for the kitchen flooring.
  • Bathroom tiles are made of crushed glass.
  • Osb (oriented strand boards) with wood strands compressed together without adhesives is used in the walls and floors.
  • Aluminum soda cans are used for the roof and facade cladding.
Flooring made of cork
Flooring made of cork


  • Gypsum is mostly used in dry wall construction for ceilings and wall panels.
  • When old gypsum boards are discarded, they can produce harmful aerobic pollutants.
  • The better alternative is to recycle the used gypsum.
  • Gypsum can be endlessly recycled, that is, it can be used to make the same material again.
  • Some ways of recycling gypsum are-
  1. As a fertilizer due to its ability to loosen soil and increase water filtration and nutrition. 
  2. In the construction of new drywall after powdering old used drywall.
  3. As an additive in cement to reduce setting time.
  • Benefits of recycling gypsum include a sustainable alternative to mining gypsum, reduced transportation emission, and saved energy. 

Upcycling is the method of reusing objects to make something of higher value . It retains the object's original form and allows it to be identified. It is often a more eco-friendly option than recycling. Some examples of upcycling in construction are- 

  1. Cargotecture- Building Shipping containers
  • Steel shipping containers are used as the main structural elements in some buildings.
  • They have benefits like strength, durability, availability and relatively low cost. 
  • They are considered a more eco-friendly material than brick or cement.
  • Due to their modular design, they can be fitted to become a part of a larger structure. 
  • The overall construction cost is less in most cases
  • Upcycling containers for construction leads to saving tonnes of steel and lesser consumption of other building materials.
  • Disadvantages include rutsing, less heat insulation, increased humidity, weak roof structure and exposure to solvents, sealants, insecticides and other carcinogens used to treat the container.

Stadium 974 by Fenwick Iribarren architects

Stadium made of shipping containers
Stadium made of shipping containers
  • This stadium in Qatar is built with 974 shipping containers and a recycled steel structural frame.
  • The containers act as the exterior and also house services like staircases and restrooms.
  • They are arranged in such a way that natural ventilation is made possible. 
  • The stadium can be fully dismantled into individual container units and used to serve different purposes. 
  • The modularity of the containers reduced the construction time, costs and material wastes. 
  • It has achieved a rating of 5 stars on the GSAS certification. 
The steel supports of the stadium
The steel supports of the stadium

Glass bottles- Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew

Glass bottles used in construction
Glass bottles used in construction
  • Also known as the temple of a million bottles, it is Thailand’s most eco-friendly temple.
  • It was started as an initiative to clear out the beer bottles that littered the countryside.
  • With more waste bottle donations, glass bottles were used to make the wall and spire of the temple.
  • Different brands and colors of the bottles were used to make interesting patterns.
  • The flooring is a mosaic pattern made with bottle bottoms and is soft on the feet.
  • The bottle caps have been collected to make Buddhist art for the interiors.
  • The cost saved on construction materials was used for cleaning purposes. 
The outer structure of the temple
The outer structure of the temple
Artwork made of bottle caps
Artwork made of bottle caps
Reusing and Recycling in Construction and Architecture