The trajectory of the demolition industry’s future has undergone a significant shift, increasingly favouring deconstruction as the primary approach for dismantling buildings. Deconstruction entails carefully disassembling structures, allowing for systematically separating and managing retrieved materials. Extensive research underscores the imperative of transparency in material handling within the examination, highlighting its profound and multifaceted positive impact on our environment, society, and economy.

In a landscape where approximately 50,000 buildings are razed annually, the resulting waste accumulates to a staggering 45 million tonnes. Regrettably, only a marginal fraction is reclaimed, primarily reserved for historically significant items or quickly detachable elements like steel components from framework structures. Moreover, the seemingly high rates of recovery, sometimes exceeding 90 per cent of diversion from landfills, can obscure the underlying issue of suboptimal disposal of materials rather than unlocking their full potential for reuse.

Upon reaching the culmination of their functional lifespan, buildings traditionally undergo demolition and are transported to landfills. Techniques such as implosions or the conventional ‘wrecking-ball’ approach are cost-effective and expeditious for site clearance in preparation for new construction. Nonetheless, this approach gives rise to considerable waste generation. Interestingly, some aspects within ageing structures retain value, occasionally surpassing their original worth when erecting the building. Deconstruction serves as a means to extract value from what is typically perceived as “discarded” material, repurposing it into valuable construction resources.

Deconstruction offers an avenue for salvaging materials to repurpose them. Beyond this, it engenders more employment opportunities than traditional demolition practices, fostering local innovation and industrial growth. It serves as a custodian of local character and heritage, simultaneously curtailing the financial burden of landfill usage and diminishing the necessity for new, often carbon-intensive, materials. Even more promising, cities can adopt policies that encourage the transformation of existing buildings to meet contemporary needs, obviating the need for their outright removal.

In the pursuit of minimising waste generated by construction and demolition and maximising material reuse, urban plans should incorporate specific objectives. These goals can align with initiatives targeting climate action, waste management, and urban development. Strategic frameworks must adhere to a construction hierarchy, prioritising the adaptive repurposing of extant structures and deconstructing buildings that necessitate removal. Concurrently, efforts should be channelled into cultivating a vibrant secondary market for these salvaged materials. Municipalities are well-positioned to establish quantifiable targets informed by localised deconstruction opportunities and associated costs. These benchmarks might encompass the number or proportion of buildings slated for deconstruction and the volume of materials slated for recovery from these deconstructed structures.

When opting for building deconstruction, several critical considerations come into play. The initial vital step involves compiling a roster of local contacts capable of accepting reclaimed materials. This roster may encompass commercial architectural salvage enterprises, reclamation yards, not-for-profit and socially-driven salvage warehouses, and dismantling contractors. When salvaging is infeasible, materials might undergo on-site or off-site recycling or be transported to designated landfills. Subsequently, attention turns to identifying potentially hazardous substances, a task of paramount importance. Specifically, materials like lead paint and asbestos demand meticulous handling and proper disposal protocols.

Recovered items tainted with hazardous materials, such as lead paint, necessitate supplementary processing before repurposing. This additional processing introduces an added cost impediment to efficiently reusing specific materials salvaged from a deconstruction endeavour. Certain deconstruction contractors have embraced innovative solutions as a countermeasure to this challenge. These involve the utilisation of specialised sealed processing trailers that employ negative pressure to facilitate on-site lead remediation processing for recovered timber, ensuring a safer and more environmentally responsible approach.

As a standard and logical procedure, the initial step often involves a process known as “soft stripping,” which entails the removal of all appliances, windows, doors, and other finishing materials from the structure. These elements constitute a substantial portion of the components with marketable value. Following the non-structural deconstruction phase, the focus shifts to the structural aspects. The most effective approach is to commence the deconstruction process from the roof, progressively working downward to the foundation.

Components extracted through dismantling must be securely stored in a dry location, protecting against water-related damage and potential theft. Post-separation from the main structure, materials can further undergo cleaning and refinishing to enhance their overall value. Compiling a comprehensive inveCities can create a more sustainable construction industry by prioritising material reuse and existing structuresntory list of available materials to facilitate a systematic management process. This inventory aids in determining the designated destination for each item, streamlining the subsequent phases of the deconstruction project. In conclusion, the demolition industry’s future is being reshaped by the rise of deconstruction—a pivotal approach to dismantling structures. This shift highlights deconstruction’s profound positive impact on the environment, society, and economy. While traditional demolition is quick and cost-effective, it leads to excessive waste and suboptimal material use. Deconstruction salvages valuable materials, creates jobs, fosters innovation, and preserves heritage. To fully realise its potential, urban planning needs clear objectives for climate action, waste management, and urban development. Cities can create a more sustainable construction industry by prioritising material reuse and existing structures. With the global adoption of such initiatives, the demolition industry is poised for a transformative and sustainable future where discarded materials drive a circular economy

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Christof Lourens

CEO Cairnmead Industrial Consultants (Pty) Ltd

Tel: 012 346 5752 | Email: christof@cairnmead.co.za

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