NEA calls for more recycling in construction sector

Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) is urging the local construction industry to use more recycled and waste materials as building material, which can come from existing buildings set to be demolished as well as other sources.

Speaking to Eco-Business on the sidelines of the International Green Building Conference (IGBC), NEA’s manager of waste and resources management, Carrie Wong, said the agency has been discussing how to promote the use of recycled and waste materials with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and other agencies.

“We are also looking at other materials such as copper slag, which is generated from the marine industry, as well as incineration ash to see how we can make use of it as construction material,” said Ms Wong. Currently, some of the industry players are practicing similar innovation but Ms Wong is hoping for waste materials to feature in more aspects of construction and play a bigger role in new buildings.

However, some experts point out, changing the mindsets of Singaporeans who may frown on living or working in a building made out of waste materials might be a challenge.

But the NEA says it is hoping that with further education and awareness, more people will be receptive to the idea.

“Singaporeans arebecoming more well-traveledand if such practices have beenaccepted overseas, maybe we have a chance,” noted Ms Wong.

However, executive director of Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS), Yvonne Soh, believes more legislation might be needed to push the idea forward.

“Legislation provides alevel-playing field, so you can compete on equal ground with natural materials,” said Ms Soh.

She observed that some developers in Singapore are already using more waste and recycled materials for construction but that they don’t readily publicise this as they are careful when it comes to their branding.

So, while developers are wary of making it known that they are using recycled materials, they are well aware of the cost benefits.

And these are huge savings, according to scientific director Dirk Hebel of the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture,  who saidthat using waste materials could leadto a 90 per cent savings in the Ethiopian construction sector. And he believes such savings are possible elsewhere too.

“Singapore has a long history of making sure affordable housing is available for the people. If we can construct cheaper houses here in Singapore, there would be morebenefits for residents, such as cheaper rents, and housing prices could potentially drop as well. And maybe there could be a better living experience,” he added.

Mr Hebel will be joining a new Singapore-Swiss research facility called the Future Cities Laboratory. It will conduct studies on sustainable urban development. This relates to how modern city structures can be environmentally sustainable as well as cost efficient.

He also firmly believes that a country should try to use as much local material as possible rather than relying on imports when it comes to construction purposes.

Even for a country like Singapore which depends vastly on imported materials for construction, Mr Hebel said research holds the key for solutions.

“Could we for example think of a new concrete mix which in the end does not contain cement any more, but maybe contains more ash from the burning of waste and rubbish here in Singapore? We could also perhaps come up with a  new  type of concrete that doesn’t need steel - but we can maybe reinforce concrete using bamboo technology instead, which is cheaper.”

Experts on the closing day of the IGBC in Singapore agreed that innovative research ideas such as these, coupled with legislation and education, is indeed the way to go for the proper use of waste materials in the construction sector.

Eco-Business.com’s coverage of the International Green Building Conference 2011 is brought to you by City Developments Limited (CDL).

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