What is meant by sustainable use of materials?

Sustainable use of materials is the use of resources (energy, natural resources), their impact on the environment and the specific risks to human safety. In construction, environmental friendly materials are those where, by their production, placement and storage, low environmental impact acts have been performed.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Pollution Prevention Act suggests that one must first consider reducing consumption. If reduced consumption is not an option, the next goal should be to reduce the prices of any item and recycle any waste. To save the environment, we must stop pollution, and recycle things.

Sustainable construction not only benefits the planet and common sense, but it can also save the client money, help preserve our heritage, respond to planning policies and help earn credits to Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and other environmental testing tools.

Stable things are:

  • It does not eliminate non-renewable (natural) resources.
  • It has no adverse effect on the environment when used.
  • Both goals cannot be achieved, but they do provide information and guide us in the right direction.

We can conserve natural resources in many ways:

  • Avoid the use of rare (non-renewable) materials, such as peat and weatherproof limestone.
  • Produce less waste.
  • Slight use; by not overly defining operational requirements, by designing lightweight structures, and matching the need for supply (such as cutting and complementing the supply scale).
  • Use acquired things, instead of new ones.
  • Use renewable resources.

The impact on the environment can be reduced by:

  • Using low-strength composite materials.
  • Reduce transportation and associated fuel, gas emissions, and traffic congestion.
  • Prevent garbage to the landfill.
  • Designing and building recycling and recycling at the end of life (reconstruction design).

Sustainable Materials Management

Sustainable materials management (SMM) is a systematic way of using and productively reusing resources throughout their life cycles. It represents a change in the way our society thinks about the use of natural resources and the protection of the environment. By examining how materials are used throughout their life cycle, the sustainable materials management approach seeks to:

  • Use things more productively with emphasis on less use.
  • Make sure we have enough resources to meet today and future needs.

The way our society uses resources is critical to our economic and environmental future. Global competition for limited resources will increase as the world's population and economy grow. Productively and low-impact consumption helps our society to remain economically competitive, contributes to our prosperity, and protects the environment with a resource for future generations.

The use of the U.S. and the whole world grew rapidly during the last century. According to June 8, 2015, G7 Leadership Proclamation, the use of raw materials worldwide increased during the 20th century by almost double the rate of population growth. For every one-percent increase in domestic production, consumption of raw materials increased by 0.4 percent. These growing natural resources have had an impact on the environment, including habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, overfished fishing grounds, and desertification. Asset management is also associated with a 42 percent rate of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Failure to find productive and sustainable ways to produce, use and manage building materials, and to change the relationship between material use and growth, has far-reaching effects on our economy and society.

Sustainable materials management life-cycle perspective

We can find new opportunities to reduce environmental impacts, save resources, and reduce costs by looking at the life cycle of a product, from its production to disposal.

Implementing Sustainable materials management

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) works to promote economic prosperity and eradicate poverty. It promotes the economic growth and financial stability of worldwide governments. It also considers their potential economic and social growth impacts. The OECD has worked to promote policies that prevent, reduce and control waste in ways that minimize environmental impact. Over time it has become clear that economic growth and uses of resources require a systematic approach to waste management. It seeks to integrate resources back into production at the end of their life, in what is commonly referred to as “Cradle to cradle” unlike traditional waste management practices "Cradle to grave". In 2001 the OECD began to address the international interest in viewing waste as a potential resource of new products. Many countries and governments began implementing sustainable management policies. In 2012, the OECD issued a Green Growth Policy briefly on sustainable materials management.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

There are many ways available to assess the information on the natural impact of building materials as well parts within the construction industry. Although they are sufficient for a specific purpose, they are sufficient unrighteousness. The LCA is a way of assessing the natural loads of processes as well products during their entire life cycle. Testing covers the entire product life cycle, a process, or process that involves the extraction and processing of immature substances; production, transportation, and distribution; use, reuse, care, recycle, and disposal. The LCA has become a widely used method, due to its integrated approach to draft management, impact testing, and data quality. The LCA method is based on ISO 14040 that contains four different analytical steps.

  1. Defining purpose and scope, building a life cycle inventory, testing impact, and ultimately interpreting the results. 
  2. A fully monitored, LCA explores the environmental inputs and outputs associated with a product or cycle of service life from birth to the grave, that is, from raw material extraction, by production, phase of use, recycling where required, for final disposal. 
  3. ISO 14040 defines the LCA as a strategy for assessing environmental and energy features the effects associated with the product, by compiling a list of included items and relevant results of a product plan; exploring potential environmental impacts, and interpreting the information of inventory analysis and impact assessment categories. 
  4. Often, the LCA is hired as an analytical decision and a support tool. Historically it has found popular use compared to standardized methods of making it once processing materials, for instance, comparing recycling and burning as waste management options. 

The information by LCA is taken as a tool for delivering the most economical life cycles.

EPA's Life cycle of materials and products from material extraction, manufacturing, distribution, use and end of life management (including the EPA waste management hierarchy).
PD-1.0 | Image Credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org | United States Environmental Protection Agency

Hazardous waste management

Some waste produced by conservationists is considered hazardous waste and has a certain obligation attached. As a generator, you are responsible for the health of that hazardous material from the time you use it until it is properly disposed of.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) defines hazardous waste as non-hazardous, corrosive, functional, or toxic.

According to the RCRA, there are three categories of hazardous waste generators:

  • Large generators produce more than 1,000 kilograms of hazardous waste per month
  • Small generators produce between 100 and 1,000 kilograms of hazardous waste per month 
  • Very small generators or conditional small generators produce less than 100 kilograms of hazardous waste per month.

If waste is not properly disposed of, it can lead to health, safety, and legal issues and have a detrimental effect on people, plants, animals, and the ecosystem that interacts with it after improper dumping.

Context and Applications

This topic is important for professional exams in both undergraduate and graduate studies:

  • Bachelors of Technology in Civil Engineering
  • Masters of Technology in Civil Engineering

Practice Problems

1. Which of the following helps in measuring carbon footprint?

  1. Volatile organic compounds
  2. Third-party analysis
  3. Carbon accounting
  4. Composting

Answer- c

Explanation- Carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by a person, event, organization, or product. It can be measured by measuring GHG (greenhouse gas) levels or activities such as carbon accounting.

2. Which of the following is a global environmental problem?

  1. Climate change
  2. Information on pollution
  3. Material use
  4. Regional ozone

Answer- a

Explanation- These are the three scales of environmental issues - local, regional and global. Climate change, global warming, depletion of stratospheric ozone, and so on. are all global problems.

3. Who manages hazardous waste according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)?

  1. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  2. Sustainable materials management (SMM)
  3. Volatile organic compounds management (VOCM)
  4. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

Answer- d

Explanation- Mixed waste is hazardous waste containing radioactive material, according to the EPA, HW in hazardous waste is regulated under the RCRA and the Atomic Energy Act.

4. According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), what is the reason for considering the waste as hazardous?

  1. Composting new products
  2. Poses a hazard to health or the environment
  3. Conserve for future generations
  4. Third-party source

Answer- b

Explanation- According to UNEP, waste is considered hazardous if, through the use of chemicals or toxins, explosions or other substances poses a hazard to health or the environment.

5. What is the amount of waste generated by Small quantity generators (SQG) in kilogram/month?

  1. 100
  2. 200
  3. 1000
  4. 2000

Answer- c

Explanation- The amount of waste produced by SQG is less than 1000 kilograms/month. The amount of waste is small but mismanagement has a very dangerous effect.

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