Urban mining

The term brings to mind pit mines in the middle of a city. But that’s not what it means. It refers to reusing materials within the city, much of it from buildings.

Simply put, urban mining is the process of recovering and reusing a city’s materials, which may include anything from buildings and infrastructure to discarded products. Once their functional lifetimes come to an end — buildings fall into disrepair, cars break down, phones become unusable — the materials of these objects become available for reuse.

Demolition work on former Qinetiq site – 10 February by Philip Halling is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

We already collect old cars and you can recycle your old phones. But about half the waste stream comes from buildings, construction and demolition waste (C&D.)

Buildings are the largest urban mine compared to other anthropogenic stocks, accounting for more than 50 per cent of all extracted metals [5], and hence serve as great sources of secondary materials. These can include anything from concrete, steel, and bricks, to the wood, glass, metal pipes, aluminium facades, roof tiles, and railings used in buildings, as they are all valuable finished products. Resources can be extracted from buildings even before they are considered unfit for use, especially when functional changes convert building components, like HVAC systems, from in-use to end-of-life products.

Think of it as ReStore on steroids. But we will need to solve the challenges of convenience and standardization. The average builder isn’t going to want to fuss with used lumber and old doors without the jambs. Fortunately much of the material is sand, gravel and concrete that can be easily ground or sifted to get the uniformity they expect.

India is experimenting with this approach, in part driven by strengthened environmental policies.

Recently, the Indian government shifted its focus on waste management regulations from the “Polluter Pays Principle” to “Extended Producer Responsibility”, which makes the producer responsible for the entire lifecycle of the product and creates closed-loop systems that ensure recovery of end-of-life products to foster urban mining.


1 thought on “Urban mining”

Comments are closed.