A Zero-Waste Approach in the Design of Buildings

Introducing a new way of approaching sustainability in buildings with a conceptual industrial building design as an illustrative example.

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Climate change and environmental issues are important in today’s society. The earth is being depleted of its resources and the changing climate could irreversibly change the planet for the worse. Sustainable buildings are mostly optimised for the use phase but neglect end of life scenarios. Buildings are often demolished and materials are dumped on a landfill. In a world where climate change and resource depletion is a pressing issue this is not acceptable. Buildings should be designed and made in such a fashion that allows for reuse and recycling of materials. Currently there is no suitable method available to design or to assess a building for this aspect. This research presents a method that increases focus on the end of life of buildings: zero-waste designing. The goal of this study is to assess a zero-waste approach on practical application on a design and its process. The main research question of this study is how a building can be designed to generate no waste in all phases of its construction and demolition. This is divided into three sub-questions: What are the principles and functional requirements of a zero-waste building design? What are important factors in realising a zero-waste building design? What is a possible design solution for an industrial building according to zero-waste principles and requirements? These questions are answered using a mixed approach of research and design. The specific demands, requirements and tips of zero-waste are compiled and then applied on a conceptual design. An industrial building is used as an example case to answer the questions from a practical perspective. The research concludes that three main points are important in a zero-waste design. Firstly, no waste may be produced during any phase of the life of the building. Secondly, every material used in the building should remain in its respective material cycle during its life cycle. Third, reuse of materials should be made possible in such a way that invested/embodied energy is maintained as much as possible or can easily be increased. From the industrial building design case the following was concluded: The overall design realises a zero-waste design by using the right materials and by maximising the attractiveness of disassembly at the end of life of the building by appropriate detailing and system choice. The design method as proposed can be difficult to implement fully on every building design. Overall it will be difficult to put a zero-waste approach in practice in the building industry to solve the pressing issues regarding the environment. A change of mind-set is necessary. The implementation of the proposed zero-waste method will also require an infrastructure that is not yet available. Some solutions in the design test case are unproven or uneconomical compared to conventional designs. This may lead to the design not being feasible to construct. It can be concluded that designing buildings to produce zero-waste at the end of life is possible, however more research will be required to also make it feasible and to prove the proposed solutions.