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Last modified: 2023-02-23 | Approximate reading time 5 mins
At a time when everyone is conscious of environmental protection issues, we're looking to recycle and upcycle everything that's no longer needed. As such, the urge to upgrade your home's brick cladding is reason enough to think this over. However, we tend to overlook the fact that terracotta bricks, which are everywhere, are among the greenest solutions out there. Reclaiming bricks is an easy endeavour considering they’re recyclable and reusable. Here's everything you should know about brick recycling.
When a structural shift or collapse occurs damaging brickwork, repairing a wall is still an option after carefully cleaning the bricks and replacing those that are cracked or broken. An experienced mason can comfortably do the job, provided that some bricks made ten, twenty, or thirty years ago are available. Since this is usually a major feat, it explains why there's a real demand on the market for used bricks. In other words, many contractors need recycled brick! When renovating, your old brick may very well become valuable. The use of secondhand bricks, however, will vary depending on their condition:
“Reclaimed bricks” that are still in good condition: Used for a construction or renovation project, but the dismantling process must have been meticulously done, and every brick cleaned to perfection. That way, you’re saving on material costs, but the upcycling process is time-consuming and tedious, which almost always outsets the cost-effectiveness of the initiative. Otherwise, if not reused to build a structure, the salvaged bricks can be used in landscaping projects to create walkways, retaining walls, or patios.
Overly damaged bricks can be upcycled: These can be broken down and converted into aggregate or granular material. Once crushed into pieces, it becomes a sought-after material used as backfill or drainage stones for foundations and transportation infrastructures. These can also be used to make mortar, concrete, or bituminous coatings. In other words, even though it might seem like a complex process, it’s an excellent way to upcycle bricks for numerous projects.
In Quebec, aggregates such as brick, concrete, or gravel account for 40 to 60% of construction, renovation and demolition waste. However, brick has a never-ending lifecycle because of its natural composition (clay shale). Once buried in the ground, having undergone no chemical or industrial transformation, brick disintegrates and returns to its original state without releasing the slightest toxic emission. However, the energy spent on waste management could be used upcycling it!
Bricks are almost always salvageable, whether we're demolishing a deteriorating building or modernizing a house's façade. Once properly cleaned, they can be reused immediately, without any processing or transformation.
With selective deconstruction, a structure’s specific components can be removed to later be reused or recycled. Ultimately, that’s how certain businesses can provide their customers with recycled materials that aren’t available elsewhere. This is especially true with Websters and Sons, a Montréal-based company with a huge inventory featuring bricks of various colours and from different eras, some were even taken from heritage buildings. This company specializes in the purchase and resale of recycled bricks.
If you’re unable to find a business nearby that’s interested in purchasing your bricks, you can always put them up for sale on a classified ads website. Albeit demand isn’t at an all-time high, the rarity of the product ensures that you’ll have, in no time, some takers.
Luckily, the majority of ecocentres accept construction materials, thus bricks. Most of the larger cities in the province of Quebec have local ecocentres, and these salvage sites are accessible to the general public. Several municipalities encourage residents to recycle bricks at designated locations.
In some cases (if the brick you want to recycle isn't in good condition, for example), looking for a company willing to take your stack of bricks can be quite difficult. However, knowing that the construction industry is responsible for one-third of waste materials in Quebec, this approach can significantly reduce your work's environmental impact.
Companies such as Maçonnerie Gratton use their expertise to restore recycled bricks, whether it's reusing the original bricks or opting to have recycled bricks used in a reconstruction project. The Brique-Recyc machine, featured in the upcoming sub-section, further allows on-site recycling.
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Fitted with a diamond blade saw and guided by a laser system, the Brique-Recyc is both a time and money saver. The machine removes mortar and cleans bricks in less than seven seconds, dust-free. Instead of breaking 15% of the bricks, as seen with the previous method: the standard cleaning method, this machine retains upwards of 99% of the bricks.
The machine’s mode of operation is simple enough: Brick is dropped onto a conveyor belt powered by the push of a button. The brick disappears into a metal casing and exits a few seconds later, polished and perfectly cleaned. The old mortar is salvaged and will later serve to make cement, while brick can serve to build a wall from where it’s just been extracted.
Close to a dozen bricks can be processed using the same method, in only a few seconds. The machine recycles a 1,000 sq. ft. (92 sq. m.) brick wall in 440 hours, while 600 hours would be needed to rebuild a wall using new materials.
Until very recently, it was easy and cost-effective to haul new bricks from the United States or Ontario instead of cleaning old bricks and reusing these to build a wall. Conventionally, salvaging brick was an especially slow and costly procedure that people preferred, by a long shot, to dealing with the headache of moving new materials in and out of urban building sites.
Both cheap and eco-friendly, reusing bricks for the same wall would prevent 5.9 tonnes of carbon gas emissions. This calculation accounts for the manufacturing of new bricks, transportation (Quebec ceased making new bricks in 2016), construction process, and disposal of old bricks.
The Brique-Recyc machine is easily transported and can be used in restricted areas, even on scaffolding. When the bricks are cleaned on-site in a short amount of time and immediately reused, it thus becomes cost-effective to recycle this material instead of disposing of it. Therefore, your renovation project could be both cheap and eco-friendly—talk about a win-win!
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