Concrete's Cleaner Afterlife

Published in the University of Washington Conservation Magazine - December 11, 2013

The modern age is built upon concrete. Concrete is cheap to make, easy to transport, and highly formable—making it a ubiquitous and universal feature of the developed landscape. But unlike building materials that defined past eras, concrete doesn’t exactly stand up to the test of time. Concrete structures have an expiration date—they can last up to 100 years in some situations, but often much less—after which they need to be demolished and rebuilt. And that process creates a lot of waste. Approximately 200 million tons of waste concrete are generated annually in the U.S. alone. About half of that is recycled, and the rest of it winds up in landfills. But what if that concrete could be given a new life as a filter for runoff? Or what if we could eliminate that waste altogether with a new and smarter way to demolish buildings? Two recent innovations explore these possibilities for a greener concrete afterlife.

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