Gypsum: A natural resource used in construction for centuries
Gypsum is an abundant mineral rock from which you make plaster and commonly found in the earth crust and quarried worlwide.
The process to make plaster is easy and requires low temperature, almost 200 degree that can be home made in your oven at home! The chemical process is 100% reversible!
In 9000 BC in Asia, the production of plaster indeed started in an oven and plaster was used for instance by the ancient Egyptians to plaster the pyramid of Cheops in Gizeh.
Gypsum powder, scientifically called calcium sulphate is the only natural substance that can be restored to its original rock-like state by the addition of water alone, formed into shape and hardened.
The beauty of Gypsum is its sustainability throughout the life cycle of the product: from extraction to manufacturing, use in construction, renaturation and recycling into the same product.
Sustainability in Recycling
The European construction sector is strategically important for Europe providing buildings and infrastructure on which all sectors of the economy depend. It is the biggest sectoral employer and a major contributor to Gross Capital Formation in Europe1.
In Europe, the Construction & Demolition (C&D) waste is not a European market at all. It has a strong regional orientation.
This regional orientation makes it difficult to obtain solid statistics, let alone to predict a solid forecast of the developments of C&D waste in Europe and moreover so for gypsum waste.
Based on assumptions of the square meter used per capita in the 27 Member States, it is estimated that the amount of Gypsum waste – stemming from construction, renovation and demolition is approximately 2.350.000 ton/year covering the 27 member States. Production waste in the 27 member States is estimated at 627.600 ton/year, a substantial proportion of which is recycled in the plants2. There are very limited data available on plasterboard waste generation beyond anecdotal evidence and ad hoc projects.
Concerning gypsum waste, three categories can be differentiated based on their origin:
- Production waste (e.g. gypsum boards which do not meet specifications and waste resulting from the manufacturing process). The volume of production waste currently recycled is approximately 5%.
- Waste resulting from construction sites (called construction waste). The gypsum construction waste currently recycled is estimated, at current market volumes – at ca. 7%.
- Demolition waste. The last category includes both demolition and renovation waste and is the most complex to address because it adheres to other construction materials (such as plasters, paints & screeds etc). The demolition waste does not depend on market volumes and its recycling is estimated at ca. 1%.
Incentives to recycle
The environmental preference is ultimately to reducing waste at source, i.e. at the design stage. Nonetheless, as waste is inevitably generated during construction, demolition and renovation, the focus is placed on turning traditional Gypsum Waste into a business opportunity.
On 19 December 2002 the Council of the European Union took a decision to establish criteria and procedures for the acceptance of waste at landfills. Section 2.2.3 of the annex mentions: “Non-hazardous gypsum-based materials should be disposed of only in landfills for non-hazardous waste in cells where no biodegradable waste is accepted”.
Market driver: up-cycling and green public procurement
The European Gypsum industry aims to optimise the life-cycle impact of gypsum products and systems (from cradle to cradle).
In 2010, the Gypsum Industry developed with the European Commission the Green public procurement criteria for wall panels (i.e. plasterboard). The current project will create an opportunity to reassess those criteria, particularly those relating to the percentage of recycled gypsum in the board which is set currently at 2% in the comprehensive criteria3.
Challenges to be faced Barriers to recycle
The main barrier to create a recycling culture within the construction industry is that buildings are currently demolished and not dismantled in the majority of the Member States. This leads to unsegregated waste going to landfill without having the possibility to recover valuable recyclable materials, like gypsum products.
Notwithstanding the above, this mentality is currently changing, mainly in Western Europe (Germany, France and the UK).
As an example, in the UK, with the inception of the Site Waste Management Plan Regulations (SWMP) in 2008, the demolition industry tends to have a good idea of the amount of Plasterboard to be removed from a building. The demolition industry is also able to stream all other materials fairly accurately as well. Although the SWMP Regulations do have a minimum threshold (£300000) for when the Plan is required, with the type of software formats available for the Plan and the reasonable ease with which they can be populated, this can be done reasonably easily and without too much resource required.
2 Figures calculated by New West Gypsum recycling
 Council decision of 19 December 2002 establishing criteria and procedures for the acceptance of waste at landfills pursuant to Article 16 and Annex II to Directive 1999/31/EC