In commercial buildings, it can form a major part of the external envelope. And for all buildings, as Le Corbusier remarked, the history of architecture is the history of the window. It packages drinks, foods and medicines. It’s increasingly being used in the automobile and aviation sectors – to reduce weight, and therefore fuel consumption.
In Europe, there are some 50 float glass plants, mainly manufacturing for the building industry. Other markets include the automotive sector, specialist solar energy applications and, for example, furniture and mirrors. It is inert, and therefore not harmful to health and well-being. It is also a sustainable and completely recyclable material. Not only that but it provides a whole range of environmental benefits – from militating against climate change to husbanding scarce resources.
Glass is able to save energy – either as insulation, or to generate electricity by incorporating photovoltaic cells. It is also resource efficient, being made from abundant raw materials (sand, limestone and soda ash) – and, as glass waste (called cullets), entirely recyclable. It’s estimated that the UK produces some 750,000 tonnes of flat glass every year, mainly for the building industry.
Over 20% of new flat glass now comprises recycled glass – saving energy, because the energy needed to melt glass is less than that required to melt the original raw materials. Reusing glass also reduces the amount of waste going to landfill – a make, use and dispose strategy that is increasingly seen as wasteful, expensive and environmentally irresponsible.
Groups such as Glass for Europe continue to push for better waste management strategies, particularly since – across Europe every year – some 1.2 million tonnes of glass waste is produced from either the demolition or renovation of buildings.
The Resource Efficiency Roadmap sees the building sector as a key sector in terms of climate change and resource efficiency. The EU Roadmap identifies recycling as an important part of the industry’s responsibilities to build a long-term competitive construction sector.
It is a fundamental EU objective that is mirrored in the Construction Products Regulation, relating to the responsible use of natural resources, and the Raw Materials Initiative, which deals in best practice for the collection and reuse of waste. In the spring of 1912, one of the largest ships ever built left Southampton, England, and steamed westwards towards the United States.
It was the epitome of its age: the height of luxury, technology, prosperity and progress. It was, of course, the Titanic, and it was destined to come up against the natural world in the shape of an iceberg. The ship’s demise forms the introduction of a highly influential book on sustainability, ‘Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things’ by the German chemist Michael Braungart and American architect William McDonough.
Published in 2002, it heralded a new philosophy on sustainability called Cradle to Cradle® whose central premise is that products should be conceived from the very start with intelligent design and the intention that they will eventually be recycled, as either ‘technical’ or ‘biological’ nutrients. The book’s authors are simply making the point that, like Titanic, our industrial infrastructure remains “powered by artificial sources of energy that are environmentally depleting.
Cradle to Cradle® instead models human industry on the natural world, in which materials are nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. It’s a philosophy that uses nature as a template for how we can redesign everything that we do – including manufacturing industry – to be more eco-effective. It’s a fascinating philosophy that is gaining traction across sectors and across Europe.
In the building industry, why can’t we make buildings that can be demolished or renovated – and all their constituent parts recycled? In the glass industry, we’re getting there.
Jane Embury, Wrightstyle +44 (0) 1380 722 239 firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlie Laidlaw, David Gray PR (for media enquiries and images) +44 (0) 1620 844 736 or (mobile) +44 (0) 7890 396518 email@example.com