Recycled Concrete: Can Concrete Be Recycled?

Concrete is one of the most used products on the planet, therefore the fact that concrete can be repurposed from existing construction waste is huge. Recycled concrete is an increasingly popular material used for new construction projects and other purposes. It is a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to using new concrete.

The recycling process involves breaking down existing concrete into smaller pieces that can be reused in a range of applications, such as making aggregate material or being used directly in new structures. Recycled old concrete can also be used for non-structural applications such as backfill, landscaping, and roadway base material. In addition to its environmental benefits, recycled concrete offers economic advantages.

Benefits of using Recycled Concrete

Recycled concrete offers several benefits to the environment and economy. By using recycled materials rather than new raw materials, construction sites become more affordable. Additionally, the use of recycled concrete reduces the amount of material sent to landfill and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing the amount of carbon emissions from production processes.

It also reduces the use of new raw materials, resulting in cost savings for construction sites. Furthermore, using recycled concrete material leads to increased durability and longevity for projects as it can withstand harsh weather conditions. Ultimately, recycled concrete helps create a sustainable society that minimizes environmental destruction and conserves natural resources.

What is Recycled Concrete Aggregate?

Recycled concrete aggregate (RCA) is a material created when old concrete is broken down into smaller pieces and reused as an alternative to traditional crushed stone materials. RCA can be used in place of aggregate for many projects in the construction industry, including new buildings, roads, bridges, and landscaping elements.

By using recycled aggregate concrete instead of conventional materials, it helps reduce the environmental impact associated with production and transport of raw materials. Additionally, it has several advantages over traditional aggregate materials, including cost savings, lower energy consumption, and increased durability.

Recycled Concrete Aggregate Characteristics

RCA has several key characteristics that make it an ideal substitute for traditional aggregate materials. It is highly durable, meaning that it will hold up better over time and can be used in a variety of applications.

Its smaller size allows it to go through a finer grading process, which makes it easier to handle and install when compared to its larger counterparts. Additionally, it contains a higher percentage of recycled material than traditional aggregate materials, making it an economical choice for projects that require large amounts of aggregate.

The Concrete Recycling Process

The process for recycling concrete is relatively straightforward. First, the concrete material is broken down into smaller pieces, typically with the use of a crusher or other machinery. This reduces the size and makes it easier to transport. Next, the material is screened and sorted so that only RCA pieces remain.

These are then washed to remove any dirt or other debris before being processed and ready for use in projects. Finally, the aggregate is tested for quality assurance purposes and labelled as recycled concrete aggregate for easy identification onsite. By following these steps, it’s possible to repurpose existing concrete into new projects while still maintaining high levels of durability and cost savings.



The process of recycling concrete aggregate begins when a structure is demolished. Before it can be recycled, the concrete must be broken up and gone through a crushing process to reduce the size of the material.

This is usually done by heavy machinery like excavators and bulldozers that extract the concrete from its original location and break it down into smaller pieces. Once these pieces are small enough, they can then be sorted and transported from place to place for further processing.


The next step in the recycling process is crushing. This involves breaking down large pieces of concrete into smaller components that can be more easily used for other projects. Crushing machines are commonly used to reduce the size of concrete pieces and to prepare them for re-use in various ways.

The crushed material is then sorted into size and quality, the transported again, usually with a sorting machine that separates it out based on how coarse it is and the natural aggregate it contains. After this separation is done, the crushed concrete aggregate can be further processed or stored for future use.

Contaminant Removal

Contaminants such as dirt, rocks, and other debris can be found in recycled concrete. Removing these contaminants is essential for the safe reuse of the material, as they can pose a health risk or cause unwanted changes to the structure of the aggregate. A number of methods are used to remove contaminants from recycled concrete, including air classification, water sorting, and magnetic separation.

Air classification involves blowing air through the materials to remove lighter particles, while water sorting uses water pressure to separate out heavier pieces. Magnetic separation separates ferrous metals from non-ferrous metals using magnets. By using these methods, it is possible to create an aggregate that is clean and safe to use in a variety of applications.

Permeable Pavement

Permeable pavement is one of the most widely used applications for recycled concrete aggregate. This type of pavement allows water to drain through its surface and into a subsurface reservoir, reducing runoff and improving water quality. The porous nature of permeable pavement also makes it ideal for use in areas that experience heavy storms, as it reduces the risk of flooding and helps manage storm water more effectively.

Additionally, permeable pavement can provide an aesthetically pleasing solution in urban areas with limited space for drainage. By using recycled concrete aggregate instead of new materials, construction costs may be reduced while still providing a functional and attractive surface.

Base Layers for New Asphalt Pavement

The foundation of an asphalt pavement is crucial for its strength and longevity. When implementing permeable pavement solutions, it’s imperative to design the base layers to establish a stable groundwork. Typically, this involves the use of an aggregate base layer composed of recycled concrete or crushed stone, followed by a base course consisting of sizable stone particles or slag. It’s essential to compact these base layers effectively to ensure their ability to support the upper pavement layer.

The porosity allows water to permeate through creating great water absorption, this higher absorption from the sub-base means less chance of surface flooding to walkways, driveways, car parks etc. Moreover, this process necessitates thoughtful assessment of drainage patterns and soil types to mitigate potential harm from freeze-thaw cycles or heavy traffic loads.

Utility Pipe Bedding

Utilising recycled concrete as pipe bedding not only contributes to sustainability but also offers excellent structural support for underground utility pipes. This method involves repurposing concrete waste materials into a resilient and eco-friendly bedding material, its granular nature means it  can be strategically placed around utility pipes to enhance stability and protect against shifting or damage.

Soil Stabilization

Recycled concrete can also be used to stabilize soils, which can be highly beneficial in sites that are prone to loose or shifting soils. The unique properties of recycled concrete provide an effective solution for soil stabilization, with its granular structure and strength providing increased cohesiveness to the soil.

This process helps prevent slippage of the ground and ensures greater stability against external forces like wind, water flow and vehicular traffic. In addition, utilizing recycled concrete for soil stabilization results in fewer raw materials being used and less energy wasted during production.

New Concrete

New Concrete

Recycled concrete can also be used to create entirely new concrete structures. This process is more cost-effective than using completely new materials, and it also helps reduce the amount of energy needed for production. In addition, by reusing materials, fewer raw resources are being extracted from the environment which reduces our overall environmental impacts.

The resulting concrete mixture still exhibits strong mechanical properties and is durable enough to withstand the harshest weather conditions.

Recycled Concrete Used For?

Recycled concrete can be used in a range of applications, from roads to bridges and buildings. It is also commonly used for erosion control, drainage structures and retaining walls.

Additionally, its use in soil stabilization can help reduce costs associated with road construction since it takes less energy to produce than traditional concrete. The potential energy savings makes recycled concrete an attractive choice for environmentally conscious projects.

Technical and Structural Challenges of Recycled Concrete

Using recycled concrete in the construction industry has its share of challenges. For instance, it is difficult to accurately predict the performance characteristics of recycled concrete due to the wide variety of material composition. Additionally, recycled concrete can be weaker than traditional concrete and often requires additional reinforcement to meet structural requirements.

Another challenge is matching the aesthetic value of traditional concrete for projects that require good looks and stability. Despite these issues, recycled concrete can still offer a cost-effective and sustainable option for many construction applications.

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Is recycled concrete as strong as concrete?

Recycled concrete can exhibit comparable compressive strength to conventional fresh concrete, but this depends on various factors such as the quality of the original demolished concrete, the recycling process, and the incorporation of additional materials.

When concrete is recycled, it’s typically crushed and combined with other materials such as crushed stone, recycled brick, or recycled asphalt. The resulting material, called recycled concrete aggregate (RCA), can be used in new concrete mixes.

Recycled concrete’s strength might not always match that of freshly made concrete due to potential variations in the components. However, technological advancements and careful processing methods have led to the development of high-quality products that are quite strong and suitable for many construction applications.

In many cases, recycled concrete is utilised for non-structural applications or used as a base layers in road construction where extremely high strength isn’t a primary requirement. However, with proper processing and quality control, recycled concrete can be used in structural applications too.

Is recycled concrete durable?

Recycled concrete can exhibit durability comparable to conventional concrete when properly processed and used in construction. The durability of recycled concrete depends on various factors, including the quality of the original concrete, the recycling process, and the intended application.

Are there any standards or guidelines for the production and use of recycled concrete?

Yes, in the United Kingdom, there are standards and guidelines governing the production and use of recycled concrete. These standards are designed to ensure the quality, safety, and sustainability of recycled concrete in construction applications. Some of the key guidelines and standards include:

  1. British Standards (BS): Various British Standards provide guidance on the use of recycled concrete. One of the primary standards is BS EN 206:2013, which covers concrete specifications. This standard includes provisions for the use of recycled aggregate in concrete production.
  2. British Standards Institution (BSI): BSI develops and publishes standards, and it’s the organization responsible for endorsing European and international standards in the UK. Standards such as BS 8500 Parts 1 and 2 also cover concrete specifications and include considerations for recycled aggregates.
  3. The Highways Agency (now Highways England): Specific guidelines exist for the use of recycled materials in road construction. The Highways Agency has provided advice and specifications for using recycled concrete aggregate in road projects.
  4. WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme): WRAP provides guidance and resources for sustainable resource management. It offers information and best practice guidance for the use of recycled aggregates, including recycled concrete, in construction.

These standards and guidelines cover various aspects of recycled concrete, including its production, quality control, testing methods, and permissible applications in construction. They are intended to ensure that recycled concrete meets the necessary quality, performance, and environmental criteria while contributing to sustainable building practices.

It’s important for construction professionals and stakeholders in the UK to adhere to these standards and guidelines when using recycled concrete in their projects to ensure compliance with industry best practices and to contribute to environmentally friendly construction practices.

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