5 Recycling Ideas When Building Your Home (reduce/re-use/reclaim/salvage/up-cycle)

National Recycling Week 2013

National Recycling Week 2013

Did you know that it is National Recycling Week this week?! Founded by Planet Ark, it aims to bring awareness to the environmental benefits of recycling. The focus is mainly on kerbside recycling of waste at home/school/work, so I thought I’d give you some ideas beyond those basics and focus on how recycling can be applicable when building or renovating your home (or any building!). As the construction of buildings is one of the highest uses of energy, it makes sense that if we can recycle components, then it prevents waste, and saves energy that would otherwise be spent on creating something new.

Re-use of building materials commonly saves about 95 per cent of embodied energy that would otherwise be wasted.


1. Recycle existing houses

Don’t demolish existing houses, clearing the site and then rebuild from scratch! This is such a wasteful activity in terms of an entire building going to landfill, and then a whole new house being built. If possible, it is always more sustainable to renovate – rearrange/alter/upgrade/add-on/improve/retro-fit the existing house. There are plenty of ways to economically and sustainably do this, without bringing in the wrecking-ball. If some demolition is required, find a demolition-contractor who will de-construct the building and salvage the existing materials so they can be recycled. If the house is pulled apart piece by piece (rather than being reduced to a massive pile of rubble) then many elements can be re-used (either by you, or sold to others). Typically you should be able to salvage roofing materials, framing timbers, flooring, doors and windows, cabinetry, light fittings, and plumbing fixtures.  See here for further information about Building Material Waste and what can be recycled.


2. Choose Recycled Construction Materials

If building or renovating, there are many options today for selecting recycled building materials, or those with recycled content. I.e. Recycled/Salvaged Timber, Concrete with recycled aggregate, Recycled Rubber Flooring, Recycled Bricks, to name just a few. The Junk Map site is a great directory for finding recycled building materials (and  furniture and homewares) in Australia, or try Recycle Build Australia an online trade site. Choosing recycled materials doesn’t mean you have to go the extreme of building an ‘earthship’ with your own hands with walls constructed of tyres and bottles (however some of the results can be amazing!).

3. Choose Construction Materials than can be Recycled

Think about the life-cycle of your building and how durable it is – how long will it last? Can the building’s components be recycled at the end of their life? As mentioned in my first point above, when a building can be ‘dismantled’ rather than ‘demolished’ it is much easier to recycle the parts. For example, think about construction methods were components are screwed together rather than glued. i.e. Carpet tiles that can be removed (and recycled at the end of their life) and replaced easily, instead of the whole carpet being pulled up and sent to the tip. Many timbers are excellent at being recycled – particularly if nailed/screw-fixed. Although metals like aluminium and steel are very high in embodied energy (the energy required to make the product), they are also highly recyclable.

Recycled timber doesn't have to look rustic

Recycled timber doesn’t have to look rustic

 4. Consider Recycled Cabinetry/Doors/Windows/Handles

If you can give a new lease on life to something that would’ve otherwise ended up as landfill, then why wouldn’t you?! It is getting much easier to source items these days thanks to ebay, gumtree, local buy/swap/sell sites, trading post online, local salvage yards and of course markets/garage sales etc. Reclaimed kitchen cabinets can have loads of character, and may just require a new benchtop and a coat of paint. Salvaged timber-windows may require new glass (consider double-glazing) but can look fantastic once restored.

Extreme use of recycled windows!

Extreme use of recycled windows!

5. Upcycled Furniture

If you’ve ever spent some time browsing through Pinterest you’re sure to have seen some fabulous ideas for ways clever DIY types are “up-cycling” old palettes/ladders/cots etc. This goes beyond just recycling the second-hand item and re-using it; “upclycing” is all about improving someone else’s pre-loved trash and turning it into a whole new piece of treasure. Or check out Recycled Interiors blog for some ideas.


Not all of these ideas will appeal to everyone, but they are all worth considering when building or renovating your home. Each time we re-use and recycle things, it all helps the health of our planet.

Are you a recycler? What’s your favourite recycled/up-cycled item in your home? I’d love to hear your comments below!

If you want to learn more about all things design, architecture, sustainability and healthy homes, please sign up to follow my blog by email (top right hand corner of this page).

Talina x




  1. Susan Nethercote on November 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Wow, I learn so much from your blog! So great to have someone around so full of great ideas for how we can be more sustainable. I love the extreme re-use of the windows in the house in the forest, totes awesome! As for my own personal contribution to recycling week- does living in a house that was built in 1865 count as recycling? Also- am saving all the off-cuts and trims from the workshop folders I am putting together to make paper-chains with the kids for Christmas.

  2. talinaedwards on November 13, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Thanks for your comments Susan. I love the ‘recycled-window’ house too! Considering your 1865 house is very comfortable and contemporary on the inside, I’d say it’s an excellent example of recycling! I love a bit of paper-chain action too… almost time to get onto that :o)

  3. […] 5 Recycling Ideas When Building Your Home (reduce/re-use/reclaim/salvage/up-cycle) […]

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  5. Anton on April 21, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Hi I live in melbourne would like to recycle my house as building a new one .
    Would you have contacts for a recycled
    Builder .

    • Talina Edwards on April 21, 2014 at 10:28 pm

      Hi Anton, thanks for stopping by my site!
      When you say you want to recycle your house as building anew one, do you mean you want to
      a) dismantle it (as opposed to demolish) and use the materials/components to rebuild your new house
      b) dismantle it (as opposed to demolish) and give/sell the materials/components to others for re-use
      c) Relocate the existing house to a different site so you can build a new one on same site, and others can buy your old one
      d) other…?