When Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1976, the mantra of sustainability became ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. Highlighting responsible consumption, this idea addresses how to thoughtfully reduce waste as products reach end-of-life. Reduce, reuse, recycle was a powerful means to popularizing recycling in the late 20th century and to bring responsible consumption into the forefront of conversations. Though as consumption per capita increased over the past 50 years and changing material standards have made recycling more difficult, we are facing an industrial turning point. More and more recycling is ending up in landfills as a cover fill or as waste.
This begs the question; how can the life of recycled products be extended? Or better yet, how could products at their expected end-of-life be reinvigorated with new uses? Enter the circular economy: In opposition to an extractive economy that quickly cycles through use and disposal, the circular economy recovers and regenerates products that have reached the end of their intended life. This eliminates the need for new materials into the production stream, which may ultimately end up as waste. In a functioning circular economy, materials are constantly being recovered and used, so their value can be perpetuated over time without the extractive effects. Opportunistic companies that are looking to maximize their positive impacts are quickly finding ways to leverage this opportunity.
Glavel is doing just that in the built environment; historically, a typical home or commercial building is built on top of a gravel base and petroleum-derived polystyrene foam board. It’s been done this way since foam board was introduced in the mid-twentieth century. This approach perpetuates fossil fuel demand, while placing petroleum-based products into the built environment, where chemicals can leach into soils over time. Not to mention that foam board is susceptible to frosting and heaving, water damage, and insect damage. Foam glass gravel is Glavel’s response to building with gravel and foam. Having been successfully manufactured in Europe for over 25 years, foam glass gravel is made from finely ground recycled glass that’s mixed with a foaming agent, and baked to 1600 degrees; the result is a lightweight foam aggregate that does not require new material inputs into the production stream. Glavel’s approach to sub slab insulation reworks the equation by removing the virgin materials and eliminating the need for petroleum-derived products. By using recycled glass to manufacture foam glass gravel, the life of recycled glass is greatly extended and sub-optimal applications are eliminated.
As the CEO of Glavel, Rob Conboy says, “We think there’s a bright future for foam glass gravel. We love the fact that we’re going to be taking something of little or no value and turning it into a product that’s good for the planet and an amazing alternative to a petroleum-based product that’s laden with lots of chemicals, and do some good.” As Glavel and foam glass gravel continue to gain market traction, environmentally conscious buyers and builders will have the means to step further from traditionally sourced building materials, and move closer to a circular economy where the loop can continue to be closed.