To combat waste, Lendlease leverages mushrooms for recycling

Dive Brief:

  • Fungi aren’t just a pizza topping, they’re also potentially a key solution to the construction industry’s waste and recycling problem.
  • Australia-based contractor Lendlease recently completed a recycling pilot that used mushrooms to break down roofing shingles from 214 houses at the Fort Campbell Army installation in Lexington, Kentucky, the company announced in a release.
  • Once the shingles decompose — a process that would take more than 300 years without remediation — they can be used as compost for growing food, according to Sarah Neff, the head of sustainability at Lendlease. 

Dive Insight:

The pilot tested three strains of fungi to break down the shingles, a process known as mycoremediation. 

Lendlease partnered with digital recycling firm Rubicon Technologies, fungi-based recycling company Mycocycle and recycling firm Rockwood Sustainable Solutions on the project. The contractor hopes this process will eventually become a revenue stream, Neff told Construction Dive. 

The building industry generated more than 600 million tons of construction and demolition debris in the U.S. in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, 11 to 13 million tons of asphalt shingles end up in landfills each year, and only 5% to 10% are recycled. 

“Taking a product that is no longer viable and combining it with a natural renewable source that results in a new product is a phenomenal outcome that is both beneficial to the environment and bolsters the economy,” Neff said. 

With the help of the fungi, Lendlease hopes to cut back on its waste numbers as the company aims for an “absolute zero” carbon footprint by 2040, Neff told Construction Dive.

In addition to the roofing shingles, for example, Neff said the company is exploring how the fungi could be used to break down the gypsum in drywall.

Neff hopes that the process is scalable across the company, and that it can make more money from the compost than it spends to send the waste to a landfill.

“There needs to be a revenue stream, which is the goal,” Neff said. “If we can use this process to reduce the amount of construction waste that we have from both Lendlease Communities and our regular construction business, I think that would be a fantastic outcome.”

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