Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Chinese Style)




China is going to start scrapping lots of things built before 1995. The first wave of Chinese construction went up quickly and cheaply, and many buildings will be torn down to make way for new, perhaps more tasteful buildings one to three times the size.

The old building only had one electric outlet per room, and the new one will have three. The old one had painted steel, but the new one will use stainless or galvanized steel. What can be recycled from the old will be recycled. The Chinese did not build the old to last forever, but the new one will be built with a 50-year life in mind, as long as the building manager does not take a bribe or three and go cheap on the rebar or electrical wire gauge.


China’s rebirth, however, will not result in huge marginal demand of most materials due to recycling. The Chinese will reuse every ounce possible of rebar, cement, and copper. Recycling will result in increased marginal demand for nickel, copper, zinc, and other materials necessary to create high-quality buildings. Steel, however, will not be used from mostly virgin sources because all of the rebar from the old building, for example, can be net recycled.


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