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Recyclability of Acoustics

06/17/2019 By Hanson Hsu

Architecture has clear definitions of recyclability: to build using materials either with a percentage of recycled content or with the ability to be recycled in the future. The trick is to ensure that the materials are truly recycled to the percentage stated on the backside, and that they actually get recycled.

Recyclability of acoustics for architecture and interiors can mean many things:

  • To build things with recycled materials
  • Recycling the materials when the building or products are demolished or retired
  • Longevity, or to re-use products and devices repeatedly, instead of throwing them away when done
  • Re-using real estate spaces, best utilizing their bespoke design and construction

Recyclability of Architecture, Interiors and Construction

By volume, the most widely used acoustic material is traditional fiberglass or molten rock materials. Once retired or demolished, these materials are often disposed of as trash and put into landfills. Despite their recyclability, there’s no mechanism or infrastructure to process these materials.

While some traditional glass-based materials, such as Thermafiber, are certified to be over 70 percent made from recycled glass bottles, it doesn’t directly address finding a way to recycle the fiberglass material at the end of its lifespan. 

UltraTouch denim insulation is soft to the touch and features acoustic absorption and thermal properties. It’s made from recycled denim (blue jeans) and woven using a proprietary process into insulation batting.

Yet neither material is without its pros and cons. The fiberglass and glass-based insulations used in the majority of traditional acoustics are more inert and less prone to mold retention and related issues. On the other hand, cotton-based materials have similar or higher acoustical performance.

Most traditional wood-based acoustic products are recyclable, as long as they are more wood than binder or resin, and not finished with paint or urethane. The next generation quantum acoustic devices are 100 percent recyclable, as they are all made with recyclable materials or materials already made with high percentages of recycled content.

Longevity and Re-Usability of Products

One point is to create a product or device which lasts the test of time. In other words, if short-term products only last five years and are tossed into landfills for 20 generations while long-term products are still in use 100 years later, perhaps it’s better to design it for longevity in the first place. Recyclability requires future vision, so this should start in the design phase.

Acoustics 101: Rejuvenating the Bathroom into a Spa-like Sounding Space

Re-usability is the related key factor. It’s worth reusing the acoustic devices both as a cost savings as well as a green/recycling perspective. Let’s say you have a conference room with acoustic devices or a studio with quantum devices, which are very effective yet made with specific colors and sizes for your space. If you were to move on from that space, or change businesses, instead of throwing away those devices, it would be wiser to use them again elsewhere. They could be given a facelift with new textile or colors and repurposed.

The new generation of acoustic devices are more likely to do this. I’ve noticed people wanting a thin, lightweight device, beautifully wrapped in elegant textile has value and function.

Re-Using Spaces with Acoustic Products

In this day and age, we see fewer bricks-and-mortar studios built from scratch. Not a room in a house, a spare office or a garage, but a freestanding studio designed and built from ground up specifically for recording.

Typically, studios of this caliber are laborious, expensive and take a great deal of time to design and build. Recently, I witnessed several of these grand studios being used as an office spaces, filled with desks, boxes and extra furniture. From the singular perspective of recyclability, the best re-use of these spaces would be as mixing and recording audio production suites. They would benefit from all the highly specialized acoustical characteristics including the high levels of isolation from the outside world.

The recyclability of acoustics is at the mercy of the exact same things that all recycling is: human nature and convenience. If we make it our mission to recycle anything, and the infrastructure to do so supports it, it will happen. Every ounce of fiberglass made in the U.S. could get recycled and turned into new fiberglass. Every sliver of wood used in building diffusors or quantum devices could be ground into fibers and recreated as new acoustic products.

The Recyclability of Acoustics is Challenging

Recyclability of acoustics is a complex challenge. It encompasses traditional architectural paradigms of materials recycling, re-usability of products and reuse of purpose-built studios and acoustic production spaces.   

If we all commit to a true circle of recyclability regardless of effort, costs or infrastructure, then someday we will all enjoy the benefits of a better, cleaner environment with fewer landfills, less waste and cleaner air. If the interiors can do it, it’s well within our reach to accomplish it as well.

Click here to read more of Acoustics 101 ♦
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