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The Circular Economy and the Promise of Glass in Concrete

As most are aware, concrete is an essential component of the built environment. Still, most people spend little time thinking about the materials that go into concrete: gravel, sand, water, cement, and, in some cases, fly ash or slag.

Cement, concrete’s primary binding element, generates large amounts of CO2 during its production. And the primary substitute for a portion of cement in concrete – fly ash – typically contains varying levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead and other contaminants considered potentially toxic.

At the same time, post-consumer glass is a growing problem in many regions of the United States. Despite glass being 100% recyclable, cities across the country are abandoning their glass recycling programs over profitability concerns and challenges finding effective end markets for the material.

In this case study, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Google, and companies like Unilever seek to answer: could post-consumer glass, ground into a powder, be used as an additional substitute material in concrete, and as such reduce carbon footprints, minimize exposure to potentially toxic materials, and find a much-needed use for post- consumer glass?

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