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Lendlease uses fungi to clean up asphalt waste

© Shutterstock / ungvarPost Thumbnail

Global real estate investment group Lendlease (ASE:LLC), alongside Rubicon Technologies (NYSE:RBT) and Rockwood Sustainable Solutions, has completed a pilot project using US start-up Mycocycle’s mycro-remediation technology to remove toxins from waste asphalt shingles (WAS). 

  • Mycocycle’s technology uses fungi to remove toxins from waste and produce renewable construction materials. 
  • Currently, 85% of waste asphalt shingles are sent to landfill, where they leach carcinogenic hydrocarbons into the surrounding environment. 
  • Tightening legislation and increasing pressure from investors is expected to drive construction and real estate companies to support new circular economy technologies. 

Lendlease initiated the project after recognising the need to address its wastage of asphalt roof tiles (shingles) during a re-roofing project in Kentucky.  

Lendlease partnered with digital waste marketplace Rubicon Technologies to send samples of waste asphalt shingles (WAS) to a site owned by construction recycling company Rockwood Sustainable Solutions, where Mycocyle performed its trial. 

Using mushrooms to clean up toxic waste 

Mycocycle’s mycroremediation process relies on the natural ability of mushrooms to break down complex carbons. It involves applying lab-cultivated fungi to shredded waste materials and allowing them to break down toxic components.

Not only does it break down the toxic elements in the waste, but it results in a fire- and water-resistant substance that can be manufactured into new construction materials. 

Founder and chief executive officer Joanne Rodriguez said: “Using mycoremediation to process waste so as to be further recycled and form part of the circular economy is its highest use. Our mycelium recycling pilots continue to see excellent results among a wide range of materials, and I’m excited to see where our work, in partnership with Lendlease, Rubicon, and Rockwood Sustainable Solutions, takes us.” 

The project partners plan to collaborate to encourage manufacturers across the buildings industry to consider the benefits of circular materials on reducing emissions and making supply chains more sustainable. 

WAS are typically landfilled, resulting in toxic leachate 

Asphalt shingles are one of the most widely used roof coverings in North America due to their waterproof qualities, low costs and ease of installation. Each tile comprises a layer of asphalt, the densest component of crude oil, on either side of a reinforcing mat. 

Given their inclusion of petroleum-based asphalt, the production of these shingles is extremely carbon intensive. Asphalt contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which damage the environment and pose a severe threat to public health due to their carcinogenic and mutagenic effects. 

When asphalt shingles are landfilled, as around 85% of them are, these toxic contaminants leach into the surrounding environment. Despite the evident hazards of such practices, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 16.1 million tons of WAS were generated in the US in 2018 alone, with 13 million tons being sent to landfill. 

The real estate sector is under pressure to improve its environmental performance 

With the built environment estimated to account for almost 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, governments around the world are increasingly introducing tighter environmental legislation against the construction sector. 

In the US, the construction industry must comply with the Federal Environmental Requirements for Construction, as well as the EPA’s minimum technical criteria for industrial landfills.

In the EU, the Commission is currently updating its Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which aims to achieve a low-carbon and energy efficient building stock by 2050. Its revisions are expected to impose greater responsibilities on the construction sector to align with its heightened ambitions. 

The UK’s Environment Act 2021, meanwhile, allowed the relevant national authorities to establish their own regulations for eliminating avoidable waste by 2050. Among its suggested measures are the extension of extended producer responsibility and stricter enforcement of waste management legislation. 

Global trends are changing more than real estate

This trend in global policy-making goes beyond expecting more sustainable practices within the construction sector to include increased scrutiny of the investors responsible for financing it.

The introduction of mandatory climate-related financial disclosures by both the UK and the EU require certain financial institutions to report the environmental impacts of their investments. 

The US Securities and Exchange Council has proposed similar rules, which are expected to apply to both publicly traded companies and real estate investment trusts. Such legislation places the real estate sector in a complicated position, as it risks discouraging the investment that will be needed to fund its transition. 

Indeed, a 2021 study by Deepki found that 73% of 100 surveyed institutional commercial real estate investors and professionals expected buyers to avoid real estate assets that were lagging behind in ESG ratings.

A second survey of 250 European pensions funds revealed that 40% of respondents had seen their commercial property assets depreciate by between 21 and 30% year-on-year due to ESG failings. 

Industry collaborations will benefit all stakeholders involved 

Collaborative projects will be necessary if the construction industry is to transition in line with regulatory requirements and investors’ risk assessments.

Emerging technologies such as Mycocyle’s will gain the support of larger companies, while incumbent real estate and construction firms stand to benefit by improving their reputation, complying with legislation and gaining access to the revenue opportunities of circular materials. 

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