ReWall panels with added décor.
Credit: Hallie Busta

ReWall panels with added décor.

Thursday was all about materials. My day began with a panel session titled, "After the Storm: Recovering (Materials) from a Natural Disaster," which included three speakers from Kansas City, Mo. firms: Nathan Benjamin, founder and CEO of materials consulting firm PlanetReuse; Ryan Evans, founder of service-learning nonprofit Historic Green and an engineer at the Kansas City office of Henderson Engineers; and Jeremy Knoll, project manager at BNIM Architects. The panelists discussed material recycling as a component of both initial and extended disaster recovery.

The current precedent for natural disaster recovery entails local relief organizations along with the building community swooping in, removing debris to a landfill, and starting new construction on the site with a clean slate. Instead of that approach, the panelists argued, the design-build community should consider the social and economic impact of salvaging and reusing materials from buildings leveled or severely damaged—including local job training and the restoration of proven materials.

"It's a built-in asset," Knoll says. "These materials are valuable in ways that new materials are not. They've weathered in place…they've stood the test of time. Keeping that in the community keeps that story. It keeps that built-in value right where it is."

Out on the exhibit hall floor, manufacturers of all sizes showcased products that incorporate recycled materials in innovative ways. ReWall panels (above, with added décor) contain no VOCs and are made by a Des Moines, Iowa company from 100 percent recycled polyethylene-coated cups and cartons (juice boxes, for instance) as an alternative to drywall, sheathing, plywood, OSB, and ceiling tiles. Manufacturing the product doesn't require the use of adhesives, but rather uses high heat to compact and melt it together. Also worth a note is Agristrand's Harvest Gold particleboard, which uses soybean fibers sourced within 75 miles of the manufacturer's Mankato, Minn., plant. The formaldehyde-free composite board is also available as a decorative panel for applications such as wainscoting.

Editor's note:'s parent company Hanley Wood recently entered into a strategic partnership with USGBC regarding the management of the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. For more information on that relationship, click here.