Recovery and reuse in today's demolition

Written by: RWW | Published:

Demolition and salvage might be activities that have taken place since Roman times, however, Howard Button, CEO of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors points out that today’s demolition sector is modern, technologically up to speed and at the forefront of safety initiatives in a very challenging sector. Geraldine Faulkner reports.

If anyone could be described as the ‘elder statesman’ of the demolition world, it would undoubtedly be Howard Button, CEO of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors (NFDC). 

A second-generation demolition man with around 40 years of hands-on experience under his belt, Button has dedicated his entire working life to promoting a greater awareness of the demolition sector and to improving the working conditions and safety of everyone associated with it.

How old was Button when he first started ‘working’ in the demolition industry?

“I’ve been in the industry since I was eight years old when I used to ‘de-nail’ lengths of old timber in my granddad’s yard. After removing the nails, we used to take floorboards and joists and stack them up all up nice and neatly for resale,” recalls the CEO.

“My earliest memory is of working with my granddad stacking the doors up, cleaning the bricks and metal bashing. We’d get the sinks with the taps, take the taps off, cut the plumber’s joint off the lead pipe, then we’d segregate it along with electrical items that were of value. All of this was done in the metal shed, a damp dingy shed made up of odds bits of reclaimed material that wouldn’t sell,” he continues.

Button has very definite views about the role of recycling in demolition.

“It’s never really changed,” states the CEO in a voice that brooks no dissent. “It’s always been important. Demolition contractors used to make money out of recovery and recycling but today everyone is so aware of materials’ potential value, clients sell items before our guys get on to site. Besides which, with landfill tax in the UK around the £80 mark, it’s almost commercial suicide not to recycle.”

The CEO pauses to reflect before adding: “Demolition has always been good at recycling. It goes back to Roman times. In St Albans you have evidence of materials from Roman times being recycled and reused. After all, it’s not rocket science. Go into ‘olde worlde’ pubs and you will find ships beams on the ceilings.”


Recovery is a subject very dear to Button’s heart.

To this end, he and the NFDC have launched demolition and refurbishment information data sheets (DRIDS) to facilitate and encourage the recovery of materials.

One of DRIDS’ primary functions is to promote businesses that specialise in recovery, re-using and recycling or landfilling through dedicated processing facilities.

Button again: “On average, 95% of demolition arisings and materials are recycled from demolition sites and the NDFC is keen to maintain this impressive level of recycling. 

“We decided to initiate a new system to help demolition and refurbishment contractors manage the increasing spectrum of materials found on site so we created a new, easy to follow waste management system called DRIDS.”

Categorised into 12 groups, each material is split into sub-sections. For example, wood includes single products such as plywood and chipboard. Each DRID provides information about the product, where it might be found, waste management options, guidance on material, segregation and storage, an indication of the tools required, health and safety considerations as well as fixtures and fittings.

DRIDS are available in both hard copy or on line (; and to encourage the industry to sign on to DRIDS, the system is being offered free for the first couple of years

“It’s been a pet project of mine. We’ve also had funding from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) to put the system together. We’ve got 36 material sheets at the moment and I’ve got another 50 to be prepared. The list of potential materials is almost limitless and the stuff we come across in the demolition industry can be absolutely bizarre. 

“For example, we demolished a building years ago when we found bulk sackfuls of potpourri. You’ve never seen so much of the stuff. The guys thought it was hilarious. Essentially, you just do not know what you are going to find as every building brings it’s own challenge,” laughs Button before returning to the subject of recovery and reuse.

“The architectural salvage side to demolition will always be important. Although having said that, the materials you can salvage are only as good as the ones that go into a building. A tower block will not hold much of value. If you don’t put value into a building; you’re not going to get value out.”

It is also necessary to manage people’s expectations.

Button points out that materials like glass are not easy to recover.

“It’s all about the scale of economics. For instance, NFDC members will not recycle glass out of a window as it’s likely to be contaminated; plus it’s a pain to take glass out of a window especially if it’s only one metre square. It’s not economically viable.”


While the role of demolition contractors salvaging and recycling materials hasn’t changed, training has altered beyond recognition.

“I went through the ranks, learned to drive and operate the machines and picked things up through hands-on experience. 

“At the time there was no formal training. There was, of course, the dangerous side to things and at that time we were not aware of many of the hazards associated with our industry. Of course we didn’t know better then but nowadays we have firm health & safety measures in place,” stresses Button before returning to the subject of training. 

“In the past, there was no formal education. You learned by doing.”

This is why the NFDC is now the proud owner of the world’s first demolition plant simulator.

“We’ve bought a 360 degree excavator simulator which is a great tool to bring on the younger generation. When I was a lad, if you wanted to drive, you jumped into a machine and just got on with it. However nowadays it is becoming increasingly difficult to train on live demolition sites. Therefore the NFDC has invested in the development of a demolition plant simulator in conjunction with Volvo GB and Oryx Simulations in Sweden. 

“The simulator now forms part of our foundation and apprentice training. Although it will never replace bums on a seat doing a real demolition job, it is a great tool to train new recruits in the health & safety measures surrounding the use of safe operation.

“Ultimately, the demolition plant simulator allows operators to undergo intense training in a safe and controlled environment. This has been a dream of mine for about five to six years. 

“The most harm they could inflict on themselves in the simulator is fall off the seat,” says the CEO with a smile. “The Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS), which provides a registration card scheme for those working in heavy plant operations, are hosting their next management meeting at our head office in Hemel Hempstead to see the simulator with a view to becoming involved in the training courses.

“It’s the next generation of training,” adds Button with satisfaction before admitting he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to try it out himself.

However, you can’t help but think that if someone were foolish enough to try and tell this seasoned demolition specialist how to operate a piece of kit, real or otherwise, they would be given short shrift in the politest
way possible.

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