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How Drywall Works


Environmental Concerns about Drywall
The Cementos Artigas plant near Montevideo, Uruguay, produces portland cement by grinding recycled gypsum and portland cement clinker using rice husk as fuel, per the Kyoto Protocol.
The Cementos Artigas plant near Montevideo, Uruguay, produces portland cement by grinding recycled gypsum and portland cement clinker using rice husk as fuel, per the Kyoto Protocol.
Miguel Rojo/AFP/Getty Images

Nothing's hotter in construction these days than sustainable, environmentally friendly design. Fortunately, drywall is easy to recycle and is made of green and recycled materials.

From a manufacturing standpoint, drywall is already pretty eco-friendly. The cores are made from 90 to 95 percent recycled material, mostly reclaimed drywall, while the paper exterior is made exclusively from 100 percent recycled content, mostly old newspapers. From an emissions standpoint, however, the drywall industry still has a way to go. Approximately 1 percent of U.S. energy emissions come from the production of drywall [Source: Sassoon]. A product called EcoRock, introduced in 2008 by San Jose-based Serious Materials, is said to be the first zero emissions drywall material on the market. Essentially, it has no carbon footprint and is still made from nearly 100 percent recycled content. Builders are showing interest in this product, but time will tell if people will be willing to pay a premium for reduced carbon emissions.

­For the consumer, drywall waste is 100% recyclable, but finding places to recycle drywall can be tricky. With commercial use, manufacturers have programs in place so builders can return scrap drywall to be recycled. For homeowners, recycling drywall is a bit more difficult. Many cities and municipalities have drywall recycling programs in place, but finding them may require a bit of research. USG is scheduled to open a gypsum recycling plant in Washingtonville, Pennsylvania in 2008. This plant will be the largest of its kind in the world, and as green building continues to grow in popularity, additional channels for recycling will become available.

Recycled drywall has three major uses. The first is to crush the material and use it to make new drywall. This is currently the most popular choice by far, and all of the major manufacturers have systems in place to do so. Recycled drywall can also be used an an ingredient in Portland cement, which is used to make stucco, plaster, and other building materials. Finally, crushed drywall is growing in popularity in the agricultural world. It is useful as a soil conditioner, providing calcium and sulfur for plants, which is especially useful when growing peanuts, potatoes, or corn. Recycled drywall can also be placed on soil that has a high salt content to help neutralize the ground so that crops can eventually grow there.

It took some time for the building industry to recognize drywall for what it is - an extremely versatile, inexpensive and sustainable material that has overcome its initial reputation as a cheap substitute for plaster to become something an average person could use to build walls. Not bad for a quick fix.

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