Upcycled, high-performing, healthy green-building materials
While most people view beverage cartons as single-use items that are valuable simply for their ability to hold a liquid, the employees at The ReWall Companym see past the carton’s original purpose to what it can permanently become.
Jan Rayman, the founder of The ReWall Company, used to own a staffing agency in the Czech Republic for disaster relief and clean-up. It was during one clean-up effort that he noticed something was off with many building materials.
“He discovered that his people were ripping out drywall and wood products that rot and mold easily,” says Toby Davis, ReWall’s sales manager. “First, he thought there has to be a better way to build. Then he discovered that this technology was being developed in Europe very near his hometown where they were taking [plastic-coated cardboard beverage cartons] and pressing them into wallboard to replace gypsum products and wood products.”
These upcycled wallboards [also known as drywall] were mold-and water-resistant, so they were much less likely to rot away after one flood or harsh storm.
Rayman adopted the technology and brought it to Des Moines, IA, believing the US market would be perfect for his new business. He launched The ReWall Company in 2008, with the help of a group of investors. Today, ReWall still sells this original upcycled drywall, as well as exterior sheathing, roof cover boards, flooring underlayment, and ceiling tiles, all made from recycled beverage cartons.
According to the company, “about 30 cartons make up a single 2’ x 2’ ReWall ceiling tile, and at least 400 cartons are recycled in every 1/2” x 4’ x 8’ ReWall board.” Each truckload of ReWall products prevents about 300,000 cartons from hitting landfills.
What makes ReWall products so impressive is that beverage cartons are notoriously difficult to fully recycle. They aren’t accepted by most curbside programs because of the plastic coating lining the interior, so they often end up in landfills.
ReWall’s recycling process is also less resource-intensive than that of many other companies, which attempt to recycle cartons using massive amounts of water. Paper mills, for example, often use hydropulpers, machines that disperse waste paper in water, forming a pulp slurry.
“Their process means a lot of water is beating on this material to depulp it, stripping all the plastic and ink away from the paper,” says Davis.
The mills then process the fibers recovered from the cartons to make new paper. Paper mills often salvage less than 50 percent of the carton.
The ReWall Company, on the other hand, uses an electric hydraulic presser. The pressing method not only cuts down on water waste, but it also uses 100 percent of the carton, rather than creating a plastic slurry that then has to be disposed of.
“We use no water in our process, no added chemicals or adhesives,” says Davis. “It’s simply taking a product that’s very hard to recycle because of the composite nature of it and upcycling it into a form of building material.”
In addition, he says, the process’s ecological footprint is 90 percent less than that created by manufacturing new gypsum wallboards. Creating a gypsum wallboard requires mining the gypsum and uses copious amounts of water and energy.
According to Davis, conventional building materials like gypsum wallboards can also release harmful chemicals. Gypsum, unlike ReWall boards, is not mold-resistant and can actually promote mold.
“So what [other companies] do is spray chemical [fungicides] on it and introduce it to the market as a mold-resistant product,” says Davis. “But when it cracks, which gypsum has a tendency to do, water gets in and results in mold.”
ReWall boards, in contrast, have no chemicals in their makeup. “Our product doesn’t offgas at all. It’s simply foodgrade packaging, the juice boxes the kids are drinking, that makes up the core of all of our products,” says Davis.
Davis says that there has recently been a rapidly rising demand for ReWall products. The ReWall Company has sold its backer boards, cover boards, and wallboards all across the country, but currently, the main distribution remains in the Midwest. ReWall hopes to expand from coast to coast as demand for green building materials increases.
“We’re starting to feel for the first time that [construction] companies understand the benefit of healthy work environments. People are demanding these products,” says Davis.