At a construction site, a Maçonnerie Gratton employee loads a brick onto a machine's slide. With the push of a button, the brick vanishes into the metallic box and, within seconds, comes out polished after adjustable lasers clean off the old mortar.
Tommy Bouillon, the president of Maçonnerie Gratton, worked on the research and development of the Brique-Recyc machine for three years. It allows workers to clean bricks on site so they can be reused.
Year after year, bricks represented almost 41 per cent of all the company's waste — and often the bricks could have been recycled, said Bouillon.
Bricks that are undamaged make their way to landfills because they're too hard to clean, he said. Manually cleaning bricks with percussion tools like pneumatic hammers would often fracture and weaken them — not to mention being time-consuming.
"These kinds of initiatives are highly in demand in our industry," Guillaume Houle, a spokesperson for Quebec's construction association said.
"There's a ton of undamaged bricks that are thrown away every year because it costs less to send a brick to a landfill than to recycle them, which is nonsense in a world where we tend toward a circular economy."
The construction sector produces almost one third of waste sent to landfills in Quebec. Almost 1.4 million tonnes of construction waste ends up in a landfill every year, said Houle.
The Brique-Recyc machine came with more advantages than Bouillon had originally hoped for. Not only did it cut down on the labour of cleaning the bricks, it also reduced costs, waste, and lowered carbon dioxide emissions.
The Brique-Recyc machine recuperates every part of the bricks it cleans, including the mortar which can be reused in cement and other construction materials. That way there's no waste and every aspect of walls torn down is recycled.
The research and development of the machine was done with the help of Synergie Montréal, a business that promotes sustainability.
Bouillon said reports done with Synergie Montréal showed recycling the materials from just one 100-square-metre wall can eliminate the equivalent of a car and a half's yearly carbon footprint. Maçonnerie Gratton works on 500 sites per year, which, when recycled, is about 750 cars off the road.
"On top of saving tons of CO2 every year, it's also economically advantageous for our clients. There's no reason not to use this machine," said Bouillon.
The next step is commercializing the machine.
"It has the power to revolutionize the construction industry sector," said Houle.
"When you have a manpower shortage and you have a machine like that that can recycle bricks, it can be really in demand in the next few months and years to do things differently at less cost."