Geosynthetics June/July 2019 - 52

GSI NEWS

By Robert M. and George R. Koerner

Reflections on sustainability with
respect to geosynthetic materials
GEOSYNTHETIC
INSTITUTE
GSI's mission is to develop
and transfer knowledge,
assess and critique
geosynthetics, and provide
services to the member
organizations.

www.geosynthetic
- institute.org

Robert M. Koerner's interest in
geosynthetic materials spans
nearly 40 years of teaching,
writing and consulting. His
pioneering work has helped
generations of educators,
researchers, designers,
manufacturers and regulators.

George R. Koerner is the
director of the Geosynthetic
Institute in Folsom, Pa.

L

istening to and reading the news, there seems to be regular criticism of all plastics
insofar as concerns as to their post-use disposal in light of their exceedingly long
lifetimes. Rarely, if ever, is the distinction made as to which plastics are really necessary
to society and which are indeed disposable. Of course, we all feel that geosynthetics are
necessary and must be dependable for long service lifetimes. Our general rejoinder in the
above discussion is that geosynthetics provide either:
1. better and longer performance than natural material solutions
2. less costly solutions than using traditional materials
That said, we certainly could, and perhaps should, add "enhanced sustainability" to
the above two items when dealing with geosynthetic applications. This is inherently due
to the competing natural materials (gravel, sand, cement, clay, etc.), all of which carry
an enormous carbon footprint in comparison with geosynthetic materials. This is due to
the energy required in quarrying operations and the trucking of the massive quantities
needed. Even without going through
the necessary calculations, it is clear
that the advertisement by GSE (Figure
1) accurately depicts the situation for
the case of 150 truckloads of clay being
brought to a site versus comparable
coverage by one truckload of geosynthetic clay liners.
Quantitatively, the numeric decrease
in carbon footprint by using geosynthetics was nicely shown in a report
titled "Sustainable Systems in Civil
Engineering Applications" by the
FIGURE 1 Equivalency of GCLs to CCLs from a
U.K.'s Waste and Resources Action sustainability perspective. Illustration courtesy GSE
Programme (WRAP) in May 2009. The
report was authored by representatives of 16 U.K. organizations, of which one-third were
involved in geosynthetics. In it are five worked-out case studies (see Table 1). They address
both slopes and walls, and show that when replacing traditional material solutions with
geosynthetic materials, costs are greatly reduced (as expected) and the CO2 footprint is
reduced even more. The differences are readily apparent in the table.
The above report stimulated an entire GRI conference titled "Optimizing Sustainability
Using Geosynthetics," which was held in Dallas, Texas, on March 16, 2011. It included
twenty papers, the keynote being delivered by Dr. Russell Jones, who was one of the authors
of the WRAP report. The average CO2 savings outlined in the various papers, grouped by
application area, are given in Table 2.
Having presented this data, we pose the question that if we begin promoting geosynthetics as being worthwhile and sustainable (particularly in comparison to natural materials),


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Geosynthetics June/July 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Geosynthetics June/July 2019

Geosynthetics June/July 2019 - Cover1
Geosynthetics June/July 2019 - Cover2
Geosynthetics June/July 2019 - 1
Geosynthetics June/July 2019 - 2
Geosynthetics June/July 2019 - 3
Geosynthetics June/July 2019 - 4
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Geosynthetics June/July 2019 - Cover3
Geosynthetics June/July 2019 - Cover4
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