Decommissioned wind turbine blades are being reused to build bridges

As wind turbine blades from the 1990s — the first big wave of wind power — reach the end of their working lives, where do they go? The composite fiberglass they're made of is light and strong but extremely tough to recycle. Which is why designers are turning to reuse.

In October 2021, Polish waste management firm Anmet completed a bridge that uses dismantled blades, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to cross the Szprotawa River. In January 2022, The Re-Wind Network constructed a 'BladeBridge' in County Cork, Ireland, in partnership with Munster Technological University and University College Cork.

The Re-Wind Network didn't just fabricate a single bridge but has released a complete catalog of ideas for repurposing turbine blades, from bridges and bus shelters to glamping pods and cattle partitions. (Other designers have created playgrounds and bicycle sheds.)

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Data is scant, but Bloomberg estimates that 8,000 blades need to be disposed of in the US every year, plus another 3,800 in Europe and more worldwide. Those numbers will grow exponentially: global capacity in 1996 was just 6.1 gigawatts and reached 743 gigawatts in 2020.

From turbine blades piling up in landfills to the exploitation of miners extracting cobalt for EVs, consumers are increasingly aware that even their eco-conscious choices aren't without harm. Which means the brands selling those products and services can no longer ignore externalities and need to start accounting for lifecycles. Turn that into a compelling story backed up by scrupulous practices, and you've mastered true sustainability.

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