The global sand shortage is influencing infrastructure and construction projects. As a result, there is a growing interest in exploring sand alternatives to promote sustainable and economic development. Waste materials such as fly ash, crushed glass, recycled concrete, and reclaimed asphalt pavement are common alternatives. Reusing recycled construction and demolition waste reduces material costs and the need for raw aggregates. In addition, it minimizes use of carbon dioxide-emitting materials and decreases the emission of greenhouse gases and other associated pollutants. But how well does building waste work in place of sand?

A new paper in the International Journal of Geomechanics, “Earth Pressures on Retaining Walls Backfilled with Sand Admixed with Building Derived Materials: Laboratory Scale Study,” by Jayatheja Muktinutalapati, S.M.ASCE, and Anasua GuhaRay, Ph.D., A.M.ASCE, looks specifically at replacing sand with waste materials in a retaining wall. Using both experimental and numerical studies, the authors evaluated the magnitude and distribution of earth pressure on a retaining wall and observed the effectiveness of using building waste as a partial replacement of backfill soil. Learn more about their findings and recommendations in the abstract below, or by reading the full paper in the ASCE Library.


Earth retaining structures are constructed to withstand lateral pressure from backfill soil and surcharge pressures from the foundations of adjacent structures. Although sands are considered as the most suitable backfill material for retaining walls due to their high permeability, currently the scarcity of this natural material has raised serious environmental concerns. This study will propose the usage of building derived materials (BDM) as a partial replacement for sand as backfill material for the retaining walls. The utilization of this waste material will help to reduce the cost related to the disposal of waste materials, as well as reducing the carbon footprint, therefore making the process eco-friendly and sustainable. Experimental studies will be conducted on a laboratory scale prototype rigid, nonyielding retaining wall, which can rotate about its base to simulate rotational failure conditions. The width of the backfill was 0.35, 0.5, and 0.65H to assess its effect on the variation of earth pressures (H = height of the retaining wall). The experimental results indicate that the earth pressures were not significantly enhanced by the addition of BDM to sand, which suggests that BDM could be used as an effective lightweight backfill. The optimum pressure was obtained by mixing 20% of BDM with red soil. For backfills that had sufficient widths, the failure surfaces had adequate space to fully develop, whereas it had a limited extension in a narrow backfill. An increase in backfill width (b) decreased the rotation of the wall, therefore reducing the probability of rotational failure. Numerical simulations using finite element software PLAXIS 2D are conducted with the experiments to validate the observations. The numerical results suggest good agreement with that of experimental results.

Read the full paper in the ASCE Library: