Building Life-Cycle: Construction Recycling

by ‐ Tags: building science, green living

Before your building draws it’s first kilowatt-hour, burns a single therm, or taps a drop of water, it will have already been responsible for tons of waste material left over from the construction process. At the end of your building’s life, things get even worse, as many buildings are demolished and landfilled without taking advantage of the recyclable materials stored within.

At WegoWise, we know that your building’s carbon footprint includes more than utility consumption.  Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste makes up an estimated 40% of the total waste stream in this country, and as much as 10-15% of the materials produced during the construction of a building are waste products.  

In this two-part blog post, we’ll highlight the materials that you might not have known you can recycle, both before - and after, you’ve used your building.

Part 1: Construction
The construction process is carefully orchestrated to ensure that as few surplus materials are purchased and brought on site as possible.  Nevertheless, cardboard packaging, wood and drywall scraps, as well as many other materials are typically thrown away during construction if a C&D recycling plan is not implemented.

Some hard-to-recycle materials are eligible for special national or regional recycling programs.  Carpet recycling, drywall recycling, and recycling asphalt shingles are only some examples of materials that are being targeted by new recycling programs.

If you're thinking about implementing a recycling program on your job site, the be sure to check with your local and county governments to see what resources are available to you.  Some areas have access to materials recovery facilities for construction waste that accepts mixed debris.  This kind of single stream recycling makes it easy for contractor teams to recycle, although since single-stream recycling facilities are mre expensive to build and operate, they only exist in some areas. 

If your job does not have access to single stream recycling for construction waste, consider using multiple dumpsters on site in stead.  By staging material-specific dumpsters on site as-needed instead of throwing all discarded material into one single-stream roll-off dumpster, construction crews can salvage as much as 90% of the material discarded on site.  Source-separation, as this is known, is relatively easy for workers to get used to, and can be an effective alternative for areas where single-stream recycling is not available.

What to do with all that Material?

Waste material produced at a construction site presents a tremendous opportunity for construction teams to reduce their environmental impact, reduce the cost of waste hauling for the project, and contribute to points under most green-building certification systems such as LEED for New Construction and LEED for Homes.

As the availability of space for landfills runs low, the cost for disposing of waste material in traditional disposal facilities has steadily increased.  Particularly in high-density areas such as the Northeast, landfill space comes at a premium that construction teams have to factor into the cost of the building.  

The cost of recycling unused, excess materials is often comparable to the cost of hauling and landfilling mixed waste. Check out the table below to see some of the most common construction materials that you might not have realized you could divert.  Be sure to follow up with a search for recycling programs in your area, many cities and towns keep a list of resources available for construction professionals (and DIYers).

Construction Waste Table

Later, we’ll look past the wrecking ball, examining the waste products produced at the end of a building’s life, and the difference between demolition and deconstruction.  

Have a great resource for C&D waste recycling? Information about exciting or innovative uses for C&D waste? Share it in the comments!