Are there any efforts underway to increase the recycling of construction waste?

Are there any efforts underway to increase the recycling of construction waste?

—Tim Moss, Westport, CT

According to some experts, construction and demolition projects together contribute as much as 60 percent of all solid waste in the U.S., so the building industry is certainly ripe for some increased recycling efforts. According to the Sourcebook for Green and Sustainable Building, a free resource available online, some 8,000 pounds of waste are carted off to a landfill during the construction of just one 2,000 square foot home.

Reducing and recycling these materials conserves landfill space, reduces the environmental impact of producing new materials, and can reduce overall building project expenses pretty significantly by saving on both disposal costs and the purchase of virgin materials. Recyclable construction materials include lumber, paper, cardboard, metals, brick, concrete, carpeting, plastic, pipe, drywall, gravel and dirt.

William Turley, executive director of the Construction Materials Recycling Association, says that more than 300 million tons of concrete, asphalt, steel, brick, siding and wood—much of which could be recycled—are disposed of annually, compared to about 225 million tons of everyday household trash. Besides its sheer volume, construction and demolition waste deposited into landfills can also contain a significant amount of solvents and chemically treated wood that can pollute both the soil and the groundwater.

The recycling of waste during a construction or demolition project can be both costly and a big hassle, compounded by a great lack of facilities across the country devoted to processing such materials for re-use. However, a growing industry of professional separators and sorters is just starting to emerge, according to Turley, and is beginning to attract business in the Northeast as well as in Florida and California where it costs more to dump waste than to recycle it.

The National Association of Home Builders produces a useful field guide outlining different approaches builders can take to managing waste. Of course, the best way to prevent waste in the first place is good planning. Design should be based on standard sizes and the use of high quality materials whenever possible, while materials should be ordered accurately. This approach can reduce the amount of material needing to be recycled and bolster profitability for the builder while saving money for the customer.

CONTACTS: Sourcebook for Green and Sustainable Building, ; Construction Materials Recycling Association, ; National Association of Home Builders,