Diverting Construction Waste

March 1, 2008
Tips on putting a waste-management and recycling program together to minimize the consequences of construction and demolition debris on the environment

On a national scale, total building-related construction and demolition (C&D) waste is estimated to be 135.5 million tons — a figure that represents, at 30 percent, the largest single source in the waste stream.

How much do your building projects impact these numbers? Consider the following:

  • The average new construction project yields 3.9 pounds of waste per square foot of building area. Example: A 50,000-square-foot building = 97.5 tons of waste.
  • The average building demolition yields 155 pounds of waste per square foot. Example: A 50,000-square-foot building = 3,875 tons of waste.

Because the environmental consequences of C&D debris are staggering, a number of construction and development firms, industry organizations, and government agencies are advocating C&D waste reduction and recycling programs. The Massachusetts Construction and Demolition Materials Waste Ban is one, where the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) regulates the disposal, transfer for disposal, or contracting for disposal of certain hazardous and recyclable items at solid-waste facilities in the state. An amendment to the ban, which took effect in mid-2006, now prohibits other commonly used construction and demolition materials (asphalt pavement, brick, concrete, metal, and wood). Be prepared, as these regulations are being touted as models for other states.

Better yet, take a proactive role — as Milford, MA-based Consigli Construction Co. Inc. has done since 2001, when it worked with MassDEP and Northeastern University in a voluntary pilot study to help determine the realities and possibilities of construction-waste recycling. In 2002, Consigli instituted (and continues to refine) a mandatory source-separation policy for all of its jobsites, followed by a company-wide source separation and recycling program. Since this initiative began, Consigli's overall waste-reduction rate is more than 79 percent (89.5 percent for 2007 alone), with some projects achieving even greater results (its recently completed Harvard Blackstone Office renovation project, for instance, attained a 99.5-percent waste-reduction rate).

These regulations affect the construction industry as a whole, but they're not actually being directly imposed on contractors, says Vance Freymann, director of business development at Consigli; rather, MassDEP is monitoring the process among waste haulers, landfills, and transfer stations. Why participate? According to Freymann, jobsite waste reduction and diversion of materials from the landfill can offer a cost-neutral benefit for the developer/owner/builder. "I don't want to represent that there's significant savings in doing this," he says. "What is accurate is that on-site C&D waste management and recycling do not cost additional money. At the same time, there has been very good buy-in from owners looking for actionable green processes and ways to obtain LEED points."

Freymann offers the following steps for putting your C&D waste-management and recycling programs into place:

  • Before construction begins, the owner, architect, and construction manager should commit to achieving the highest level of waste diversion possible and make it a part of the overall plan from Day One.
  • Each project is different; therefore, a comprehensive waste-reduction plan should outline site-specific issues, materials that will be used, which project members will be handling particular materials, and how each material will be recycled (a material-recycling source vs. a third-party handler, etc.). Anticipate the logistics and create the place where multiple dumpsters can be best positioned for the on-site source separation of material. More constrained jobsites might require comprehensive scheduling to move dumpsters in and out to accommodate the C&D removal process.
  • As part of the waste-reduction plan, be sure that standard language in subcontracts informs all members of the project team that they are contractually bound to abide by the waste-reduction programs in place. Inform them that, by signing the contract, they are agreeing to participate.
  • Conduct an orientation with all members of the project team, including the subcontractors, to review the plan. Then, discuss every material that will come off the jobsite and where it will go, including where dumpsters are placed and how each material will be segregated. Magnetic signs work well: Make language concise, large, and prominently placed ("wood," "metal," "asphalt," etc.). Don't make it too easy to work against the end result. Consigli project managers have found that positioning all dumpsters in one location (vs. distributing dumpsters around the jobsite) ensures more effective separation of materials. When all dumpsters are lined up side by side, the tendency to disregard the signage and use the closest available dumpster is minimized.

Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

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