Fact Sheet: Construction, Demolition Debris -- What Can Be Reused, Recycled

A critical concern of contractors is what to do with the waste generated on construction, demolition and renovation projects. Building-related construction and demolition (C&D) debris totals more than 136 million tons/year or nearly 40 percent of the C&D and municipal solid wastestream, according to EPA. With landfill and transportation costs rising and new recycling requirements, waste disposal has become a major cost component of demolition and renovation bids. In order to minimize waste, and the cost of disposal, it is important to have a clear understanding of what is being landfilled.

What can be reused or recycled and what must be disposed? Having a general sense of the types and quantities of waste materials generated on your jobsites is the starting place for any organized plan for achieving waste reduction. Although composition varies by season, location and project type, C&D debris generally consists of asphalt, concrete, brick, dirt, wood, metal, wallboard, roofing and insulation materials, plastics, cardboard, glass and miscellaneous trash.

What Can Be Reused?

With advance planning many items can be reused on the jobsite. Additionally, if the project combines a demolition phase followed by new construction, many materials and items can be salvaged.

  • Easy to remove items include: doors, hardware, appliances, and fixtures. These can be salvaged for donation or use during the rebuild or on other jobs.
  • Wood cutoffs can be used for cripples, lintels, and blocking to eliminate the need to cut full length lumber. Scrap wood can be chipped on site and used as mulch or groundcover.
  • Gypsum drywall can be placed inside wall cavities to eliminate the need for transportation and landfill disposal. (Note: This method is really waste deferral rather than diversion).
  • De-papered and crushed gypsum can be used, in moderate quantities, as a soil amendment.
  • Brick, concrete and masonry can be recycled on site as fill, subbase material or driveway bedding.
  • Excess insulation from exterior walls can be used in interior walls as noise deadening material.
  • Paint can be remixed and used in garage or storage areas, or as primer coat on other jobs.
  • Packaging materials can be returned to suppliers for reuse.

What Can Be Recycled?

With locally available recycling outlets, economics favor the recycling of heavy materials such as concrete and steel. The cost effectiveness of recycling other materials depends on a variety of factors, but large quantities of any material will often make recycling competitive compared to the cost of landfill disposal.

  • Some suppliers will take back used or scrap material. Carpet remains can be taken back to many suppliers. Also, it is sometimes possible to salvage and sell large scraps or find other uses for carpet onsite. Likewise, vinyl siding and ceiling tiles are sometimes taken back by manufacturers, when previously agreed upon.
  • Some manufacturers will pickup used product or packaging when delivering a new order. Conversely, waste hauling costs can be absorbed by back-hauling new materials on the return trip.

Go to http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/debris-new/recycle.htm for information on recycling various C&D waste including wood, asphalt, concrete and rubble.

What Must be Disposed?

A certain portion of the waste from construction and demolition projects is toxic and/or classified as hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Materials generated in new construction that require special handling include latex paints, chemical solvents and cements, spackles and adhesives. Make a special effort not to purchase these materials in excess, and reuse them on other jobs where possible. Unused portions should be disposed of at a hazardous waste collection facility. The age of structures on demolition projects ranges considerably, and many contain materials that are no longer allowed in new construction. Although asbestos abatement is required prior to demolition, there are sometimes remnants in subflooring or insulation that were not detected during abatement. Some older structures also contain significant quantities of lead based paint. Handling and disposal of asbestos or lead based paint that is removed from a structure varies according to volume and condition. For asbestos guidance, contact your local air pollution control district or call (415) 972-3989, and contact the National Lead Clearinghouse at (800) 424-LEAD for information about your responsibilities.

Additional information about construction and demolition debris can be found at http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/debris-new/index.htm.

Tips provided by EPA.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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