Construction, Demolition Debris Fact Sheet: Reducing Waste for Building Owners

Whether you are planning a small scale renovation of your home or business, wish to build a new structure, or plan to conduct a full-scale demolition, you can foster waste reduction.

If you plan to do the work yourself, a careful evaluation of materials and a willingness to identify and salvage reusable materials can make a significant difference in the waste generated by your project. If you will be working with an architect or contractor, your influence can make a difference in their attitude toward minimizing waste.

Choosing an Architect

If your construction or remodel will require the services of an architect, choose one that is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about resource conservation. Waste prevention on a project is less likely without the advocacy of the project architect and designers.

A committed architect will find ways to incorporate waste prevention into the building design. Their cooperation also ensures that strategies designed to reduce waste are properly implemented during the building phase of new construction. There are a number of ways of working together to define goals for reducing waste:

  • Ask prospective architects to provide information about experience in implementing waste prevention strategies.
  • Choose durable materials. Waste can be prevented and money saved over the life of a structure by designing buildings that are energy efficient and last longer.
  • Consider long range goals for the structure and work with the architect to create a design that is adaptable for future needs. Savings gained through durability cannot be realized if a building is demolished before the end of its projected life.
  • Work with the architect to identify creative uses for the reuse of existing structures (full or partial) and salvaged materials.
  • Communicate your willingness to purchase salvaged or recycled content building materials. Also, reuse as many materials as possible from your demolition or renovation project.
  • Request that designs include space for storage and separation of materials awaiting reuse, recycling, or composting.

The Project Team

Waste prevention is not limited to the project architect. A wide range of building professionals are in a position to implement strategies for waste prevention:


  • Design for optimal resource use and energy efficiency.
  • Specify reused, recycled content, and environmentally preferable building materials.
  • Design for durability and adaptability, with a focus on life cycle costs.

General Contractor

  • Develop a waste management plan and set specific attainment goals.
  • Work with construction crew to implement jobsite recycling.
  • Work with materials suppliers to reduce packaging waste and identify recycled content, environmentally preferable, and locally sourced products.

Demolition Contractor

  • Utilize deconstruction and salvage where feasible.
  • Make sure that remaining demolition debris is taken to a recycling facility.

Construction Subcontractors

  • Take responsibility for on-site waste management.
  • Plan accordingly for purchases, deliveries, and storage of materials

Alternatives to Demolition

Deconstruction is the systematic removal of materials from structures in order to maximize the resources that are still present. Instead of reducing your building to a pile of rubble, deconstruction can yield useful items and valuable building materials, including lumber, fixtures, hardware, and appliances. Deconstruction can be applied on a number of levels. In some instances an entire structure can be partially dismantled and moved to another site where it is reassembled. This is not uncommon with structures that have historic appeal. There may be elements of your building that you would like to salvage to use in your rebuild.

Finally, if there are components or materials that you have no use for, consider that someone else might want them. Local outlets are available for used and salvaged building materials. There are nonprofit organizations that accept used building material, and donations are tax deductible (contact the Santa Barbara County Solid Waste and Utilities Division for a listing of outlets).

Although there may be additional costs associated with deconstruction, such as increased labor hours, under favorable conditions the cost of deconstruction is competitive with demolition, while also reducing disposal costs. Also, environmental benefits are not reflected in direct cost comparisons. The use of deconstruction will result in less disturbance to the surrounding landscaping, decreased nuisance dust, and conserved landfill space. As activities become more common the economics are certain to improve.

Additional information about construction and demolition debris can be found at

Tips from EPA.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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