US Army Corps of Engineers recycles wood and metal during Puerto Rico cleanup

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Washington, is recycling metal and wood chips in its debris removal efforts across the island of Puerto Rico.

Cooperation with the leaders at local municipalities, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and USACE’s Debris Planning and Response Team makes the collection process possible with teams working in nine separate locations. For example, more than 48 trucks have been used to haul 3,700 loads of debris in the city of Ponce.

“We have been actively removing debris from Ponce since Oct. 23,” Jasmine Smith, the debris mission manager from the New Orleans District, says. “We have removed more than 76,000 cubic yards via curbside pickup and temporary disposal sites.”

The estimated total debris in Ponce is projected to be more than 100,000 cubic yards, enough to fill Yankee Stadium more than two feet high.

John Fogarty, debris subject matter expert out of the New Orleans District, says USACE estimates more than 3 million cubic yards of vegetative debris will be generated from Hurricane Maria. About 630,000 cubic yards will be reduced and used for compost, landfill cover and slope protection.

“There is an estimated 1.3 million cubic yards of construction and demolition debris such as lumber and household furniture which will yield approximately 1 million pounds of recyclable metals,” Fogarty says.

Additionally, USACE forecasts that close to 9,000 appliances are part of the debris, which may produce about half a million pounds of metals for recycling. According to Fogarty, USACE is also teaming up with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to handle freon removal from refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners and to coordinate the collection and disposal of household hazardous wastes.

Currently, the Debris Planning and Response Team, in cooperation with FEMA and working closely with leaders of 54 municipalities, has removed 284,000 cubic yards of debris total.

“We continue to make strides with our community partners and endeavor to remove debris in a safe, efficient and environmentally sound manner,” Smith says. “Debris removal continues to be a high priority mission for FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Hurricane Maria landed in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017.

Michigan contractors face diversion challenges

Kent County, Michigan, officials are looking to move away from using the South Kent Landfill by 2030 and are telling local construction companies to prepare to adjust for a new model of disposal.

The South Kent Landfill is nearing capacity and the Kent County Department of Public Works, Grand Rapids, plans to close the facility. Darwin Baas, executive director of DPW, says the department is developing plans for a 200-acre sustainable business park that will handle and process construction and demolition (C&D) debris and other materials that would normally be landfill bound.

West Michigan’s current recycling rate is around 10 percent. Baas says the sustainable business park will help with the area’s landfill reduction goal of 90 percent by 2030.

A study from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) says more than 49 million cubic yards of waste was landfilled in the state in 2016. Of that 49 million cubic yards, 6.5 million cubic yards was C&D debris. Baas says this number can be higher because the county doesn’t track what types of materials are being brought into the landfill.

For example, Baas says, the DEQ study classified 940,000 cubic yards of waste from Byron Township as municipal and commercial despite a large amount of it coming from construction projects.

Currently, construction companies in West Michigan are struggling to set up multiple receptacles for different materials at job sites. Pioneer Construction Co., a contracting firm based in Grand Rapids, diverts more than 60 percent of debris from landfills. Chris Beckering, executive vice president at Pioneer, says planning efforts on the front end of a building project allow the company to reach its diversion rate.