Construction & Demolition Recycling (C&DR) magazine celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2019. To help commemorate our time chronicling the C&D sector, we’re taking a look back at how the demolition industry has evolved over the years by speaking with the leaders who’ve helped shape it.

Dan Costello, owner of Costello Dismantling in West Wareham, Massachusetts, spoke with C&DR about his time in the industry, how things have changed and what it takes to keep adapting after four decades on the job.

Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine (C&DR): Can you talk a little about how you got your start in the business?

Dan Costello (DC): I started as a truck driver and laborer working on demo sites right after college in the mid-1970s and then was asked to work in the office doing bidding and dealing with various administrative issues. I was delighted for the opportunity and I became fascinated with the business. I went to night school to get my MBA. Then, the fellow I was working for died very suddenly, and I ended up starting my own business in 1985.

C&DR: How has the workforce changed over your time in the industry?

DC: We always were able to hire people. We were more selective than most, but we always had candidates. We have an older workforce today—some of our workforce is the same as it was in 1985—but we’re a union contractor, so that helps supply our labor needs. Recruiting the next generation is certainly a concern that I think everybody faces, but we haven’t had a seat go empty because of it to this point.

C&DR: How have new technologies and equipment changed how jobs are performed over the last 30 years?

DC: There was always a much greater reliance on manual labor. I started before all the shears, grapples and sophisticated attachments came into the business. It was a far a different world than we see today. It’s really quite amazing how the industry and manufacturers have collaborated to figure out what tools are needed and how to solve problems mechanically. It’s really been great.

My goal has always been to have to rely as little as possible on manual labor. I think that the situations that manual laborers are put into can sometimes be dangerous, and we try to utilize machinery as much as possible in those instances. So, we have things like high boom excavators with different attachments for handling wood, concrete or steel and an entire fleet of equipment to deal with that side of things to put operators as safely away from the face of the work as possible, and that removes laborers from harm’s way for the most part.

Back in the day, it was almost nonexistent to talk about safety. It was really the Wild West and there was no concerted plan of how to deal safely with a project. There was very little training and very little preparation, and today you just see that all that is absolutely essential. You wouldn’t go into a job situation, or put employees in a situation, without having safety as a very high priority on your list.

Beyond safety, these new types of equipment make us highly productive. Demolition machinery is probably three or four generations ahead of where it was when we started in 1985—it’s incredible. I think in today’s business environment, being on the cutting edge of technology and equipment keeps you competitive in a bidding and business environment, and we’re very much committed to that.

C&DR: How big are environmental concerns for the jobs that you undergo?

DC: It’s certainly a very high priority now. We phase our approach to work much differently than 30 or 40 years ago. We make sure on demo jobs that a building is thoroughly cleaned and abated before demolition work starts, and you have constant supervision, training and monitoring to make sure that you don’t encounter any environmental issues during the demolition of a building. In the past, it might have been, “Whoops, we have a problem on the ground now from what we’ve taken out of a building,” but the whole world is much more proactive and environmentally conscious.

C&DR: Has your company’s commitment to recycling changed?

DC: The demolition contractor has always been first and foremost a recycler. You can go back to demolition in the post-World War II era in the 1950s and 1960s. There was a lot of hand demolition of buildings, so that led to a tremendous amount of salvage and recycling of things like brick, wood and metal. There was always a market for those things, and the demolition contractor would be almost the Home Depot of the day where people could come and shop for their materials. That doesn’t exist anymore.

However, there is an emphasis on recycling because disposal fees are tremendously higher than they used to be. So, any time we can put materials into a recycling venue, we certainly do that because of the competitive advantage. However, there isn’t always a market as you see with C&D wood. We were told by the recycling community that there was going to be a market, so there was a huge investment made by the C&D recycling community, but the market hasn’t come about. You try to work with the environmental community and recycle and you try to pull materials out of waste streams and avoid landfills and all that type of stuff. The downside is that you can just hit brick walls of regulation or bureaucracy at times that make it difficult to recycle and that stop you in your tracks.

C&DR: There’s been a lot of change in your time in the industry. What does it take to be able to continue to adapt and grow as the business evolves?

DC: I think you always have to be a student of what’s happening around you. You need to be enthusiastic and get up and go to work every day. You need to treat people the way you’d like to be treated yourself. But you also need to just keep plodding on. I think you have to have a will and a desire to continue and succeed, and it’s never easy. Things change constantly. You just have to be ready to address whatever issues may come up.