The Pacific Northwest, made up of Oregon and Washington, have the reputation of being progressive with recycling. Most of the major metropolitan areas in those two states have adopted ordinances recently, making recycling of construction and demolition (C&D) debris at certified facilities a requirement.
Recovery1 General Manager Terry Gillis has noticed an increase in materials entering his recycling facility in Tacoma, Washington. “Volumes are up,” he says. “I think there is optimism in the economy and a lot of building going on in the Northwest.” Gillis says the activity from construction is across the board from residential, commercial and industrial projects.
He points to a desire by building owners and contractors to recycle as well as requirements in King County, Washington, and Seattle that require C&D debris be processed at a certified facility, which Recovery1 is. “We are seeing an increase as a result of that,” he says. “If you are not a certified facility people are not supposed to bring you materials.”
Recovery1 is in neighboring Pierce County. It undergoes regular inspections and provides documentation in order to maintain its status as a certified facility for King County. Recovery1 recycles as much material as it can from the loads it receives from King County, or it owes that county a fee for any materials that end up at the landfill, including alternative daily cover.
Gillis says he will take C&D debris from anywhere as long as it meets the company’s specifications, which, on the demolition side, are rigorous. Recovery1 requires documentation that the building was inspected and abated. He says he wants to make sure no lead-based paint or asbestos enters the facility.
While volumes are healthy, finding end markets for materials can be challenging. Gillis recalls when Recovery1 first opened in the mid-1990s, about 25 to 30 paper mills were operating in western Washington. “That number has just diminished,” Gillis says.
Luckily for Recovery1, WestRock operates a linerboard mill nearby and is hungry for C&D wood for use as boiler fuel to create steam for its processes. The cardboard Recovery1 receives also goes to the WestRock plant, which uses it to make new products.
Recovery1 also handles gypsum wallboard. The company has a proprietary process for processing it. The company is selective about how much gypsum it allows into the facility. According to Gillis, it all depends on how much it can ship out.
“Getting it in the door is easy,” he says of C&D debris. The Pacific Northwest region is one of those in the country that can charge as much as 50 percent less than landfills. The problem is if the facility can’t recycle the materials, then they are the ones paying the $150 tipping fees at the landfills. “We try to make sure what comes in gets recycled and goes out as value,” Gillis says.
Recovery1 bales and sells rigid plastics, film plastics and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) siding and fencing (no pipe). Ferrous and nonferrous metals and concrete are separated out and taken to dedicated facilities for processing. Gillis says Recovery1 is filling about one 40-yard roll-off container per day of ferrous metals. Red metals are far less in volume due to the nature of the construction loads the company receives.
Recovery1 opened a dedicated carpet recycling facility, but fiber prices have dropped nearly 60 percent since the facility opened in 2016. Gillis says the company is trying to generate more markets for the offtakes of the process the company took several years to develop.
“We are just now to the point where we are handing a pretty steady flow,” Gillis says. But now, he says company will have to idle the facility until a market can be found.
PROGRESS IN PORTLAND
Portland has a similar ordinance requiring C&D debris recycling at certified facilities. In July 2016 it went a step further by adopting an ordinance requiring full deconstruction on demolition permits if the structure was built in 1916 or earlier or is a designated historic resource.
The ordinance applies to an estimated 33 percent of single-family housing demolitions. The city also estimates 4,000 tons of materials will be diverted from the program annually.
Portland also has felt the effects of the declining paper industry on its C&D wood. The problem got so bad in late 2015, when WestRock idled the former SP Fiber Technologies paper mill in Newberg, Oregon, that it rescinded its landfill ban on the material. That mill burned 350 tons of the Portland region’s wood scrap daily.
The moral to the story, as Gillis points out, is end markets do not always support the desire to recover materials. “The key to this thing is, was and always will be markets, markets, markets.”