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 industry has evolved over the years by speaking with the leaders who have helped shape it.

Terry Weaver, who has been the president and general manager of Denver, Pennsylvania-based USA Gypsum for more than 20 years, spoke with C&DR about his new role as president of the Construction & Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA) and the changes he’s seen in the construction and demolition (C&D) recycling landscape over his time in the industry.

Construction & Demolition Recycling (C&DR): How did you get started in the C&D recycling industry?

Terry Weaver (TW): We founded USA Gypsum in response to market demand for drywall material, and recycling was a prime material source. The concept of getting involved in gypsum drywall recycling came about when an agronomist doing soils analysis work on my farms felt gypsum would balance our soil nutritional needs, but at the time, there wasn’t any available locally. Research on markets and material sourcing led to us building our own pilot plant in 1998.

C&DR: How have you seen the industry change over the course of your career?

TW: In 20 years, recycling of construction materials went from something that was rarely done to a sophisticated industry where more than 584 million tons of materials are recycled annually, which conserves natural resources, saves energy and creates thousands of jobs. My experience was similar. In 1998, the only people we could interest in recycling were modular housing manufacturers. Seven years later, we began hearing about green building and the LEED rating system, and by 2006, we were working with the first mixed C&D processors who sent us gypsum drywall segregated from the mixed C&D waste stream.

C&DR: What are some of the top initiatives you want to tackle as president of CDRA?

TW: The CDRA board recently updated its strategic plan. One of our main initiatives includes increasing membership so that the CDRA can increase research and advocacy efforts to advance the C&D recycling industry as a whole. The work that the CDRA does to support C&D waste processing seems to be a well-kept secret. Despite quality research on critical and underserved markets such as wood, processing fines and advocacy work at the federal and local level, thousands of recyclers and vendors who derive their livelihood from the industry are not taking advantage of the opportunities to collaborate, innovate and advance the industry that the CDRA provides. I view it as my challenge to find out why and help bring industry participants into the fold.

C&DR: What are the biggest challenges facing the C&D recycling community?

TW: Finding markets for recycled materials remains the biggest challenge. Unlike the international market difficulties facing municipal solid waste (MSW) and curbside material recycling, most C&D markets are local. That means reclaimed materials can be utilized locally while creating value for the communities the recycler serves. Regulatory hurdles and questions pertaining to material quality are also areas where research and market development are needed.

C&DR: What more needs to be done on the legislative front to ensure C&D recycling remains as viable as it can be?

TW: Recovered C&D wood markets especially need support at the federal and state levels. C&D wood extracted from the waste stream is an important economic source for processors. The CDRA won important considerations in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) view of C&D wood being a viable fuel source, but states have been slow to permit facilities while encouraging or, in some cases, requiring C&D recycling where it makes sense to do so.

We also are supporting efforts by the EPA to improve the recycling infrastructure in this country, as well as pushing an effort by a large group of recycling and manufacturer organizations to get funding to support recycling facilities.

C&DR: Although it varies by material and geography, what are some best practices recyclers can adopt for finding new markets for materials?

TW: Producing consistent, quality material is key to adding value to reclaimed materials. The recent changes we’re seeing from China’s National Sword policy, especially on the municipal recycling front, are relevant to the C&D sector in that a combination of separation technologies and attention to raw material sources are being applied to improve the quality of reclaimed materials. Advances in separation technology can help recyclers find end markets, but more attention to the waste stream in general might be needed. For example, some recyclers are pursuing new construction materials versus those from demolition in an effort to improve reclaimed material quality.

C&DR: How might recyclers rethink dealing with fines specifically to create new markets?

TW: The barrier to the beneficial use of process fines as alternative daily cover (ADC) in place of soil is hydrogen sulfide odor problems generated by gypsum drywall applied in humid climates. The solution could be looking to different markets where hydrogen sulfide would not be a factor, adding materials that prevent the release of hydrogen sulfide from the gypsum or eliminating drywall from processed material altogether. The recent CDRA “Guidelines for Beneficially Reusing Construction & Demolition Debris Fines” white paper outlines this subject in detail.

C&DR: How have you seen LEED influence C&D recycling over the course of your career?

TW: LEED initially prompted entrepreneurs to invest millions in C&D recycling facilities as construction and demolition companies sought out companies with recycling capabilities. Over time, competitors learned they could game the system because there was no audit trail. Dump-and-scoop transfer stations began to report incredibly high recycling rates, which brought the term “sham recycling” to the lexicon. The CDRA worked closely with the USGBC to offer an additional point for certified audited facilities to counter such sham recycling. Years after being introduced, LEED continues to push the industry. Version 4.1 challenges the industry by eliminating the beneficial use of process fines for ADC as material diverted from disposal. This requirement makes it difficult to legitimately meet the 50-percent recycle rate and makes it nearly impossible to reach 75 percent in most cases. More than anything, the 4.1 requirement increases the urgency of finding beneficial use markets for these process fines.

C&DR: What notable C&D recycling trends are you seeing? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about where we’re heading?

TW: I am optimistic. I believe developers and building owners are responding to consumers’ preferences for more recycling and recycled content. Landfill capacity shortages and odor issues in some regions will raise landfill costs in the future, which in turn increases the value of recycling. On the operations side, I believe the application of artificial intelligence, robotics and other equipment investments at recycling facilities will improve quality and lower costs.