It is no secret that construction and demolition (C&D) debris makes up the largest segment of materials landfilled in the United States at more than 530 million tons per year, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The largest portion of landfilled C&D materials, 67 percent, is made of Portland cement concrete, followed by asphalt concrete at 18 percent. Wood makes up 8 percent, and asphalt shingles, drywall/plasters and brick/clay tile each come in at 2 percent, while steel is about 1 percent of what is landfilled.
The unfortunate reality is many of these materials could be recycled if it was cost effective and end markets were available. Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine identified more than 150 facilities in its 2016 List of High-Volume Mixed C&D Recycling Facilities from the May/June issue, ready and able to take many of those materials out of landfills.
Many of the people I talk to who get into the C&D recycling business are former construction contractors who see how wasteful it is to dispose of these materials that still have plenty of uses left in them, whether as a fuel, a mulch, a cement or asphalt additive, or road base, etc. We’ve all seen roll-off containers full of C&D debris that we know could be recycled but is destined for that other, cheaper, easier place.
It is a complicated issue that requires not only a contractor and hauler mindset change, but a level playing field and viable end markets to make recycling an appealing option. In the Pacific Northwest, Portland, Oregon, Seattle and King County, Washington, get that.
Portland recently enacted an ordinance requiring full deconstruction of houses built in or before 1916, making it the first city in the country to ensure materials from houses are salvaged and recycled.
King County has required all mixed C&D materials from job sites be sent to designated recycling facilities and nonrecyclable C&D waste sent to designated transfer stations. Seattle, which is located in the county, recently adopted new recycling requirements for C&D materials through landfill disposal bans, facility certification and waste diversion reporting. Seattle’s Green Building Incentives programs also have salvaging and recycling requirements on construction projects.
It is great to see this region, already known for being environmentally progressive, recognize the value of recycling C&D debris and working to change the way people think about construction debris—that it is a resource that should not be wasted.
Other areas also have adopted recycling requirements, and it would be great if other communities followed suit. It also is imperative end markets to continue to be developed for these materials, to ensure there is a place for them that doesn’t begin and end with the letter L.