How can I dispose of my construction waste in an environmentally friendly way?

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Home Improvement

The contents of your construction waste bin could be someone else’s treasure. Discover more about green living in our pictures section.
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When you’re embarking on a new construction project, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of new beginnings and forget about the waste that’s left behind. You might be eager to replace those old, ugly tiles with new hardwood flooring, but have you considered what will happen to the old tiles? In the United States, it’s estimated that 136 million tons of construction waste is generated each year, which accounts for between 25 and 40 percent of the national solid waste stream. Not only does this burden landfills, but materials that contain solvents or chemically treated wood can also cause soil and water pollution [source: Whole Building Design Guide].

To combat this, green demolition is becoming increasingly popular throughout the country. Rather than using a wrecking ball to destroy a building, trained construction crews use a process called deconstruction to carefully dismantle the structure, salvaging anything that can be reused or recycled. This approach keeps around 80 percent of construction waste out of landfills. Although it is more expensive than traditional demolition, there are nonfinancial benefits to consider, like the positive impact on the environment. In addition, there are some cost benefits to going the green route, which we’ll discuss later in this article.

Green Demolition and Material Recovery Facilities

Green demolition, also known as green deconstruction, is a rapidly growing industry, even in times of economic downturn. Although it costs about $10,000 more than traditional demolition due to the extra labor involved in carefully removing items, you can save money on landfill charges and receive tax credits for material donations. Green demolition is also necessary for LEED Certification, a system of standards developed by the United States Green Building Council to promote environmentally sustainable construction. Projects that divert at least half of their construction waste from landfills can receive credits.

Each state has its own laws regarding the separation and disposal of materials. For example, in Connecticut, cardboard and scrap metal must be separated from other construction waste. Onsite separation involves creating separate bins for different materials, making it easier to transport them to the correct facilities. This approach has the added benefit of ensuring that the materials are in better condition when they arrive at the processing facility, making them worth more when resold. Alternatively, waste can be taken to facilities that accept bulk deliveries and can sort multiple materials. Although there is an additional charge for sorting, this can be recouped in the time it saves on the construction site.

In cities like San Diego, California, green demolition is now mandatory for developers. When applying for a permit, they must pay a large deposit that will only be refunded if they can prove that at least 50% of their construction waste has been either recycled or reused. Although the cost differences between traditional demolition and deconstruction are minimized once companies have developed their methods and trained their crews, it’s still important to think twice before tossing any waste. Drive-by contamination, which is the term for trash that passersby throw in construction dumpsters, can account for up to 30% of the total volume of trash and become an additional expense to the project.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle are the three “R’s” of waste management that have long been the battle cry for avid environmentalists. People often use the term “recycling” as a blanket term for all of these acts, but recycling actually means processing old materials and turning them into new products. Reducing and reusing are very important distinctions in the cycle, as recycling is actually the least cost-effective method. Careful planning is needed to reduce waste during a construction project. By designing projects with standard sizes in mind, excess waste can be cut down on. Wood, drywall, and cardboard account for around three-quarters of all job site waste, so they should be considered carefully.

Reusing waste may be the most important part of the cycle, as there are many opportunities to reuse materials if they’re harvested properly. Wood floors and beams, doors and windows, appliances and fixtures, tile and carpet, roofing materials and aluminum siding, bricks, and pipes can all be reused. Salvaged wood flooring is highly sought after for renovators who are rehabbing older homes and desire original details. Recycling waste is the least desirable of the three R’s, as it is costly and not all materials can be recycled. However, drywall scraps can become textured wall sprays, acoustical coatings, and agricultural products, while roof shingles can be recycled into asphalt pavement, and cardboard containers can be recycled into boxes and other packaging materials.

Home DIY Construction Removal


Linkin Park, a rock band, has collaborated with Habitat for Humanity to construct a house. This charitable organization accepts all kinds of donations, including lumber, appliances, and paint.
Sean Gardner/Stringer/Getty Images

For small home renovation projects, it may not always be practical or affordable to hire a deconstruction crew, particularly if you’re on a budget. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do yourself to keep your do-it-yourself (DIY) project eco-friendly.

One way to reduce waste is to find alternatives to tearing something out and work around it instead. For example, if you want to replace an old tile floor or backsplash, you may be able to simply tile over it. This not only saves money on trips to the landfill, but it also saves your back. Tile is heavy and requires a lot of effort to remove. If you despise your popcorn ceiling, you’ll be pleased to know that instead of using a labor-intensive crowbar approach, you may apply thin sheets of drywall over it to create a smooth surface.

When deciding how to approach a home renovation project, there are also some safety concerns to consider. If your house was built before 1978, it’s likely that it contains lead paint on the walls. If you’re unsure, you can get home tests from local hardware shops. If you come across lead paint, the best course of action is to cover it up with wallpaper or a fresh coat of paint. If you decide to take the wall down, you should seek advice from a professional.

Another approach to keep your construction waste out of landfills is to donate materials. Habitat for Humanity accepts items such as lumber, old appliances, large pieces of drywall, and leftover paint. Salvage yards are a popular destination for home rehabbers, and they are happy to accept items like doors and windows, particularly if they come from older houses.

You may also list your discarded materials on Craigslist or Freecycle. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that pile of bricks in your yard may be ideal for someone’s garden. In addition, many modern artists and craftspeople are using reclaimed materials in their work. So, if you’re fortunate, you may even end up with a wallet made of roof shingles.

Lots More Information

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Sources

The list consists of various online resources that discuss the topic of efficient construction waste management and green demolition. These resources include websites like Eco Home, Greenbuilder.com, and Socalgas.com, as well as company websites such as V’s Demolition Inc. and BuffaloReuse.com. Additionally, the list includes articles from magazines like Forbes and National Real Estate Investor, as well as government resources such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. The resources provide information on reducing waste streams, managing residential construction waste, and minimizing construction waste, among other topics.

FAQ

1. What is construction waste?

Construction waste refers to any material or debris generated during construction, demolition, or renovation projects. It can include bricks, concrete, wood, metal, plastics, and other building materials.

2. Why is it important to dispose of construction waste properly?

Improper disposal of construction waste can have negative impacts on the environment and public health. It can lead to soil and water pollution, harm wildlife, and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

3. What are some eco-friendly ways to dispose of construction waste?

Recycling and reusing materials is one of the most eco-friendly ways to dispose of construction waste. You can also donate materials that are still in good condition to charities or non-profit organizations. Composting organic waste is another option.

4. How do I know what materials can be recycled?

Check with your local recycling center to see what materials they accept. Commonly recycled construction materials include concrete, asphalt, metal, and cardboard.

5. Can I dispose of hazardous waste with my regular construction waste?

No, hazardous waste should be disposed of separately. This includes materials such as asbestos, lead, and chemicals. Contact your local government or waste management company for proper disposal instructions.

6. What are some benefits of recycling construction waste?

Recycling construction waste can help conserve natural resources, reduce landfill space, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. It can also save money by reducing the need for new materials.

7. How can I reduce the amount of construction waste generated?

Planning ahead and ordering only the necessary materials can help reduce the amount of waste generated. Reusing materials on site and choosing eco-friendly products can also help.

8. What should I do with leftover paint and other chemicals?

Unused paint and other chemicals should be disposed of properly as hazardous waste. Contact your local government or waste management company for instructions.

9. Are there any penalties for improper disposal of construction waste?

Yes, improper disposal of construction waste can result in fines and legal action. It is important to follow proper disposal procedures to avoid these consequences and protect the environment.

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