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C&D Recycling - It’s all about the Markets!

June 12, 2012

Just as with any recyclable material, construction and demolition recycling doesn't happen without markets.

On a demolition or renovation job, markets start with reuse for unwanted or surplus materials. Get buy-in from the project authority and put reuse as a priority in bid specifications and contracts. Select a coordinator for this aspect of the project. On demolition/deconstruction jobs, determine who controls the debris (does it belong to the owner, contractor, deconstruction or reuse person hired, or is it being done solely as a donation project and materials will be given away).

Identify target materials for reuse—including beams, hard wood floors, architectural salvage, doors, hardware, sinks, marble, kitchen cabinets, and light fixtures. (Caution: watch out for items that may contain lead, such as piping). Contact deconstruction or salvage operations, local architectural antique dealers, Materials Exchanges in the Northeast, nonprofit organizations (such as Habitat for Humanity, other building reuse organizations), artists, schools, and other potential reuse outlets. Determine storage needs and timing for removal of materials. A "reuse plan" is helpful to describe steps to reuse: who will deconstruct and remove items and what's the timeline.

Host a "Tagging" Day to promote the removal of reusable items by inviting interested organizations and individuals in for a walk-through. Provide a guided tour of the site and use masking tape and markers to "tag" desired items. Each entity participating in the walk-through must sign a liability waiver and a reuse form (describing what the materials they want will be used for). Once everyone participating in the Tagging Day is done, the contractor can remove items tagged to the outside for pickup. Schedule a pick-up day and require that all items be removed on that day. Items may provide a tax write-off if they are donated to charitable organizations. Typical site logistics for this type of deconstruction requires about two people for one to two days. Typically the building will be taken down in pieces and the crew goes to work stripping of materials and setting them aside. Be sure to estimate weights, volumes, and value of removed items for reporting. See NERC's HaulerTerms and Waste Conversion Factors.

Next, what can be recycled?

Look for local market listing – search on Google, recycling trade associations, New York/Northeast Recycling Markets Database, ReuseMarketplace, and Materials Exchange listings. Also ask your hauler and local solid waste officials.

Clean, untreated wood is generated from forms, pallets, containers, and off-cuts. Clean wood is the single largest component of C&D waste and the number one component going for disposal. Typical markets for clean wood include mulch, compost, animal bedding, and products (such as bird houses). Of course, beams, wood floors, barn wood, and architectural elements can be reused and may be of great value.

Metal is generated at various stages of both construction and demolition jobs. All metal is recyclable and can typically be collected in one bin. One insight from a NERC C&D Training is a caution about radioactive metals. This is particularly important for demolition and deconstruction jobs at hospitals, doctor offices, and other medical buildings, industrial sites, and even commercial buildings. Many medical devices, old industrial gauges, smoke detectors, and building exit signs can contain radioactive materials. Contact the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) for more information and signage and educational materials on identifying potentially radioactive materials.

Concrete is recycled into new concrete, aggregate, and fill. Some companies will take asphalt, bricks, and concrete together for aggregate. Concrete can also be used as fill on many jobsites. In order for concrete to be recycled it cannot be painted or contain asbestos (old glues and caulking may have asbestos).

Drywall includes both clean drywall generated during construction and dirty drywall from the demolition phase of a project. Clean drywall can typically be used on the jobsite or recycled through local haulers. Finding markets for dirty drywall is more difficult. In some states it is used as a soil amendment. There are also some growing markets for using it in concrete and in asphalt batching. Older drywall with glues and caulking may contain asbestos and cannot be recycled.

Commercial carpet (e.g., carpet pad, nylon 6, nylon 6.6) from renovation jobs can sometimes be recycled through local haulers. If carpet is being replaced for a renovation job, work with the company that is installing the new carpet to see if they will recycle it. 

Large quantities of ceiling tiles can be sent directly to ArmstrongCeiling Recycling Program or if smaller quantities are generated a local hauler may accept them. Armstrong will only accept truckload quantities; tiles must be stacked on pallets.

Shingles are a growing area in C&D recovery. Several states now have asphalt shingle processing facilities. In some states asphalt shingles are being used in road products and asphalt. See NERC's document for more information.

Asphalt paving is commonly recycled back into paving.

Bricks can be collected for recycling into aggregate. High quality bricks can also be reused.

Vinyl, stretch wrap and film, and other plastics have some limited markets. Of course cardboard, paper, and beverage containers can be recycled through local haulers.

One key to cost-effective recycling is to know when materials will be generated on the site and target collection of those materials at that time. In this way the job-site can typically handle the number of dumpsters needed for source-separated recycling. Many communities also have mixed C&D recycling, where all or some mix of recyclables is put in one dumpster to be sorted out at a C&D processing plant.

By Athena Lee Bradley

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