How Big Is the Construction Waste Problem?

It’s no secret the construction industry generates a lot of waste. Construction waste accounts for one quarter of the U.S. waste stream. That’s more than twice as much as the combined solid waste of every municipality in the United States in 2018, according to the EPA’s most recent tally. That includes waste from both demolition, which accounts for 90% of construction and demolition (C&D) waste, and building which accounts for 10%.

After subtracting the 455 tons that were reclaimed, recycled, or disposed of as hazardous waste that year, a whopping 145 million tons of C&D waste ended up in landfills. While it’s important to acknowledge that the construction industry has made great progress in keeping C&D waste out of the nation’s landfills, 145 million tons is still a LOT of stuff to be burying. Because of this we at RepurposedMATERIALS have put together a guide on building material disposal sites by state.

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Waste Management Progress through Planning

The progress made so far in reducing the amount of C&D waste destined for a landfill has been the result of developing disposal plans before a project even breaks ground. Many larger projects require bidders to include a waste management plan in their proposals. And some construction contracts, particularly for public works projects, require contractors to document their waste diversion performance in periodic progress reports throughout a project. Construction waste management planning is integral to overall materials management.

Careful planning based on BIM and 3-D modeling improves estimates and helps prevent overbuying of building materials that often end up in a landfill without ever being used. It also supports the use of building materials that can be recycled or that include recycled content. Planning in advance what will be done with the waste– that unavoidably will be generated by a project– is the best way to cut down on how much of it gets sent to a landfill.

Plan for Deconstruction not Demolition

One of the major advantages of making C&D waste management a consideration from project inception is the ability to design structures with the goal of eventual deconstruction rather than demolition. This is the aim of the Design for Deconstruction movement—responsible management of end-of-life building materials to facilitate their reuse or recycling and reduce consumption of raw materials.

It changes the traditional linear view of materials flow to a circular one that closes the loop on the use of resources. When C&D waste materials are treated as valuable resources, the need to extract virgin resources, the energy consumed in their extraction and processing, and the negative impact on the environment are minimized.

How to Dispose of What Can’t Be Reclaimed, Reused, or Recycled

So, what do we do with what’s left over—the waste building materials that can’t be diverted from the waste stream through reuse or recycling? What do we do with all that embodied carbon? Not all landfills accept C&D waste. The EPA refers to the ones that do as C&D landfills (also referred to as industrial landfills).

Some C&D landfills also serve as material recovery facilities (MRFs). Contractors who don’t have the capacity or inclination to sort through waste building materials and other construction debris onsite may direct their C&D waste to a landfill operating an MRF where landfill workers will do the sorting and diversion, if possible.

C&D Landfills

C&D landfills do not accept hazardous waste, including materials containing lead and asbestos, unless they meet the standards and EPA regulations for hazardous waste handling and disposal. For the purposes of this discussion, hazardous waste is excluded from the list of materials accepted by C&D landfills.

C&D landfills do accept waste that the EPA classifies as construction and demolition debris:

  • Roadwork material
  • Excavated material
  • Demolition waste
  • Construction/renovation
  • Site clearance waste

Specific materials that fall into these categories include:

  • Asphalt
  • Bricks
  • Concrete
  • Glass
  • Gypsum
  • Metals
  • Plastics
  • Salvaged building components (doors, windows, and plumbing fixtures)
  • Trees, stumps, earth, and rock from clearing sites
  • Wood (from buildings)

Disposal of C&D waste generated at the project level is governed by municipal, state, and federal regulations. Local practices are determined in large part by the availability of C&D landfills in the area. Always check out municipal and state laws before developing a plan for disposal of C&D waste.

Landfill Methane Outreach Program

Each state’s landfills are regulated by the state’s environmental agency, following federal EPA guidelines. Increasingly, landfill operators are participating in the EPA’s voluntary Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP).

The goal of LMOP is to reduce or prevent the emission of landfill gas (LFG), particularly methane, into the atmosphere. LFGs can be captured and used as fuel for generating electricity or powering vehicles, or in industrial applications requiring heat. When C&D debris is deposited in a landfill where greenhouse gasses are captured and used as a renewable fuel, all that embodied carbon gains new life.

The average landfill has a lifespan of 15-20 years, and it takes 5-10 years of decomposition before enough methane is produced to make it commercially feasible to recover LFGs.

Building Material Disposal Sites by State: Landfills and Environmental Agencies 

The EPA maintains an up-to-date database of the landfills in each of the 48 states and the single U.S. territory that currently capture LFG. The following list indicates the total number of industrial landfills and municipal solid waste landfills in the LMOP database as of March 2022 and the number with active LFG recovery programs (there are many more that are not yet operational).

Please note that the database does not provide descriptions of the individual landfills, only counts for each state in both categories (total landfills and active LFG capture landfills). And it does not purport to include every municipal landfill in the total landfills counts. 

The environmental agencies that regulate the disposal of C&D waste at the state level listed as well. Contacting the agency in the appropriate state is a good place to start when developing a waste management plan for a project.

State Total
Active LFG
Capture Landfills
Environmental Regulatory Agency
Alabama 43 2 AL Dept. of Environmental Management
Alaska 8 1 AK Dept. of Environmental Conservation
Arizona 40 2 AZ Dept. of Environmental Quality
Arkansas 25 3 AR Dept. of Environmental Quality
California 300 56 CA Dept. of Conservation
Colorado 38 2 CO Dept. of Public Health & Environment
Connecticut 24 2 CT Dept. of Environmental Protection
Delaware 4 4 DE Dept. of Natural Resources & Environmental Control
Florida 75 19 FL Dept. of Environmental Protection
Georgia 77 19 GA Dept. of Natural Resources
Hawaii 15 0 HI Dept. of Land & Natural Resources
Idaho 31 4 ID Dept. of Environmental Quality
Illinois 95 19 IL Environmental Protection Agency
Indiana 89 22 IN Dept. of Environmental Management
Iowa 48 5 IO Dept. of Natural Resources
Kansas 61 6 KS Dept. of Health & Environment
Kentucky 39 11 KY Energy & Environment Cabinet
Louisiana 37 8 LA Dept. of Environmental Quality
Maine 19 2 ME Dept. of Environmental Protection
Maryland 48 8 MD Dept. of the Environment
Massachusetts 49 10 MA Dept. of Environmental Protection
Michigan 60 41 MI Dept. of Environment, Great Lake, & Energy
Minnesota 35 5 MN Dept. of Natural Resources
Mississippi 26 6 MS Dept. of Environmental Quality
Missouri 56 14 MO Dept. of Natural Resource
Montana 30 2 MT Dept. of Environmental Quality
Nebraska 32 6 NE Dept. of Environment & Energy
Nevada 26 2 NV Dept. of Environmental Protection
New Hampshire 48 6 NH Dept. of Environmental Services
New Jersey 28 10 NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection
New Mexico 16 2 NM Environment Dept.
New York 86 22 NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation
North Carolina 123 26 NC Dept. of Environmental Quality
North Dakota 14 2 ND Dept. of Environmental Quality
Ohio 73 17 OH Environmental Protection Agency
Oklahoma 37 5 OK Dept. of Environmental Quality
Oregon 24 7 OR Dept. of Environmental Quality
Pennsylvania 74 38 PA Dept. of Environmental Protection
Puerto Rico 32 3 Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales
Rhode Island 5 3 RI Dept. of Environmental Management
South Carolina 48 15 SC Dept. Of Health & Environmental Control
South Dakota 9 2 SD Dept. of Environment & Natural Resources
Tennessee 129 10 TN Dept. of Environment & Conservation
Texas 129 27 TX Commission on Environmental Quality
Utah 55 4 UT Dept. of Environmental Quality
Vermont 9 2 VT Dept. of Environmental Conservation
Virginia 74 27 VA Dept. of Environmental Quality
US Virgin Islands 2 0 VI Dept. of Environmental Protection
Washington 54 4 WA Dept. of Ecology
West Virginia 22 3 WV Division of Natural Resources
Wisconsin 56 25 WI Dept. of Natural Resources
Wyoming 5 0 WY Dept. of Environmental Quality

If your company doesn’t have the resources to do the waste management planning for large projects, it might make sense to establish a relationship with a reputable waste management company.

The Money Factor

It would be naïve to overlook the financial considerations at play in making decisions about building material disposal. Builders have plenty of data related to the cost of shipping C&D waste off to a landfill—labor and equipment costs landfill, tipping fees, and so on. Granted, there are costs associated with diverting building materials for reuse and recycling, but those recovered materials have value, which can offset the costs and add to a project’s bottom line.

Contact Repurposed Materials today to find out how we can help you find a new home for unwanted materials.