Construction Material Disposal Options

There is no doubt that this country has a construction material disposal problem. According to the most recent research from the EPA, the construction industry generates about 600 million tons of waste every year, and about 25% of it ends up in landfills. But let’s be clear about what constitutes construction and demolition waste, commonly referred to as C&D waste.

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What Is C&D Waste?

Not all C&D waste is actually waste in the sense of “something that cannot be put to good use”. Some of it is, of course, but much of it is reclaimable or reusable building materials. And often, surplus building materials purchased for a project and never used get lumped into the C&D waste category along with the waste resulting from demolition and from construction activities and mistakes. So, in this article, “building materials” refers to both used and unused materials, with the term “surplus building materials” applying only to unused building materials in their original condition.

C&D waste is classified as hazardous waste when it has the potential for injuring someone handling it, such as broken glass, loose nails, and the like. Any C&D waste that contains asbestos or potentially harmful chemicals—solvents, roofing tar, adhesives, and treated wood, for example—is classified as toxic waste. Hazardous or toxic waste requires special handling and disposal.

What Construction Material Disposal Methods Are Available?

Bear in mind that construction material “disposal” is not synonymous with throwing them away. The word “dispose” has multiple meanings, including “transferring to someone else’s control” and “giving or selling to another person.” Getting building materials out of your hands and into someone else’s can lead to those materials being reused as is, repurposed to serve a function other than the one you might have intended, or recycled and used as an ingredient in another product.

With the exception of unused surplus building materials, any reuse, repurposing, or recycling requires a certain amount of reclamation and salvage work. That probably explains why more than 75% of the recyclable construction waste materials the EPA keeps statistics on (wood, drywall, asphalt shingles, bricks, and clay tiles) end up in landfills instead of being recycled. Sending construction material to a landfill should be the final option.

Redirecting Construction Materials for Reuse or Repurposing

Unused surplus construction materials and construction materials reclaimed from construction and demolition activities can be retained for use on a future project or sold to others who can make good use of them. When this is the intent, builders often adopt a “deconstruct” rather than “demolish” philosophy to make reclamation easier and salvage a higher percentage of reusable construction materials.

Redirecting Construction Materials for Recycling

When a builder’s intent is to get as much C&D waste from a project into the recycling stream–and out of the waste stream that would carry it to a landfill–reclamation activities include separating recyclable materials from nonrecyclables and sorting recyclables by type; wood, glass, plastic, brick, drywall, cement, and so on.

Sorting recyclable materials can be tedious and time-consuming, and there may not be enough space to do that work onsite. It makes good business sense to work with a salvage dealer or waste management company that will handle those tasks onsite or remove C&D waste to another location or facility devoted to separating and sorting recyclables. They are then sold to companies that transform them into something else or use them as inputs to their own manufacturing processes.

Benefits of Reuse and Recycling of Construction Materials

Reusing or recycling construction materials extends their useful life and keeps all embodied carbon out of landfills, which is good for the planet. Many project owners are requiring contractors to meet certain waste reduction standards, and municipal and state governments have their own environmental regulations governing the disposal of construction materials—regulations that promote reuse and recycling and restrict what can be buried in landfills. For maximum environmental benefits, when your only option is to commit unusable, nonrecyclable construction materials to a landfill, try to send them to one that captures methane and other greenhouse gasses for use as biofuels to prevent their release into the atmosphere.

The financial benefits to builders and do-it-yourselfers of reusing and recycling construction materials are also impressive. Selling the materials you have no use for puts some money in your pocket and yields substantial savings to those who buy them. That’s true whether the buyer is purchasing your surplus materials to use “as is” for a building or remodeling project or is acquiring products made with content recycled from your C&D waste.

A Different Mindset

The time to think about how you will dispose of surplus and waste construction materials is before project launch, not when you’re wrapping up and need to scramble to find suitable disposal options. Waste management planning should be an integral part of planning any project, large or small. Try looking at the task of disposing construction materials as an opportunity to do some good, and become part of the solution for the nation’s construction material disposal issues rather than part of the problem.

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