There was a time when builders and construction project owners didn’t give much thought to disposing debris and used building materials from a demolition or construction job. The usual practice was to park a dumpster on the site and fill it up with the intent to haul it off to a dump or landfill. Nobody worried about where it would end up, as long as it wasn’t left lying around the job site.
Not so, anymore! We have no choice but to pay attention to what our planet is telling us, and words like reuse, repurpose, and recycle have become commonplace, not only in the construction industry but in many aspects of modern life.
As a species, we have a waste problem. We’re trapped in a cycle of production, use, and disposal, leading to more production, use, and disposal, which puts enormous strain on finite natural resources and makes sustainability an imperative, not a theory. With this in mind you may have asked yourself where can I dispose of building materials, as experts in repurposed materials we have a few ideas for you below.
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Where Can I Dispose of Building Materials Safely?
When you have unwanted construction materials that you would like to dispose of, the environmentally responsible solution is to do so in a way that keeps them out of the waste stream that leads to a landfill.
Everything that is manufactured, including the materials used in construction, represents embodied carbon—the total of all carbon dioxide emitted during the extraction, harvesting, and processing of raw materials, and the production, transport, installation, and ultimately the disposal of building materials. When you dispose of building materials (surplus or used) in a way that consigns them to a landfill, their life span ends, with no reduction of the demand for new building materials.
Two Great Solutions for Where Can I Dispose of Building Materials
There are two ways to dispose of unwanted building materials that will keep them out of a landfill—by making them available to others for reuse or recycling them and giving them new life in another form. Both reuse and recycling help reduce additional carbon embodiment in new materials.
In most areas there are private companies that help builders and homeowners get rid of unwanted building materials by selling them to the public or to a recycler. RepurposeMATERIALS is one of them.
Whether unwanted building materials can be reused or recycled depends on 1) the type of material, and 2) the condition it is in. The most commonly salvaged building materials are steel, glass, concrete, wood, drywall, and flooring.
Worldwide, steel is the most commonly recycled material; 98% of structural steel, the most common material for framing commercial buildings, never ends up in a landfill. (Only 71% of steel rebar is recycled because of the greater difficulty of salvaging it during demolition and separating it from concrete and other materials.) Most new steel is made by melting down salvaged steel, which reduces the need for the iron, coal, limestone to make new steel, and cuts down on the carbon emissions from new steel production.
Clear glass is easily recyclable, but there is little demand for products made from mixed-color recycled glass. Also, glass used in building typically is coated, laminated, or otherwise treated for thermal performance, making it unsuitable for recycling except as aggregate used in cement glass mixes and ceramic countertops.
Concrete also is not easily recyclable except as aggregate or filler, which is unfortunate because the ingredients that go into its manufacture, particularly sand, are not renewable. Most concrete used in construction is contaminated during demolition by trace plastics, metals, mortar paste, or other substances or contains chemical additives.
Drywall consists of a gypsum core sandwiched between two layers of paper. When the paper is stripped off and recycled like any other paper product, the remaining gypsum core is highly recyclable, potentially indefinitely, without significant loss of performance. This cuts down drastically on the need to mine gypsum or use synthetic gypsum, a potentially toxic waste material from the coal-fired power generation process. Strict municipal laws regarding reuse of salvaged drywall and banning disposal of drywall in landfills is driving an increase in drywall recycling.
While hardwood flooring salvaged from residential structures is a hot commodity for reuse, much of the flooring in commercial buildings is PVC, vinyl, or carpeting. Very little carpeting, less than 10%, is recycled because of the adhesives, backings and cushioning used to install it. The nylon and polypropylene commonly used to make the carpeting itself has value but is difficult to separate from the backings. Hard-surface vinyl tiles and PVC flooring often contain toxic ingredients and are contaminated with toxic substances used as adhesives and sealants, making it largely unrecyclable.
Ideally, all waste removal services would prioritize reuse and recycling and direct the waste building materials they collect into one stream or the other, and make committing them to a landfill the last resort. Unfortunately, that is not currently the norm. It may take some research on your part to find a company that specializes in environmentally responsible waste removal, or is in the business of reselling surplus and salvaged building materials to the public for reuse, but they do exist.
Whatever you do, don’t engage in illegal waste disposal or use the services of a company that would. The legal consequences can be severe. Misrepresenting the nature of materials headed to a landfill carries a hefty fine—$250,000 for a company or $120,000 for an individual unknowingly providing false information and double those amounts plus 18 months behind bars for intentional misrepresentation.
Contact Repurposed Materials today to find out how we can help you find a new home for unwanted materials.