The following is an op-ed piece by Jim Halter, vice president of construction solutions for Waste Management. It does not describe the views or opinions of Earth911.
For architects, builders and suppliers, Greenbuild is like Thanksgiving, Earth Day and a little bit of New Years all wrapped up into one. It’s a time to exchange ideas about sustainable construction, which for me is an opportunity to talk about how to plan for the resulting waste streams that every project generates.
You know, people are usually surprised to learn this, but managing waste is ranked by green building experts as the second most important element of environmental performance (just behind energy efficiency). To get you started on a path to success, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Make a plan
Before you tear down that kitchen wall or pull up an old carpet, make sure you have a plan to dispose of that waste. First, identify where you are going to send your materials to be recycled. Whether you have copper piping, lumber or linoleum, Earth911’s search database can be helpful in finding recycling facilities.
Next, establish a process for separating and collecting each type of waste for recycling. It’s more efficient and safer to collect materials from the start of a project, rather than sifting through a full mixed pile at the very end. With proper planning and careful sorting, almost all construction debris can be recycled. On some of the projects Waste Management has worked on, we were able to recycle more than 80 percent of total waste.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so if during a build, you are looking to earn LEED certification, keep in mind that some large construction teams use tracking systems, like WM’s Diversion and Recycling Tracking Tool, to collect data on their waste diversion rates. This information makes its easier to monitor (day or night) your recycling performance when applying for LEED certification. Home renovators may not need such a technical tracking system, but keeping tabs on your overall performance is important, too. Even if it’s just to share with your friends on Facebook.
2. Build with recycled materials
Save money and our environment’s resources by using recycled materials rather than new in your next construction project. There are many places to get “used” building materials, including Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore locations throughout the country or websites like Freecycle.org and builder2builder.com. Here’s one example of building with recycled materials in WM’s Recycling Education Center in Houston.
3. Recycle wall materials
Cardboard, paper, plastics and metals can all be converted into new goods through traditional recycling methods, but the walls in your house can also be carefully recycled. First, remove all nails and screws from your clean wood and drywall scraps. Next, you can send larger, useable pieces to charities like Habitat for Humanity and the smaller scraps to specialized facilities to be processed.
Wood scraps can be recycled into mulch or biomass fuel. Biomass fuel – or tiny bits of wood and other organic material – is burned or gasified to produce renewable energy. Like wood recycling, drywall can be recycled in specialized facilities to be chopped up and made into new drywall.
4. Recycle roof materials
Thanks to new recycling technology, we can now recycle more than just bottles and cans. Check with waste collection facilities in your area to see if your roofing shingles can be recycled near you. Certain types of roofing shingles are made from asphalt, and can be recycled back into asphalt to pave roads in some areas.
5. Recycle floor materials
It’s important to recognize that from ceilings, to walls, to flooring, many construction materials are recyclable. Conduct some research to see what recycling facilities are available near you. Send your carpets to be broken down and reused to make everything from composite lumber to carpet cushion to automotive parts. Tile and crushed concrete can live a second life as gravel or dry aggregate for new concrete. Dirt, rock and sand can be used in landfills for Alternative Daily Cover (ADC), which when layered over incoming waste helps to keep those items contained.
6. Remember that it’s a cycle
Environmental performance doesn’t stop when you drive in the last nail. It’s important to remember that sustainability must continue during occupancy. So, build with recycling in mind. Design a space for a recycling container; since there’s very often little space for even an everyday waste receptacle (a lot of people squeeze a small container under the sink). Be vigilant when it comes to maintenance and keep tabs on different innovations that come out to make your home or office better for the environment.
According to Waste Business Journal, only 25 percent of construction and demolition waste is currently put to reuse. Recycling opportunities vary depending on your location, but when available it can really send this percentage much higher. Consider these tips next time you dust off your sledge hammer and saw. Even small residential projects can help drive us towards a zero waste future.