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Green Basics

Jobsite Recycling

Recycling Building Materials Saves Money and Helps the Environment

Construction in the U.S. produces millions of tons of waste every year. Disposing of it conventionally, which means trucking it to landfills or incinerators, is costly to builders and, ultimately, costly to the environment. Recycling construction debris is one way of lowering building costs, extending the life of landfills, and funneling some raw materials back into the production stream.

Recycling also has enormous potential for saving energy. It takes much less energy to make new products out of recycled material than it does making them from scratch. Recycling one ton of aluminum, for example, saves the energy equivalent of 36 barrels of oil. Nationally, about 30% of all municipal solid waste is recycled, saving roughly 1.5 quads of energy per year, or 1.5% of the nation’s total energy consumption.

Although recycling has become a core principle of green building, in practice it poses challenges even for builders who are interested. For a variety of reasons, recycling channels for some types of clean scrap can be hard to find. For demolition debris, it gets even tougher. As a result, lots of construction debris is still taken to landfills or incinerators.

Major categories of construction debris include cardboard and paper, PVC and other plastics, asphalt roofing shingles, gypsum drywall, metal, and wood. Some of it is fairly easy to recycle. There’s a long recycling history for cardboard, metal and some plastics, for example. Other materials are more difficult to recycle because the material has limited value, or because there aren’t many processors capable of handling it.

Some states have very active recycling programs for construction debris while others do not. In addition, regulations on the disposal of construction waste vary from state to state. Massachusetts, for example, bans the disposal of gypsum drywall scraps in state landfills while other states do not…

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