“There are all of these different things that make you think we’re moving in the right direction with construction waste, but in many instances, that’s just not the case.” Even as curbside recycling has become the norm in U.S. cities for household trash, recycling for construction and demolition waste, which accounts for more than twice the volume in America’s landfills, still just happens in fits and starts.
Even a comprehensive listing of federal and state rules and recycling goals for C&D is hard to come by.
A 2011 report by the Northeast Recycling Council found that only 13 states had some form of C&D recycling requirements or material bans at that time.
“There’s a patchwork of C&D recycling requirements around the country,” says Wes Sellens, director, codes technical development at the Washington, D.C.-based USGBC. “You’ve got some places with nothing, others with a 75% requirement. It’s all over the map.” Adds Bradley, “You can’t make a dent in diversion until you understand it and profile it.” For Chris Batterson, C&D accounts lead at Atlanta-based Rubicon Global, which provides cloud-based waste and recycling software to various industries, much of what happens to C&D waste comes down to the choices individual builders make.
“Builders who have established sustainability goals and practices try to do the right thing and divert materials. But the ones who choose not to recycle typically just throw it all in one container, and it goes to the landfill.” Access is Everything Even if the numbers were less opaque it would still take a Herculean effort by many builders to recycle more of what’s generated at their worksites.
“If you’re doing a construction project and you’re getting Dumpsters dirt cheap because you’re close to that landfill and their drivers don’t have to go very far, it doesn’t make economic sense to sort it or recycle it.” For builders who make the choice to pay that higher price anyway their C&D waste still may not get recycled, as Johns experienced at Urban NW Homes when he first tried to improve his own waste management by separating his materials.
“You really have to make sure it gets recycled after it leaves your site.” To do that, builders can look for certification from the Recycling Certification Institute, which audits the books of haulers and C&D facilities to make sure they’re actually doing what they claim.