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Recycling Construction Waste: What to Do!

Published August 11, 2015 by Whirlwind Team

One of the top priorities of the modern construction site is to create the least amount of waste possible - easier said than done, right? Fortunately, with sustainable building tenets at the forefront of industry leaders' minds, there are plenty of resources to get your waste off the construction site, without contributing unnecessarily to overburdened landfills.

From standard metal and lumber recycling to innovative repurposing, you'll be amazed at the recycling options available for the waste your site generates on a daily basis. Being attentive with your recycling waste will keep you in compliance with city ordinances and your clients' construction plans, and it will also help to score points toward LEED and other green building certification programs.

Eliminate Construction Waste With These Recycling Options

First, you need to know what is and isn't recyclable, and there is hardly a material or product that can't be recycled in some ways. Examples of commonly recycled construction waste includes:

  • Doors and door frames
  • Office furniture
  • Windows and frames
  • Soil
  • Asphalt
  • Steel framing members
  • Brick
  • Carpet/carpet tiles
  • Wood
  • Plumbing (both pipes & fixtures)
  • Roofing
  • Dimensional lumber
  • Aggregate
  • Structural steel
  • Concrete (with & without rebar)
  • HVAC parts
  • Shingles
  • Non-Ferrous Metals
  • Broadloom
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Engineered beams (glu-lam, etc.)
  • Gypsum Wallboard
  • Wood, metal, slate
  • Porcelain
  • Concrete block
  • Wiring/conduit
  • Panels (plywood, OSBMDF)
  • Trees, stumps, brush

That's a pretty inspiring list, isn't it? Now your job becomes knowing what to do with it and who will help you dispose of it.

Start With Your Local Waste Management Program

As a business owner or money-conscious project manager, you'll be pleased to learn that in most cases, the cost of recycling these products is less than the cost of dumping them in a construction dumpster or hauling them to the local dump. Depending on where you live and work - many of these items can even be disposed of for free.

Schedule a meeting with your local waste management company to get started. They will be one of your best resources in terms of which items they recycle and which ones they don't. Odds are, if there are things they can't help you with, they will be able to refer you to a local agency that can.

Strive For Source Separation Over Comingled Recycling

If you recycle at home, you're familiar with the extra steps required to separate recyclables, and it's no different on a jobsite. Some entities will offer to take comingled recycling products, meaning they can be jumbled all together.  However, source separation is the preferred recycling method because it leads to higher overall recycling rates and lower overall recycling costs.

In fact, in some cases, you might be able to make money as some entities will pay for sorted recycling material. The downfall is that your crew will have to spend a little more time sorting through the materials, and you will need more recycling containers onsite.

While comingled recycling may be easier in the short-term, it leads to negatives in the long-term. Most companies charge more for comingled materials and you are much less likely to make any money off recycled items that aren't sorted. Plus, in terms of sustainability, comingled recycling is associated with lower overall recycling rates.

In order to capitalize on the benefits of source recycling:

  • 3 is the magic number. Try to avoid having more than 3 containers on site at any one time. Some materials must be comingled so you will always need a mixed-materials waste receptacle. Then, try to have two separate containers for specific waste products generated during specific phases of the job.
  • Match containers to materials. Small metal parts and wires may only require a 2-yard or 4-yard container while wood waste and concrete will require larger containers. Keep things efficient my matching the container size to the material being recycled - keeping maximum load weights in mind.
  • Make it easy. The further away containers are from workers, the less likely they will be to take advantage of them. Keep the recycling containers in close proximity to where your crew is working whenever possible. Use temporary, smaller containers if necessary, which can be dumped into the larger, main recycling containers at intervals throughout the day. This will encourage employees to stick to sourced, rather than comingled, waste disposal.

Communication is Key to Successfully Recycling Construction Waste

In order to maximize the amount of construction waste you recycle, the intentions must be communicated by everyone involved in the project, from the owners and architects to the project managers and the crew. Make sure everyone understands that recycling construction waste is integral to the goals of the project as well as the company's ethics and brand.

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