Construction & Demolition Waste - Recycling in the Trenches

By Jacqueline Herships

In today’s world of shrinking throwaway options, a reuse, recycle approach is rapidly becoming practical, and construction professionals are being forced to focus on this idea by a combination of growing popular support for GREEN plus dollars and cents considerations-whether they are environmentally minded or not.

According to Frank Coolick, Administrator of Department of Environmental Protection’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Program - http://www.nj.gov/dep/dshw/ there were over 400 landfill sites in N.J. in the 1970s many of which accepted construction and demolition waste. Today there are 13 and one is scheduled to close at some point in the foreseeable future.

The pressure is on, says Mr. Buono, who is also a founding member of US Green Building Council’s N.J. Chapter (USGBC-NJ). It’s very important now to get people thinking about sustainability and recycling. Mr. Buono entered this once unlikely marriage between his chosen profession of construction waste management (CWM) and environmentalism, as a result of this point of view.

Not one to pull punches he spoke of ‘garbage’ a number of times during our discussion, and said he sees garbage as a key bridge connecting people to GREEN. “People relate to garbage much more than they do to geothermal or sunlighting,” he said. When they hear about recycling garbage they say – “Oh yeah – saving the planet”.

It is because of people like Mr. Buono that the times are a-changing. To those invested in building awareness of the new GREEN order, garbage has become our teacher – first, because it is everywhere and second, because it isn’t going anywhere unless we rethink our practices and policies.

The ascendancy of USGBC’s LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - rating system is an indicator that environmental concerns are being taken seriously. Language on the national USGBC website illustrates how overarching this system is, stating that “LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance… promoting a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.” Yet because LEED standards are still relatively new to the world of construction and demolition – the USGBC itself was only founded in the 1993 - working towards even one LEED certification is regarded as a major undertaking by many, and is not entered into lightly. Achieving a LEED certification is regarded as a cause for pride.

It is therefore noteworthy that Mr. Buono, who has been hammering away at recycling C&D waste for over twenty years, has created construction waste management programs for 32 LEED projects, including the ground breaking Willow School, in Gladstone, N.J. the first LEED Gold Certified Building in the state (2002) - which recycled over 90% of its waste at a significant net cost savings for the project.

Simply put, Mr. Buono goes in as a consultant, conducts a waste audit and identifies the percentage which can be removed from the dumpster. He anticipates saving the cost of paying for those disposal services completely. Yet, broaching a waste management program can still be a tough sell. To succeed in his mission he has to bring in the idea of recycling without alienating his clients. While most people are theoretically in favor of a healthy environment, in most cases, he said, dollars and cents are still the bottom line. His job is to get them to see that recycling can be conducted at least at the same cost as not recycling, and more likely at an unanticipated profit which can be used for GREEN materials and systems later on. He wants to get his clients to see that being GREEN is not simply amorphously ‘good,’ it is good business and very good PR.

This is why planning is of the essence, Mr. Buono says. But when a company throws its hat into the LEED arena, there is a much bigger picture to consider. LEED provides a roadmap for measuring and documenting success for every building type and every phase of a building’s lifecycle by attaching points to carefully articulated specifics within a number of categories including:

  • - New Commercial Construction and Major Renovation projects
  • - Existing Building Operations and Maintenance
  • - Commercial Interiors projects
  • - Core and Shell Development projects
  • - Homes
  • - Neighborhood Development
  • - Guidelines for Multiple Buildings and On-Campus Building Projects
  • - LEED for Schools
  • - LEED for Retail


Each one has C&D components according to Robert Kobet, AIA, President of Sustainaissance International and a lecturer on the topic of LEED accreditation and the credits or points required to fulfill LEED requirements - rkobet@yahoo.com. In the CWM arena LEED rewards you differently for those things which are kept out of the landfill and those things which are kept out of the landfill and then reused in other building projects, he said. Attention is paid to the quantities involved, and innovation is rewarded. For example, projects are rewarded for increasing demand for building materials and products that are extracted and manufactured nearby, thereby reducing the environmental impact of transportation. They are also rewarded for using rapidly renewable building materials and products made from plants that are typically harvested within a ten year cycle or shorter, reducing the use and depletion of finite raw materials and long-cycle renewable materials. If you do an exemplary job, he said, you can score additional materials reuse points (MR).

According to Mr. Coolick, we generate 6 million tons of C&D a year – much of it concrete. Thanks to Mike Buono and companies like his, over 80% of that gets ground up to be reused for purposes such as fill for foundations or road bedding, for example. “One container of concrete – the heaviest of materials – weighs 10-12 tons. You can have that container recycled for $350. Or you can throw it out at $65 a ton which is about double the cost. For years they’ve picked up all the waste and taken it to a landfill,” he said, “even though it is possible to recycle at half the cost of throwing it away, in part because there are no landfill fees.”

In short - there is money to be made, says Mr. Buono. There are an awful lot of things that come out of the buildings that are recylcable – glass, steel, masonry, brick, stone – so many dollars per pound of stuff. Often, even GREEN oriented construction projects don’t realize that they can be sustainable right from the start, before their buildings are built. And so he continues preaching the cost benefits of putting a waste management plan in place right from the beginning, whether in construction or deconstruction, rather than just throwing the stuff away. The challenge is to figure out how we are going to achieve the level of recycling we need, he said. “Sustainability is important. It’s important to do sustainability even before you build.”

For more information on LEED certifications visit the USGBC.org website.

About the Author

Jacqueline Herships is a publicist and communications strategist working to build public understanding of Sustainability, Green Building, Smart Growth, Community Redevelopment and the Environment. Her column "Spotlight on Green Builders" appears in the US Green Building Council (USGBC-NJ) newsletter. For further information:

jacqueline@jacquelineherships.com

http://jacquelineherships.com

 

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