What Can You Recycle?

Much of the debris that remodelers throw away can be reused or recycled, saving money and our natural resources in the process.

September 30, 2008

Carl Seville
Advisory Board Columnist

Almost every renovation project has a Dumpster parked in front. Dumpsters, those ubiquitous steel containers, are an easy way to get rid of waste. Throw it in, haul it off and it's gone (usually with a neighbor's couch thrown in). But where does it actually go? Usually to a landfill, many of which are being closed as they fill up. So it goes to a transfer station, where it is unloaded, then reloaded and driven farther away to a new landfill. This takes time, money, fuel and land, all of which are limited resources. On top of this, much of the debris that remodelers throw away can be reused or recycled, saving money and our natural resources in the process.

We all know how to recycle the basics; recycling construction debris is more involved, but with a little extra effort, can be very successful.

Let's look at what can be recycled in a remodeling project. Asphalt and fiberglass shingles can be ground up and recycled into a gravel-like material that can be used as a base for driveways, or, in larger quantities, roads and parking lots. After the roof comes off, usually the decking, rafters and other framing materials follow. Depending on where you live, you may find framing materials made from heart pine, cedar, fir, cypress, and other old woods, all of which can be salvaged and remilled into flooring and other trim. Any unpainted lumber, new or old, can be ground into mulch and used for erosion control or plant bedding. Nails can be removed and lumber reused on the site or sold at a premium.

Masonry and concrete are easily recycled. I recently salvaged more than 15,000 bricks from a house being demol-ished and delivered them to a renovation project down the street where they were reinstalled. Landscape contractors and suppliers may be interested in older bricks, which they can use to build walls and walkways. Broken or unusable bricks, as well as concrete block and clay roof tiles can be ground into gravel for use on or off the job site. Cabinets, appliances, doors, windows, plumbing fixtures, lighting, and flooring can be removed carefully and reused on or off the job site, sold, or donated to many non-profit organizations that reuse or resell them to support their programs. Copper wires and pipes, aluminum gutters, and other non-ferrous metals are easily segregated during demolition and construction and sold at recycling centers.

And this is just the start of a long list.

Knowing the challenges involved is important: locating resources to take your excess materials; educating your staff and trades to properly sort recyclables from waste; and finding enough space on the job site to store materials waiting for recycling. Your local waste management authority is a good place to look for information on recycling. Check out Habitat for Humanity and local municipal landfills and recycling centers (remember that donations to non-profits can provide tax deductions for your clients — another selling point!). To properly educate your team, write and publish a company waste management policy, post it on the job site, and include it in your employee handbook and subcontract agreements. If space on your job site is tight and your customer is concerned about their yard resembling a landfill, enlist them in the process — get their buy in on your recycling program before you start. Turn it into a marketing opportunity by posting signs saying “This Remodeler Recycles.”

Instituting a recycling program on your job site won't be easy, but then again, we didn't become remodelers because we thought it was easy. With some careful planning, team education and job site management you can reduce the waste generated during demolition and construction providing both cost savings and environmental benefits.

EPA Website: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/imr/cdm/index.htm
ToolBase: http://www.toolbase.org/ToolbaseResources/level3.aspx?BucketID=5&CategoryID=26
Waste to Wealth: http://www.ilsr.org/recycling/decon/deconpublications.html
Global Recycling Network: http://www.grn.com/a/5080.html

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