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Construction waste consists of trash and debris resulting from construction, renovation, or demolition activities. Unlike traditional waste sources, construction waste is often comprised of large, heavy items like concrete, stone, drywall, or wood. In most areas, waste from construction activities must be disposed of at a landfill specifically designed to accommodate construction and demolition (C&D) waste. Contractors must pay a fee to dispose of these materials, which is often based on the total weight or volume of waste material being disposed of.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, only about 20 percent of construction waste in the United States is recycled. This means that there is a large area for improvement when it comes to waste disposal and diversion. In an effort to divert waste from landfills, many construction companies are developing waste management plans. These plans establish recycling goals, and also propose additional ways to reduce waste. Many local building permit offices and zoning boards require that a waste management plan be developed and approved before building permits are issued.
One of the easiest ways to divert waste from landfills is through recycling. Items like wood, cardboard, and paper can be recycled to make new products, as can drywall or steel. Concrete or masonry waste can be crushed to make aggregate that can be used on new projects. Contractors may choose to separate these materials at the job site, or can simply rely on facilities that accept co-mingled loads. These facilities separate the products for recycling, and have fees comparable to those charged by traditional C&D landfills.
Beyond recycling, there are a number of other sustainable ways to dispose of construction waste. Using a process known as deconstruction, the building can be carefully disassembled in a way that allows many of its parts to be reused. Items like doors, cabinets, flooring, wood, and other fixtures can be re-purposed or reused at the same project, or sent to other jobs. Contractors can also focus on material suppliers that will buy back excess materials, or will allow boxes and packaging to be returned for reuse. It is also possible to choose re-usable bracing and shoring products, rather than relying on temporary models.
Proper construction waste management practices can not only benefit those involved in the project, but can also impact the environment. Excessive quantities of C&D waste require more and more land to be devoted to landfills, rather than more productive purposes. Producing new materials instead of reusing salvaged products requires the use of fossil fuels, which can lead to increased greenhouse gas production. Finally, a great deal of energy is wasted in transporting construction waste to landfills. By reducing waste, we reduce transportation costs as well as the associated fuel consumption and emissions.