If your company manages construction or demolition sites, you probably generate several common types of waste. If you don’t have thoughtful, step-by-step waste management protocols in place, much of that waste ends up in the landfill.
Fortunately, the right waste management strategies can help you improve your company’s waste management practices. Whether you focus on recycling programs, make an effort to reuse more materials or map out your procurement needs in advance to reduce your company’s consumption, you can often manage your waste more effectively through proper waste management planning. This guide will give you some helpful tips for improving your construction and demolition waste management.
Why Incorporate a Construction Waste Management Plan?
Most construction businesses want to be environmentally aware, responsible and sustainable but may not have the tools in place to help them reach those goals. Developing and implementing a robust waste management plan gives you the framework you need to maintain a solid legal standing, cut costs, reduce unnecessary landfill waste and do your part to keep the environment green and healthy.
In 2018, the United States produced 600 million tons of construction and demolition waste. That figure represents more than double the amount of municipal solid waste the United States generates every year.
Fortunately, only 145 million tons of that waste went directly to landfills. The rest went on to further use, often in manufactured products, fuel, compost, aggregate or mulch and soil amendments. Still, heightening waste management practices to reduce those 145 million tons even further will benefit the construction industry in numerous ways. Here are a few of the reasons to incorporate a construction waste management plan at your company:
- Reducing ecological impact: Proper waste management practices allow your company to send less refuse to landfills, where it would take up valuable space, clutter the environment and potentially leak harmful substances into the soil and groundwater. Diverting more waste materials into recycling streams will be critical for helping construction companies be more environmentally friendly.
- Maintaining compliance: Managing construction waste responsibly is also essential for keeping your company compliant with the law. Local and federal regulations restrict how you may legally dispose of construction materials — the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) governs non-hazardous solid waste disposal, for instance. If you merely throw your waste into dumpsters or add it to municipal waste streams, you could face fines for that improper disposal. By developing and sticking to a comprehensive waste management plan, you can stay apprised of relevant changes in the law, remain compliant and avoid penalties more easily.
- Lowering costs: Implementing a responsible waste management plan often means your company can reduce net expenses as well. With a thoughtfully crafted plan in place, you may be able to bring in extra funds from reselling used materials, and you’ll lower your expenditures by reusing materials instead of purchasing new ones.
- Demonstrating responsibility and trustworthiness: A good waste management plan can help boost your reputation in the public eye. More and more, consumers want to know they’re doing business with responsible, environmentally conscious companies. Engaging in proactive, safe waste management practices like recycling construction waste can burnish your brand and make clients feel good about working with you.
8 Tips for Proper Waste Management in Construction
As you work to reduce waste and make your business practices more sustainable, you’ll need a set of actionable guidelines to follow. Here are several of our best waste management tips for the construction industry.
1. Minimize Waste at the Project Level
To get started on minimizing waste, plan projects carefully to practice source reduction. Accurately estimating how much timber, glass, metal and other components a project will require means you’ll spend less money and have fewer waste materials at the end of the project.
To minimize waste, try developing a detailed project plan that accounts for factors like these:
- Areas where waste is most likely occur
- How much material you are likely to need
- Areas where waste and recycling bins will be most beneficial
- Where you can substitute recyclable materials for non-recyclable ones
- How you can educate your employees and contractors about proper waste sorting and disposal
To make your materials use and waste management practices more sustainable, your company should also choose vendors committed to supplying recycled or recyclable materials and otherwise supporting your responsible waste management efforts. You should also select waste management partners who can commit to timely waste removal once your project is complete.
Additionally, your company should plan to use construction materials that come with minimal cardboard and plastic packaging. Less packaging coming into your construction company means less packaging you’ll need to dispose of, either by sending it to recycling centers or throwing it away.
2. Deconstruct Materials for Reuse
Another practical way to reduce your ecological impact by minimizing waste is to deconstruct leftover materials and construction debris so you can reuse them or send their components on for reuse. For instance, if you’re disassembling a building to build another one in its place, you may be able to take apart certain structures instead of demolishing them entirely. Then you can use the materials in the new construction. In some cases, you may be able to avoid disassembly altogether by incorporating the existing structure into the new building, reducing waste even further.
Highly deconstructable buildings tend to be those with the following components:
- Wood frames: Buildings with wood frames are highly suitable for reuse — especially those made from heavy beams and timbers or highly desirable woods like southern yellow pine, American chestnut and Douglas fir. Heavy-timbered buildings often have a stick-by-stick construction that makes them easy to disassemble, and unique, desirable woods tend to command high prices for resale and reuse.
- Specialty, high-value materials: Buildings containing materials with high resale values are also ideal for deconstruction and materials reuse. Components like hardwood floors, architectural moldings, multi-paned windows, stylish doors and unique electrical or plumbing fixtures all fall into this category.
- Superior bricks with inferior mortar: If a building contains high-quality bricks and low-quality mortar, the bricks are likely ideal for reuse. The substandard mortar will easily break apart, and the high-quality bricks will fetch a high price on the resale market.
As you build your own projects, your company should also use best design practices to enable materials reuse in the future. For instance, consider using bolts or other removable mechanical fasteners instead of permanent adhesives to connect wood beams. This strategy will leave the wood in better condition for reuse and reduce the likelihood of its ending up in the landfill.
3. Identify Recyclable Materials
One crucial step in proper waste management is correctly identifying the recyclable materials you use in your construction processes and the construction waste recycling methods available to you.
As you procure materials, look into using metals in high demand for reuse, for instance, or plastic components that are easy to recycle. A little planning to determine what eco-friendly materials you can use will pay off substantially when you can ship many of your waste materials off for recycling and reuse instead of sending them to a landfill.
Here are a few materials your company can likely reuse or recycle:
- Concrete: Companies can often send old concrete to be broken up and used in aggregate filler.
- Wood: Companies can reuse high-quality wood or have it turned into wood chips or mulch.
- Drywall: If the drywall from an old building contains gypsum, it can often go on to be reused in new drywall.
- Asphalt pavement: Old asphalt is ideal for breaking down and reusing in new asphalt or as roadbed filler.
- Asphalt shingles: Asphalt shingles can break down to form new asphalt as well.
- Glass: Glass can often go to recycling centers that will melt it down and send it on for use in new products.
- Metal: Metal in good condition is often suitable for reuse as it is, or facilities can melt it down and reuse it in new products.
- Plastic: Components like pipes or wall switches may be suitable for recycling if you have a facility that can handle those plastic types.
Of all these materials, concrete is often the one for which recycling can make the most substantial environmental impact. In 2015, for example, the United States produced 382 million tons of concrete waste — more than twice as much as all the asphalt, metal, wood, gypsum drywall and brick and clay tile waste combined.
Although most of that concrete went on to further use through recycling, 66.5 million tons still went to landfills. That’s more than all the wood, gypsum drywall and brick and clay tile waste produced all year. A company that starts a concrete recycling program can likely curb its waste production significantly and make its processes much greener.
4. Place Recycling and Waste Receptacles On-Site
One of the easiest ways to improve your company’s practices in recycling construction and demolition waste is to make waste and recycling bins readily available on-site. Be sure you place the receptacles close to the waste generation areas so workers can access them conveniently, and remember to label each bin clearly. Each type of recyclable waste — wood, concrete, metal, glass, plastic and so on — should have a separate container.
Once you have the containers in place, make your employees and contractors aware of their presence and encourage them to use the containers. You should also schedule regular disposal services so waste doesn’t pile up in the receptacles around your site.
5. Buy Recovered or Post-Consumer Materials
Your company can enhance its waste management practices and reduce its ecological impact by buying recovered or post-consumer materials. Start by determining what threshold percentage your company would like to shoot for, and then commit to buying products that include at least that amount of recovered or recycled materials.
The EPA has made recommendations for how much recovered or post-consumer content many commonly used construction items and materials should contain. Some items from the extensive list of products in which the EPA strongly encourages recovered or post-consumer content include the following:
- Bike racks
- Blasting grit
- Building insulation
- Carpet cushion
- Cement and concrete
- Floor tiles
- Garden and soaker hoses
- Hydraulic mulch
- Industrial drums
- Laminated paperboard
- Lawn and garden edging
- Office furniture
- Office recycling containers
- Paperboard and packaging products
- Plastic desktop accessories
- Plastic fencing
- Plastic trash bags
- Playground equipment
- Polyester carpet
- Printing and writing papers
- Railroad grade crossing surfaces
- Rebuilt vehicular parts
- Retread tires
- Roofing materials
- Running tracks
- Shower and restroom partitions
- Structural fiberboard
- Traffic barricades and cones
6. Reuse and Return Scraps
Reusing and returning scraps is an excellent way for your organization to bolster its waste management practices. For instance, instead of cutting pieces from new lumber boards and sheet metal for construction, your company could use scrap materials. Consider also working with suppliers and other organizations to buy unused scraps from a finished job.
Your construction company may also be able to return scraps to your supplier if you don’t use all of the materials you purchased for your project. Contact your vendors to learn their policies, and consider those policies as you choose suppliers for your future projects.
7. Handle Hazardous Construction Waste Carefully
Hazardous waste can be incredibly hard on the environment if companies dispose of it improperly. Your business will need to have clear, comprehensive protocols for ensuring correct hazardous waste handling and disposal.
At your construction sites and storage facilities, identify all types of hazardous construction waste clearly. You should also take precautions for removing them — for instance, by storing them in appropriate sealed containers and training employees in safe disposal methods.
Outsourcing hazardous waste disposal to a dependable waste management company is also beneficial for ensuring safety and compliance. The regulations governing hazardous waste disposal are stringent and complex, and your company will likely need to meet multiple sets of requirements, from federal regulations to local laws. An experienced, trustworthy waste management company can help you untangle the maze of rules and maintain compliance.
8. Work With a Construction Waste Disposal Partner
Managing a waste recycling plant for your own processes is possible, but it is a complex and time-consuming undertaking with a high potential for inadvertent regulatory violations.
As you strive to improve your waste management practices, your company will benefit from partnering with a reliable waste disposal company, ideally one with significant experience in handling construction waste. A partner like ERC can help you develop a comprehensive construction waste management plan, manage your various streams of waste and make sustainability easier for your company to achieve.
Learn More About Waste Management Services for the Construction Industry
To see the benefits of proper waste management practices in your construction operations, work with Environmental Recovery Corporation.
As a full-service environmental company handling residual waste streams, we have extensive experience disposing of construction waste responsibly and safely. We can help you reduce your landfill waste, boost your recycling rates and stay informed about regulatory changes that affect your business and its waste disposal. Best of all, we give you peace of mind that your waste disposal practices are ethical and that you’re doing your part for the planet and the health of everyone in your community.
Contact us today to schedule construction waste disposal services or learn more.