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Back in October, Austin, Texas passed an ordinance requiring at least 50 percent of unused materials from construction be recycled or reused. Other municipalities are joining suit and mandating recycling rates for construction.

In fact, many municipalities have passed ordinances mandating the recycling of Clean Construction and Demotion Debris (CCDD). This is a growing trend – not only to avoid the waste associated with poor waste habits, but also to realize the very real benefit of diverting construction and demolition debris from disposal into publicly funded landfills.

“According to the World Economic’s report on The Future of Construction, 50 percent of the solid waste produced in the U.S. is generated in the construction industry,” said Michael Shomberg, global vice president, engineering & construction solutions at SAP Connected Construction (SAP). “We are seeing both proactive and regulatory measures to reduce the percentage. We also have seen construction companies partnering with recycling companies on a project-by-project basis to help them with this process. Demo companies often are more sophisticated in this process and will separate and optimize the revenue they can get from recycling where general construction companies are really looking for simplicity in the process and are willing to let the recycling company do that work and get the additional margin.”

Many countries already have similar requirements to those passed in Austin, Texas and industry experts expect them to spread in North America. Also, groups like the USBGC in their LEED requirements have very aggressive goals for recycling as part of their standard.

“Unfortunately, Texas as a whole is behind the curve in terms of recycling. It is ranked 49th in the U.S. for overall recycling rates. That said, recycling mandates are growing steadily and quickly nationally if you include increases or expansions of established mandates,” said Daniel Hartsig, manager, new construction services at Transwestern. “Usually, where cost of land is high and public protections from air and water pollution exist, the payoff from recycling waste is realized faster. Texas’ low cost of land and limited regulation on dumping is likely the main factor for lagging behind, with Austin and Dallas being the only places keeping the state from falling behind Louisiana.”

The top 10 recycling and reuse states are all in the Northeast and Northwest of the U.S. As Hartsig explained, these areas realized the economic benefits of recycling early and invested in infrastructure in the ‘80s and ‘90s, backed by much more sweeping regulations than Austin.

“In those states and cities that have established recycling and reuse infrastructure, construction waste is required to be handled separately from municipal solid waste (MSW) and hazardous materials, but also one or more strategies have been implemented that have been increasing gradually and relatively painlessly over time,” Hartsig said. Some simply have higher tipping fees, which drive construction and demolition waste to recycling centers instead, where tipping fees are low or there may even be payment for waste. Some areas have a blanket total percentage mandate, such as Chicago, which requires 50 percent of all construction and demolition waste to be recycled. And some have specific material mandates, such as Vermont, which requires 100 percent of several easily recycled materials to be recycled.”

According to environmental and commercial real estate law expert, William Anaya, an officer with Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C., the clean construction or demolition debris (CCDD) requirements across municipalities all are fairly similar.

“Various percentages of clean – non-hazardous, no asbestos, no PCBs, no hazardous waste constituents – construction and demolition debris must be recycled according to the municipal ordinance,” Anaya said. “The percentages vary – some require 50 percent recycling, others 70 percent recycling and others 70 percent landfill diversion and 5 percent reuse – but the concept is the same. The requirement of clean is universal. It makes sense because municipalities fund and manage landfills, and recycling is an alternative that saves landfill space in addition to being less wasteful.”

The Greater Impact

Dustin White, construction manager at C1S in Dallas, Texas recently had a project which required tracking of demo materials. “We were required to separate concrete, roofing material, etc., and track weights,” White said. “Because I had the requirement, I sought out a demolition company that could track this for me. The company was able to prepare and track demoed materials through their dumpster company. We did the same with our site dumpster. What I have seen so far as in most things in construction the responsibility is delegated as far is it can be. In this case, it was the dumpster company. I think the world of waste removal is going to be pushed to supply more and more tracking services for reporting needed to comply with code.”

According to Hartsig, the regulation in Austin means very little for the recycling industry but is more significant for construction, retail and reuse industries. “Austin’s goal of 50 percent recycle or reuse of ‘unused’ construction material is an extremely small step, and probably more of an annoyance for the construction industry than an effectual regulation,” Hartsig said. Here’s why:

•A lot of leftover construction product is likely to be classified as “used” once exposed to weather or handling.
•Many contractors are already good at trimming costs by right-sizing purchases. This practice would probably increase.
•Larger construction companies may simply warehouse their “unused” scrap, as many may already do.
•Some larger retailers and producers already allow the return of “unused” materials, which removes some of the demand for recycling.

“Companies that don’t buy back or allow the return of ‘unused’ product may see increase in demands for such services, but I don’t foresee a jump in demand for salvaged or ‘lightly used products in the Austin construction market that could support such specialty outlets,” Hartsig said. “For the tiny percentage of actual construction waste that’s left after all of the above, small handling centers may spring up to take specialized, high value waste or collect mixed product that they can charge a high price for and then send to more advanced recycling communities. The former probably already exist in Austin, while the latter might be new.”

It should be noted that Austin’s cap of 2.5 lbs. of construction waste per sq.ft. of construction work is much more stringent than the regulation noted above. This requirement is significantly weakened by excluding demolition, and big box construction (mansions, box stores, warehouse and distribution centers, etc.) will be almost completely unaffected by this cap.

“Many producers are trying to reduce packaging of their materials to cut costs, and this cap supports extra effort on the construction companies’ part to right-size purchasing,” Hartsig said. “Even still, small retail renovations and some office and residential buildings will have some difficulty achieving this requirement.”

Challenges Aplenty

With regulations regarding construction and demolition waste taking center stage across the U.S., the challenges for both C&D companies as well as recycling companies with regard to these mandates are plenty.

“As these regulations are enacted across the country, they are not likely to be implemented in a consistent way so C&D companies may struggle to understand the nuances of the local regulations,” Shomberg said. “This could be an opportunity for the recyclers to assume the compliance responsibility and charge for that.” For example, the Illinois EPA encourages recycling of CCDD, but does not have a percentage requirement.

What’s more, construction and demolition companies need to be “in the know.”

“I have seen the pain of a crew putting the wrong stuff in the wrong dumpster and losing a day of labor to correct it,” White said. “Training will be a big issue. The job of demolition is not handled by people who are used to paper pushing type tracking. Temp labor is utilized frequently this will increase costs for temp labor suppliers to have better training as well as the companies with permanent workers. The hardest part of a job site is that it moves constantly like a two-year-old. If you turn your head too long, something will be done wrong. The recycle initiative is one more component that today’s already stretched superintendents will have to supervise. Estimating will need to evolve to understand the cost of disposal better.”

With those companies involved in demolition and generating the CCDD, the law requires more than a passing understanding of OSHA Communication Standards concerning worker safety and asbestos.

“Demotion contractors must also be completely conversant with the Clean Air Act – especially, the Asbestos NESHAP regulations,” Anaya said. “We also recommend pre-demolition inspections and, if necessary, tests and often waste characterization. In addition, most municipalities require an application for a permit for demolition and, as a minimum, require an asbestos survey. In the absence of these protocols, demolition contractors are subject to accusations of sham recycling and substantial fines and penalties, including criminal sanctions associated with perjury in the case of the sworn to affidavits referred to above, but also penalties for unlawful disposal.”

Anaya noted that sham recycling i.e., circumventing waste disposal laws under the rubric of recycling is a concern at the regulatory level. “Things like foundry sand cannot be recycled primarily because of the contamination associated with the foundry process – the solvents and the metals cannot be magically recycled at the local school yard as playground sand,” Anaya said.

Anaya’s recommendation to clients that either generate or collect C&D is to set up defensible in-house protocols to determine recyclable material from waste material.

“Recycling entities know the materials and the risks and are generally very sophisticated,” Anaya said. “I recommend that they establish an inspection regimen, keep records of the material accepted and rejected, with a holding area if need be with secondary containment, with written protocols so that, if need be, we can establish a foundation for the evidence of compliance in the event of an enforcement action or litigation.”

On the Horizon

Areas that have been slower to realize the economic benefits of C&D waste recycling and are now putting in new rules are going through the same process others did decades ago. As Hartsig explained, the state or city has to create the demand through mandate, permitting or fee structure, then infrastructure has to be rapidly developed to handle demand, or waste has to be exported. The next step is investment by companies that want to repackage or reprocesses it.

“Until that happens, the local market cannot take advantage of the resulting products and the state cannot benefit from tax revenues,” Hartsig said. “This is primarily why mandates have, in the past, started slow.”

As a result, construction companies in those states that are catching up often have to retool their management practices and spend a little effort seeking out more diversified waste management partners.

“In general, when new mandates are implemented, the big national waste management companies have the leverage, logistical experience and resources to monopolize on such mandates,” Hartsig said. “Smaller local waste management companies typically fall behind, but since Austin’s mandate is so minimal compared to most other state or city C&D requirements, it might spur some small entrepreneurial activity. For the recycling industry as a whole, the more mandates, the stronger they get – it means more products, higher volumes, more competition, more efficiency and lower prices for products, which drives up demand for the products and fuels the whole system.”

Industry experts agree, recycling programs are here to stay. “There is no benefit to cutting corners, and there is money to be made and value to add to your customers in doing it correctly – establishing and following best practice protocols,” Anaya said. “The challenge in any endeavor involving waste is proving compliance with waste restrictions; being able to support that the activity was bona fide, compliant and not sham recycling.”

Indeed, White added that as the buildings come down and new ones go up the recycle process will be addressed more and more on the front end of building.

“Before the first nail goes in, the builder will be required to supply a demo recycle plan for when that building is demolished years from that time,” White said. “The best way to handle recycling is to pre-plan using recyclable materials and think through the logistics of recapturing those materials.”

Published in the February 2017 Edition of American Recycler News