Reducing Construction Site Waste

Reducing Construction Site Waste

Construction projects can produce some of the most incredible, awe inspiring, and at the very least, useful creations envisioned by man. Along with these functional wonders though, construction projects are well known for producing immense amounts of waste.  The construction and demolition industry is responsible for creating more waste than any other industry per year in the United States. This doesn’t have to be though. Construction professionals have a bevy of actions available to them that can help construction sites reduce waste and become more environmentally conscious. Did I mention that it can also help save money?

A Waste Management Blueprint

A major key to managing construction waste, especially controlling costs, is planning.  Construction professionals should be quite familiar with the value of planning; after all, it would be immensely difficult to successfully complete any project without doing so.  And managing waste is no different.  During the pre-construction phase, project owners, architects, engineers, and construction managers can follow some of the following guidelines to help reduce and better manage waste:

  • Specify waste reduction goals, targets, and documentation procedures within contracting documents.
  • Identify materials that can be recycled or reused, and how those materials can be transported for such purposes.
  • The following are all common materials found on construction sites that can be recycled:
    • Metal (Both ferrous and non-ferrous)
    • Cardboard
    • Paper
    • Plastics
    • Wood (Be careful that it is not painted or stained!)
    • Concrete
    • Gravel and other aggregates
    • Drywall
    • Asphalt roofing
    • Window glass
    • Carpeting

Just because something doesn’t appear on this list doesn’t mean it can’t be recycled or diverted from a landfill in some other way. There’s a market for just about everything these days!

  • Design building dimensions to correspond with standard material sizes, especially lumber.  This will reduce material wasted and wood accounts for nearly a third of all construction waste.
  • Order materials to optimally fit your needs; try avoiding having excess materials delivered to the project site. Doing this can really save your pocketbook.
  • Work with suppliers towards reducing unnecessary packaging on materials, or even better, ask if they can provide reusable/returnable packaging.
  • You can also work with suppliers to buyback any unused supplies. That can be a win-win for you and the supplier, not to mention the landfill!
  • Develop methods for storing materials that will reduce their susceptibility to damage.
  • Estimate how much waste a project is likely to produce and what it will cost to remove that waste in a variety of ways, such as traditional garbage collection, recycling, salvage and reuse, etc. You might be surprised to learn that throwing everything away might not be the most cost effective strategy!

Reducing Waste on the Job

Once on the job site there are numerous things that workers and managers can do to control and better dispose of waste.

  • Sort waste as it is created into things that can be recycled, things to be reused, and things to be thrown away.
  • Recycled items can be comingled together or separated into different types, such as wood, cardboard, metal, classified plastics, concrete, etc.  It’s obviously more environmentally friendly to recycle specific materials separately rather than all materials together, but it can also be more cost effective to do so. This reduces contamination of the materials, which lessons their value, and eliminates the recyclers sorting cost.
  • During demolition or remodeling projects attempt to salvage materials, especially doors and windows since they are not recyclable, to be used during construction.  If an item can’t be used on your current project, it can be saved for future use, sold to someone that can use it, or even donated.  Organizations that build for the disadvantaged greatly appreciate supplies and donations can be tax deductible!
  • Don’t throw away materials at the end of a project just because there isn’t enough left to complete another project.
  • Instead of throwing wood and metal scraps away, keep them at cutting and fabricating locations to be used as test pieces.
  • Chip branches and trees that are cleared from a project and use as landscaping mulch.
  • Excess insulation can be used within interior wall cavities or above attics, if not used on another job, rather than being discarded.
  • Limit the use of adhesives, finishes, laminates, and other protective coatings because they limit the reusability and recyclability of materials at the end of their useful lives.  Unfortunately super glue doesn’t salvage very well.
  • Avoid using temporary support systems when possible since they usually are discarded as waste at the end of a project.

The amount of waste that can be diverted from landfills and the savings you can see from that vary depending on a host of factors. Compacted job sites don’t allow for separate collection containers for each recyclable material, forcing commingling of materials, something that decreases diversion and can impact costs. Proximity to recycling centers also impacts what can be recycled and whether it can be cost effective.  Unfortunately, even though some materials can be recycled there isn’t always someone in the area that will do it. This is an area where planning ahead can really help. Even if a job site makes recycling and reusing difficult, you can still help reduce waste by being more efficient with materials and saving leftovers for the future.  In fact, preventing waste is more beneficial than recycling!

Planning ahead and following some of the practices noted above can make a major difference in the amount of waste your construction project creates.  This is good for both the environment and often times your bottom line. Too bad more things don’t work in that favor. Construction waste management may never have the artistic qualities of the actual construction, but it can help us build a more sustainable planet.  And that is a sight that can rival even the most spectacular project.

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David Thurnau

Community Relations at Community Green Energy
David Thurnau has a background in political science, municipal government, and agriculture with an emphasis in environmental issues.

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