The Push To Increase C&D Recycling

Demolition contractors such as Brandenburg Industrial separate out metal components from C&D debris for resale.

About 70% of the more than 135 million tons of building-related construction and demolition (C&D) debris generated annually comes from demolition projects. A sizeable portion of this debris — estimated at 40% — is already being recycled by demolition contractors. However, the National Demolition Association (NDA) would like to see a substantial growth in that percentage. It is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take the critical step of developing a National C&D Recycling Policy.

Removing barriers to recycling

Currently, C&D waste is handled differently from state to state. Several of the larger states have posed a number of barriers that make it impractical and economically unattractive to participate in C&D recycling efforts. These include:

  • excessive fees for permits to operate a C&D recycling facility;
  • over-regulation of procedures used at C&D recycling facilities;
  • opportunities in state purchasing procedures for the reuse of C&D recycled material;
  • unrealistic C&D recycling goals tied to regional or statewide mandates.

    A sizable capital investment is needed in equipment, land, time, labor and other cost points to establish a profitable recycling venture. These barriers help make such a venture an unlikely prospect.

    The NDA believes a National C&D Recycling Policy would free up landfill space and promote both the sound reuse of valuable commodities and good resource stewardship, while sustaining a cleaner environment. The policy would also eliminate the state-by-state differences that hinder truly successful C&D recycling. Elements of the policy should include:

      1. national guidelines dealing with the movement of C&D material;

      2. standards for material quality, thereby increasing commodity marketability;

      3. promotion of recycled C&D materials;

      4. national inspection standards for C&D recycling facilities.

    National directive needed

    The NDA has identified 14 major constituents of a structure that can be recycled. This list includes carpet, drywall, glass, ceiling tiles, wood, asphalt roofing shingles, brick, metal and other constituents. Realistically, only four of these — concrete, metal, high-quality lumber and wood — have a current market value.

    To increase the list of products with real recycled value, the NDA suggests the federal government first establish purchasing guidelines and specifications for each material.

    President Bill Clinton’s national directive to increase government use of recycled paper led to massive changes in the paper recycling industry. An EPA model specification for the use of recycled concrete could lead to a similar boom.

    It is essential for the EPA to take a leading role in promoting the development of technologies and processes that will produce durable, economical, high-quality products. Another way to increase the recycling and reuse of C&D material is to provide tax incentives for end users of the products.

    Current state of recycling

    Although approximately 40% of C&D waste is recycled on average, contractors routinely achieve materials recovery rates of 80% to 90%. Recycling and salvaging represent 20% to 40% of some demolition contractors’ revenues. Whenever possible, asphalt and concrete are recycled. Salvage operations may include lumber and timber, used building materials, steel, iron, precious metals and historical salvaging. High-value materials suitable for refurbishing or reuse are removed and sold.

    The salvage industry has grown hand in hand with the demolition industry, and is a reliable outlet for architectural features, woodwork, lighting, plumbing fixtures, etc. Rare items have established national markets, and there are strong regional markets for fixtures, used brick, decorative items, timbers and other recoverable materials.

    Concrete is perhaps the most recycled of all material, and is often processed on site for use as sub-base, rip rap or drainage material. Wood may be chipped or received at a C&D waste processing facility. Recovery of ferrous and other metals for recycling is also common.

    Although demolition contractors work hard to achieve high levels of recycling and reuse, it is essential that a national policy be developed by the EPA. The National Demolition Association has been in the forefront of the effort to increase the amount of materials recycled and reused. We look forward to working in partnership with the EPA to develop a program that continues this important effort.

    Michael R. Taylor, CAE, is executive director of the National Demolition Association, formerly known as the National Association of Demolition Contractors. This professional organization represents more than 900 U.S. and Canadian companies offering standard demolition services and/or a full range of demolition-related services, as well as providers of industry services and supplies. To learn more, call (800) 541-2412 or visit

    High Recovery Levels

    The following projects reflect the industry’s capacity to achieve a very high fraction of recovery of materials of value:

    Project: Sears Catalogue Warehouse, Chicago, IL

    NDA Contractor: Brandenburg Industrial Service Co., Chicago

    Project Description: The Sears Catalogue Warehouse on Chicago’s West Side was reportedly the largest timber-framed building built. Erected in 1906, the former Sears & Roebuck national headquarters was a nine-story, 3 million-sq.-ft. timber and brick structure. Asbestos abatement and removal of more than 37,000 PCB-containing ballasts were necessary.

    Recovery Achieved: The building dismantled consisted of approximately 23 million bricks and more than 12 million board feet of lumber, including 7.5 million board feet of beams and decking. The wood was primarily long leaf yellow pine, much of which dated back 200 years to its harvesting. The wood was sold to The Joinery Co., Tarboro, NC, and used in various projects, including restoration of a 16th century tavern in historical Williamsburg, VA. Virtually all 23 million Chicago common-style bricks were reused.

    The 14-story clock tower was saved as a historic landmark.

    Equipment Used: American 165-ton-capacity cranes; Caterpillar 980 wheel loaders, 973 track loaders and D-9 bulldozer; Bobcat skid steers

    Project: Metropolitan Airports Commission Parking Ramp, Minneapolis-St. Paul NDA Contractor: Carl Bolander & Sons Co., St. Paul, MN

    Project Description: The project required removal of a one-level parking ramp at the expanding airport. The structure was a 320,000-sq.-ft. precast concrete building with double “T” beams, columns and spandrels.

    Recovery Achieved: The project achieved a 100% overall recovery rate. The commercial real estate group reused the precast components at a new office/warehouse nearby. The project involved dismantling the parking ramp in the same process as it was constructed. Each of the ramp’s double “T” sections was disassembled (shown above), with dimensions averaging 60’ x 10’ and each weighing approximately 29 tons. The sections were transported to a storage site for reassembly. Foundations and any damaged concrete pieces were crushed and recycled. All lighting was recovered for reuse. All wiring and conduit was recycled, as well.

    Equipment Used: 100-ton cranes at airport site and at storage site; tractor-trailer units to haul T precast panels; Caterpillar 325 excavator with hydraulic hammer; Caterpillar 966F loader

    Project: Brooklyn Park Fitness Center, Brooklyn Park, MN

    NDA Member: Veit & Co.,

    Rogers, MN

    Project Description: The 56,760-sq.-ft. Brooklyn Park Fitness Center comprised two structures on a concrete slab. The buildings were carefully deconstructed in the reverse order of construction, with each piece lowered to the ground and salvaged for reassembly. The first 230’ x 132’ building was a wood-frame structure with a clear-span truss system. The second 220’ x 120’ building was steel-framed with a clear-span truss system and metal siding.

    Recovery Achieved: More than 95% of the building components were reused or recycled. The wood and steel were reassembled for two new buildings: a church in Minnesota and a sugar beet processing plant in North Dakota. The concrete, block, slab and foundations were crushed and recycled for aggregate base.

    Equipment Used: 80-ton Link-Belt 318 crane; Caterpillar 345 excavator with grapple; Caterpillar 330 excavator with grapple; Lull all-terrain forklift

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