The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates over 136 million tons of waste is generated annually by residential and commercial building-related construction and demolition. This results in a disproportionate amount of waste in landfills coming from the construction industry. The environmental impact of over flowing landfills is only part of the issue. The unnecessary waste of raw materials impacts the availability of resources and increases construction costs for your customer.
Types of Construction Waste
Construction and demolition debris includes non-water-soluble and nonhazardous materials. Some of the disposed items from construction, remodeling, or demolition of a structure include: steel, glass, brick, concrete, asphalt roofing material, pipe, gypsum wallboard, and lumber. Lumber and gypsum board ( drywall) are the top two construction materials disposed of in landfills each year.
There are two categories of construction waste; waste generated as a result of design and specifications and waste generated by the actual construction or demolition.
Let’s take a look at the design stage. Incorrect and uneconomical decisions at this stage can attribute for a high volume of waste. Errors in measurements, specification of the wrong materials, and ordering a larger quantity than needed all result in waste. There are a plethora of items on the market with recycled content and the capability for multiple use or repurposing. Considering these options increases the sustainability of each project and reduces the likelihood of eventual disposal.
During the actual demolition and construction phases waste can be ‘accidental’ or unavoidable. Following incorrect measurements, human error in cutting, installing the wrong materials or installing them incorrectly, and damage from weather or storage all contribute to higher waste. Some of the unavoidable construction and demolition waste is potentially hazardous, for example lead or asbestos removed from older buildings, and plasterboard as it decomposes in landfills releases toxic hydrogen sulfide.
How do we motivate construction firms to decrease construction waste?
Once again the USGBC’s LEED rate systems have led the way for many construction firms to take a closer look at waste diversion for their projects. The total LEED point credits awarded under the Construction Waste Management area is based on the percentage of waste diverted from landfills. An additional exemplary performance credit is available under the Innovation and Design category if 95% of the total waste is diverted. Additionally, LEED points may be earned for use of recycled and sustainable materials on your project. Keep in mind, the quantity of total waste does not include any hazardous materials.
In 2008 the Rinker Hall Construction project at the University of Florida resulted in diverting 84% of generated waste by following a thorough Waste Diversion Plan. Each new building on campus is LEED certified and follows a Waste Management Plan resulting in less waste, reduced material loss, and less expense to the University. It makes sense financially, and for the sake of your company image to be a responsible steward for your client budgets and for the environment. Plus if your goal is to gain LEED credits it’s time to take the next step and design a waste diversion plan that will allow you to achieve maximum efficiency.
Benefits of a Waste Diversion Plan
- positive effect on your finances and the environment
- reduced project costs benefit your client and your contractors
- reduced expense from not having to pay for excess material wastage
- increased LEED points
- meeting or exceeding state requirements (many states such as Florida have laws in place for construction waste disposal)
Important Items to Consider Including in Waste Diversion Planning
Resource/Materials Quantity: Limit the amount of waste by purchasing less material. Careful planning during procurement of materials is vital to minimizing the waste generated by each construction project. Nxtwall’s field-fit installations are a great example for minimized material waste. Smaller quantities are ordered and doors and wall systems are installed more efficiently resulting in less waste. Purchasing only what is needed also reduces the amount of materials stored onsite and the exposure to damage factors including weather. Reduced need for storage of construction materials prior to installation is another benefit.
Recycled Content: Construction material with recycled content decreases the negative effects on the natural environment by using less resources. By using materials with recycled content it also diverts those items that would normally be going to a landfill into new use. Nxtwall View glass wall systems are a great example – doesn’t get much clearer than full glass panels and metal frames!
Reused Materials: Glass, metal and doors are just some of the products that can be reused in the construction setting. Again this practice keeps products out of the landfill and reduces material costs considerably when salvaged architectural items can be reused. We have repurposed corrugated metal in our Flex brand moveable wall systems from old buildings and salvage yards – the possibilities are endless on what can be reclaimed.
Life Cycle Cost – The advantages of choosing products and materials based on their life cycle include cost savings, reduced raw materials, and reduced waste. Demountable walls have an extended life span – they can be re-configured time and time again. Adding a new department in your current corporate office space? Building a collaborative space to increase creativity and communication? Nxtwall movable office wall systems can be designed to fit any floorplan throughout the life cycle of your building. Look for affordability and flexibility especially when it comes to interior spaces.
Are You Ready for Waste Diversion Planning?
The ultimate goal is to increase revenue, reduce client cost and decrease waste transferred to a landfill for the life span of each project. Recycling of waste means less demand for virgin materials, reducing unused materials results in less landfill space and far less environmental impact with each construction project.
From day one of a project the owner, architect, facility manager, interior designer and construction manager must agree to work together to achieve the highest level of waste diversion possible. Proper preparation of a Waste Diversion Plan will ensure waste diversion goals are met and the construction project generates minimal waste. A process should be built in for accurate documentation. Clearly defined guidelines for each stage of the construction must be communicated to all contractors and team members for optimum results.
Each Waste Diversion Plan begins by segmenting the project into phases:
Pre Construction Phase:
- Analyze the project – outline site-specific issues, identify sources of wastage and encourage reduction to reduce it at each phase of construction
- Formalize the plan – distribute to key stakeholders
Design & Set up Phase:
- Appropriate material selection – based on life cycle, recycled content and recyclable materials, accurately estimate material requirements as closely as possible, communicate with sub-contractors as to their specific requirements. – research materials recyclability – determine the materials onsite and what recycling resources are available for disposal (for reconstruction and new build projects)
- Construction site set-up – order correct quantities of all materials, make sure dumpsters are in (optimally) one place with clear signage identifying where each material should be disposed of (wood, gypsum drywall, metal, etc.)
- Involve the whole team – include standard language in subcontracts, hold orientations to educate the workplace on why waste diversion is important and have each team member agree to abide by the waste-reduction program
- Compile proper documentation – monitor the plan, ensure workers’ ability to handle and dispose of materials properly, document waste created and diverted. Upon completion if LEED credits are sought appropriate documents for the USGBC must be completed outlining success and failures of the plan. It is all a learning project that will get better each time
Although ordering exact amounts of materials can be a daunting task and we are often tempted to order more in case of error or potential mishaps the workers knowledge of a surplus may reduce their drive for accuracy when they feel they have another option. While disposing of unavoidable waste responsibly will benefit both the environment and your bottom-line, pre-planning to reduce the impact your construction projects have on the environment and your clients construction budget will support your business acumen to serve ethically for years to come.