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C & D Myths

VIDEO: Craig Bucheit of Clayco discusses some C & D Waste Diversion Myths.

QUICK SUMMARY ADDRESSING MYTHS OF C & D WASTE:

  • C&D materials management should be included in the construction plan.
  • Far from slowing down the job, recycling often saves time and effort.
  • Mixed debris recycling, with recycling rates of 75+% should be possible on any job site.
  • In a worst case scenario – a tough site, a tight schedule, a waste stream that has to be recycled largely as mixed debris – it’s safe to state that recycling will cost no more than disposal.

Misperceived Barriers to C&D Recovery

Barriers to materials recovery still exist, however. Many buildings and building materials are not designed to be reused or recycled. EPA’s Lifecycle Building Challenge is a design competition that challenges professionals and students to design building materials and assemblies for reuse and recycling. More formation can be found at www.lifecyclebuilding.org. If C&D materials will be generated at construction sites, C&D materials management should be included in the construction plan. Successful planning teams include the owner of the building, the architect, and the contractor.

There are other barriers that exist to C&D materials recovery. In some locations, recovery facilities do not exist. Even where facilities do exist, markets have not been found for some materials for a variety of reasons. There could be a lack of demand for a material, an unwillingness to use recycled materials in place of virgin resources, or a regulatory prevention of its use. Many markets view recycled materials as inferior simply because they are viewed as wastes, yet they often have the same chemical or physical properties as comparable virgin materials, and provide comparable performance; in some cases, they provide superior performance than do virgin materials at a lower cost. EPA aims to expand recognition of the value of C&D materials so that they are more widely viewed as locally available resources, rather than un-usable discards

MYTH 1: RECYCLING WILL SLOW DOWN THE JOB

The perception that recycling will slow down the job is almost never true. Recycling asks workers to work a little bit smarter, not any harder or longer. Recycling containers are matched to the specific wastes being generated during different phases of the project, and they should be clearly labeled, so there’s not a question of having to choose which container to use for which waste. Because they’re often smaller than the big rolloff boxes used for mixed debris, many recycling containers can be placed closer to the work locations where wastes are generated. Far from slowing down the job, recycling often saves time and effort.

(There’s also a safety connection. Because recyclable wastes are usually put into containers as soon as they’re generated – not left on the ground to be picked up as mixed debris – recycling generally makes for a cleaner and safer job site.)

In addition, recycling is a morale booster. Recycling gets strong support from contractor and subcontractor work crews. This means that they give extra effort to make recycling work, and enhances the overall tone on the work site, which makes the work go smoother and quicker.

Logistics and service are other reasons which suggest that recycling might slow down the job. Again, this is not true. The key is to integrate recycling with other job site activities, so that the right containers are on site for each phase of the job, and containers flow smoothly onto and away from the site as wastes are generated. If this is done, there’s no reason that recycling a half dozen different materials will take any more time than throwing everything away into a single dumpster.

MYTH 2: THERE’S NO ROOM ON SITE TO RECYCLE

This, too, is almost never true. A key to successful recycling is to match containers to wastes, both in time and size. So it’s not necessary to have five or six containers on site. Instead, containers are matched to each phase of the job, and are swapped in or out so that only one to three containers are on location at any time, matched to specific wastes being generated.

Also, because recycling containers are often smaller than mixed debris containers, there can be more flexibility in setting them out on the site, so that a recycling container can often be shoe-horned in where a larger mixed debris container would not fit.

If site constraints absolutely preclude source separation, sorting wastes off site is an option, although one that will add labor and other expense. And mixed debris recycling, with recycling rates of 75+% should be possible on any jobsite.

MYTH 3: WITH ALL THESE CONTAINERS AND MATERIALS, RECYCLING IS WAY TOO COMPLICATED

More complicated than having one big container for all job site wastes, yes. But really complicated? Hardly.

What recycling requires is intelligent up-front planning, most of which is already done as part of overall project management. The waste management plan tracks the flow of the project, matching the work that’s being done as the project moves from phase to phase. When the framers are working, it’s time for a wood box. When the wiring, plumbing, and HVAC are being installed, it’s time for a metal box. When gypsum wallboard is being installed, it’s time for a wallboard box. If you’ve planned the job well from the construction side, you’ve already done most of the work required to recycle.

MYTH 4: SERVICE PROVIDERS ARE NOT RELIABLE

Until the mid-1990s, this was a good question. There were many fewer recycling markets, and only a few haulers who made C&D recycling a priority.

But this situation has changed rapidly, thanks to the basic laws of supply and demand. As more owners, architects, and contractors have begun to ask for recycling services, more service providers have entered the market, and to survive they’ve had to offer efficient and reliable service.

Now, it’s no different than choosing any other subcontractor. Confirm references from past work; look for size, flexibility and stability; do a basic background check; and make sure you have a dedicated contact who’s accountable for each job. If you do this, reliability shouldn’t be a question.

MYTH 5: WE HAVE NO RFP OR CONTRACT LANGUAGE FOR RECYCLING

C&D recycling starts with a good specification that clearly states recycling goals, materials to be recycled, and planning, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements. As with every other jobsite activity, a good specification provides the foundation for a smooth work flow, without confusion or misunderstanding. Recycling shouldn’t be an afterthought or add-on.

Just a couple of years ago, a lot of C&D recycling specs had to be written from scratch; there just weren’t many examples to go by. But now there are a lot of good samples to choose from, that fit just about every recycling situation and specification format.

MYTH 6: RECYCLING COSTS TOO MUCH

After everything is said and done, this is the biggest reservation that owners, architects, and contractors express about recycling.

This is one that can be difficult to disprove given the current alternatives. Throughout the region, the cost to landfill C&D wastes tops $40.00 per ton. Transportation charges generally add another $5 to $10 per ton, so that total cost to dispose of C&D waste in most of the St. Louis region ranges from $45 to $50 per ton.

The difference between this cost and the cost of recycling, for almost every recyclable material, is dramatic. Although exact pricing varies with markets and transportation lanes, the financial information is clear and compelling: ton for ton, for almost every material in the C&D waste stream, recycling is much less expensive than disposal. And for the highest volume materials in C&D, recycling is less expensive by a factor of two, three, or four. By reducing the volume and weight the cost is reduced but currently there are limited options for landfill diversion of C&D waste.

In a worst case scenario – a tough site, a tight schedule, a waste stream that has to be recycled largely as mixed debris – it’s safe to state that recycling will cost no more than disposal. In almost all other cases, recycling will be much less costly, with savings that often run into tens of thousands of dollars, even after all costs for planning, training, record keeping, and reporting are factored in.

MYTH 7: I’LL NEVER GET SUBCONTRACTORS TO GO ALONG

Subs respond to the same cues as anyone else: clear priorities, clear instruction, clear procedures, financial penalties and incentives.

Two things are most important:

1. Management-level interaction: Make sure that subs’ managers and supervisors understand that recycling is important and that deviation from specified procedures will be penalized. Again, clear up-front specifications and unambiguous contract language are critical.

2. Training: Recycling training should be provided at every crew shift, and should cover materials to be recycled, recycling procedures, recycling containers (location, identification, etc.), and where to go with questions. It’s particularly important to reach subcontractor supervisors, so that they can provide instruction to individual workers as they come onto the site from day to day.

Subs and their workers understand the environmental importance of recycling, and tend to be supportive. Their concerns are predictable: “It will slow us down.” “It will cost us.” “It’s complicated.” As long as procedures are clear and these concerns are answered, compliance with recycling requirements should not be an issue.

MYTH 8: THIS IS A UNION JOB. THE UNION WON’T COOPERATE, AND THE LABOR COST WILL BE TOO HIGH

In almost all cases, the reverse will be true. Unions and their workers understand the environmental benefits of jobsite recycling, and see a commitment to recycling as a commitment to caring by the owner and contractor. Union employees are often the most enthusiastic supporters of recycling.

As noted elsewhere, there’s no reason to expect that recycling will add significant labor time or cost into the job, and in many cases recycling can save some time in waste management. Recycling also promotes a neater, safer, and more productive jobsite. Again, these are factors that will encourage union support, not the reverse.

It is important to bring union reps into the planning process and solicit their input and comment on waste management and recycling. After all, the workers on the jobsite are where the rubber meets the road, and they more than anyone else have to integrate recycling into the job flow. Getting their early involvement and support is an important step.

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