The Business Case

VIDEO: Chris Kalter of St. Louis County discuss the business case of C & D Waste Diversion.

Based on our Focus Group discussions and research to date there appears to be a demand for:

  • A pick-up service for both co-mingled and source separated C and D materials/ commercial and residential builds
  • A single site holding yard, privately owned, open to all
  • A single site holding yard, run by government or landfill, open to all
  • A local creator of OSB
  • A paint recycling source
  • A re-use end source for painted, crushed concrete
  • A re-use end source for doors
  • A re-use end source for painted drywall


Based upon the recovery estimate above, 52% of the building-related C&D materials were discarded in 2010. Imagine the amount of time and money that could have been save if an additional 25% of waste was diverted from landfills, but this means that recycling has to cost LESS than disposal. This is a critical point. If recycling costs more than disposal, then there will always be a very good reason NOT to recycle. But if recycling is cost-competitive or less expensive than disposal, then recycling should be considered as part of every job.

In our region, we have a lot of land making disposal affordable and a labor pool that is relatively expensive.  Given this set of variables, the cost of disposal will remain relatively cheap versus recycling unless we have better incentives, additional competition for C&D material re-use or increased regulations on disposal.

For each material, the total management cost, whether by disposal or recycling, has two components. The recycling cost is the cost per ton to process and recycle a material once it reaches a market (or, in the case of material that’s disposed of, the landfill tipping fee). The transportation cost is the cost per ton to get a material to the market; this cost varies with the distance to market and with the quantity of material that can be hauled in a single load.

The cost to recycle almost all C&D materials is much less than the cost to throw the same materials away. Take some of the highest tonnage materials in C&D: concrete, brick, and block.

As a component of mixed debris, it costs about $45.00 per ton to dispose of these materials in a landfill, plus the cost of transportation to the landfill. If they’re separated and recycled separately, the recycling charge is about $40.00 per ton plus the transportation cost.

The challenge for our region is that the total cost of recycling can exceed the cost of disposal. The story is similar for other common materials: wood, gypsum wallboard, metals, glass. In the worst case, the cost to recycle is not much more than half the cost of disposal. When you sum these costs across almost any construction project, the savings amount to thousands, and often to tens of thousands of dollars.

Even if materials cannot be separated for recycling, recycling still costs no more than disposal. The costs are about equal, with the great advantage, on the side of recycling, that 75% to 90% of the mixed debris gets sorted out, recovered, and used again.

The economic benefits of recycling are highest if waste materials can be separated from each other and recycled individually. This is called “source separation.”

Source separation means separating different recyclable materials at the job site. That is, workers keep metals separate from wood, and wood separate from concrete, and so on, and place each material into a different container. These containers are then transported to different markets.

Commingled recycling is the alternative to source separation. Commingled recycling means placing all recyclable materials into a single container, which is then transported to a processing facility, where different materials are separated by hand or by automated equipment.  Source separation and commingled recycling have distinct advantages and disadvantages.


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