Gypsum drywall is a common construction material – a staple
of the industry - that can be recycled and should be diverted
from C&D landfills. While some recycling does occur, those
involved in this sector of the industry want to see it expand
across the United States.
American Recycler recently put several questions to Terry Weaver,
the owner of USA Gypsum in Reinholds, Pennsylvania.
Q. Has the amount of gypsum being diverted, collected and processed
for recycling increased over the past five years? If so, why
is that the case?
Weaver: Yes. I believe that the Green Building movement (primarily
LEEDS) is the key.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) shipments
of new drywall to the Mid-Atlantic Region (New Jersey, New York
and Pennsylvania) during 2008 were 2.8 million tons. Based on
our experience we believe 20 percent or 560,000 tons were wasted.
Based on our production and representations by our competitors
the amount recycled in this region is approximately 35,000 tons
or 6.25 percent.
Q. Why is it important to divert gypsum from landfills? Are the
various levels of government aware of its value as a recyclable?
Weaver: Landfills in our region do not want it because of sulfate
problems in both air and water. When gypsum is deprived of oxygen
in the presence of moisture and organic materials the sulfated
can be released in the form of hydrogen sulfide which has a very
noticeable odor similar to rotten eggs. Hydrogen sulfide gas
is very corrosive and is a problem for landfill gas collections
systems. In addition, dissolved sulfates may find its way into
the leachate system of the landfill.
Q. What are the major uses of recycled gypsum? Is there an adequate
supply of material available to ensure a constant flow of feedstock
Weaver: For USA Gypsum the markets are agricultural, both as
a soil amendment and as animal bedding. Drywall is a difficult
material to process. Dust is the major issue and adding water
for dust control causes the material to become sticky and difficult
to handle. We have experienced a steady increase from 1998 until
2008 and 2009 which have been steady in spite of the drop in
Q. Who are key purchasers of recycled gypsum products? Are the
various markets expanding and historically speaking, has it been
difficult to create markets for this material? Have green credit
systems been developed in some state to increase sales?
Weaver: Our customers are farmers and their suppliers. Gypsum
is directly land applied and used as animal bedding primarily
for dairy cows. For new recyclers it could be cement or wallboard
manufacturers. In the northeast United States, synthetic gypsum
is flooding the market and gypsum prices are close to $0. We
have not seen “green credits” from Pennsylvania or surrounding
states. However, cities and municipalities such as Philadelphia
have passed ordinances that require LEEDS status for government
Q. Is there anything that the federal, state and local governments
can do in terms of legislation, incentives and tax breaks to
promote the diversion of gypsum from landfills?
Weaver: There have been discussions at the State and Federal
level about incentives for recycling gypsum. The discussions
have ranged from bans to incentives. However, I don’t see anything
happening in the short term as most states are in budget crises.
Both the EPA and area states have been supportive of our efforts.
However that has not extended to grants or financial support.
Q. What role does the United States Environmental Protection
Agency and its state counterparts play in helping to promote
the recycling of gypsum? What role does the construction industry
play and is it in their interest to support recycling initiatives?
Weaver: At this point I believe that gypsum recycling is under
the radar as the EPA considers regulating “Coal Combustion Products,”
which could include synthetic gypsum used In wallboard as hazardous
waste, states in the northeast consider the impact such a ruling
would have. New end markets we have approached have declined
to consider recycled gypsum until this issue is resolved.
Q. Is it an expensive investment for C&D recycling centers
that do not process gypsum to establish such operations? What
type of support and information is available to those interested
in adding gypsum recycling to their operations?
Weaver: Most of the C&D recyclers do not generate the volume
to justify the capital cost to recycle drywall. I estimate minimum
capital costs to be $1 million. Commercial machines to recycle
drywall are available from Andela Products in Richfield Springs,
Q. Where do you see the gypsum recycling industry and the markets
for these products in the next five years?
Weaver: We believe that drywall recycling will continue to grow
pushed by the Green Building movement and led by landfills that
do not want the drywall and cost avoidance (economic) incentives.
As the C&D recycling industry diverts other materials such
as metal, wood and cardboard for which markets are established
it is a natural next step to separate the drywall if there is
a market and they can lower costs by doing so.