MARCH 2010

 

ON TOPIC


Terry Weaver

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 to recyclers?

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 construction.

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 projects.

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, New York.

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.