MARCH 2010

Haiti in the aftermath – recycling a city?
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People looked on in shock at the horrific devastation in Haiti. The capital city of Port Au Prince looked like it was hit by a giant wrecking ball. Whatever has been left standing by the 7.0 earthquake and numerous aftershocks is likely cracked beyond repair and will have to be demolished.

Close up shots from news footage reveal low quality concrete, cement and mud block construction. A closer look shows little or no rebar and lightweight wire mesh reinforcement. Port Au Prince, the largest city and principle port, developed slowly from Colonial times on a well laid out grid pattern, but with barely any construction codes or standards. Because it has been a historically poor country, building was done on the cheap. Many structures were also weakened by earlier earthquakes, hurricanes, civil strife and fires.

Greg Moro, operations manager for Independence Recycling of Florida (IRF) has been working on a plan to move two mobile crushing and screening plants to Port Au Prince to recycle earthquake debris for use in new construction. “I have had three groups approach us about going down to Haiti. One is a group from Utah, Proactive Energy Concepts, is working through retired General Leslie Clark to put a package together to go to Haiti for a 10-year recovery program. The first part of their program is demolition and clean-up, providing saltwater desalinization and wind and solar energy. We fit into the early phase of this program and don’t know how long we would be there. They want us to demolish buildings and recycle them into whatever useable products we can make, for example aggregates to be used in new concrete for future development.”


IRF operates six receiving yards for construction and demolition debris in Florida serviced by three mobile crushing plants. Through the collection of concrete, block, rock and other aggregate based materials IRF produces recycled aggregates and road base for reused in new construction. The crushers are moved from yard to yard to handle stockpiles and are also moved to customer locations for major on-site crushing and recycling projects. Depending on the economy, IRF recycles approximately three million tons of concrete and asphalt per year.

For concrete demolition debris, one mobile crusher can process between 1,800 to 2,400 tons per day, and crush asphalt at anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 tons per day.

IRF is one of nine DiGeronimo Companies, which includes Independence Excavating, headquartered in Cleveland, that has 10 mobile crushers in its fleet as part of a diversified national capability in heavy industrial construction, site development, concrete, demolition and environmental solutions. The DiGeronimo family is also involved in aggregate distribution and manufacturing construction equipment, including the fabrication of IROCK crushers.

“I would say a quarter of a percent of what we crush is waste. We might crush 40,000 tons of concrete and only have one or two 20-yard dumpsters of trash that we pay to take to a landfill. All of the steel gets recycled and 95 percent of our production is sold to the private sector. Incoming raw material is about 50/50 private and government. In Florida, for example, DOT instituted a new spec to use recycled aggregate for roads, but there are two problems. One, the engineers are not writing the road specs, and two, there’s not enough raw material to crush to keep up with the orders if they would start using it. We are not nearly seeing the demolition material in our yards as we did three years ago,” said Moro.

Moving mobile crushers to Haiti and providing all the support logistics to keep them operational will be a large undertaking. Each mobile crusher requires between 9 and 11 heavy-haul loads to move from one location to another. A crusher will have to be moved from a Florida location to a port, loaded on a roll-on-roll-off vessel, off loaded in Port Au Prince and trucked to a work site. Typically, it takes about a day and half to set up a plant, but in Haiti it will undoubtedly take longer.

For concrete demolition debris, one crusher realistically can process between 1,800 to 2,400 tons per day, and crush asphalt at anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 tons a day. Magnets remove ferrous metals during the screening process, which are recycled as scrap.

“We are geared for larger jobs, 20,000 tons and up. We are also known for delivering a product that always meets the spec. We take material through the crusher and then we put it through a screen plant. If a material comes through oversized, the screen captures it and it is sent back on a return to be re-crushed. We can screen down to sand if required,” said Moro.

Recycling construction materials from natural disasters seems to make economic and environmental sense, but is rarely practiced in the United States. “In most cases after a hurricane they are in such a hurry to get things cleaned up that they don’t sort the material and everything gets landfilled and you lose the concrete and other salvageable material,” Moro lamented.

After the 2004 Hurricane Charlie hit Florida, clean-up companies were paid by the yard, so most every yard that went to landfills resulted in wasted material that could have been recycled and it resulted in end of life for several landfills. “After Charlie I was sitting here thinking we were going to get a lot of concrete to recycle, but they were not sorting it and most all was landfilled. We had a high school that was damaged by Charlie. They tore it down and brought it to us and we weighed all the material that came in. The school got LEED credits for bringing it to a certified recycler. Then we sold back the crushed material to the school as road base under asphalt parking lots, which they also earned the high school LEED credits for using recycled material,” Moro cited as an example of an ideal disaster recycling scenario.

Recycling construction and demolition materials on-site in Port Au Prince makes better sense. As a remote island nation, importing anything is highly expensive, particularly tons of construction materials. Besides, much of the port facilities were damaged by the earthquake and what remains can be put to more urgent needs.

“From what I’ve heard about Haiti, they are planning to quadrant off the city and move out the population. Companies will go in, scrape the earth clean and build it back up again with hurricane and earthquake resistant structures,” said Moro.

The economics of recycling C&D material vary depending on the nature of the project. The bigger the project, the better the economies of scale and Port Au Prince may prove to be huge. In the United States, recycled aggregate usually costs less per ton than virgin.

“If virgin DOT specified No. 57 stone, ¾ inch rock, costs $20 a ton, recycled aggregate may be $17 or $18. But if you own the debris it’s a completely different story. Recently they were tearing down an old football stadium and called us in to crush on site and make two inch aggregate to use as road base for the parking lot. Doing it that way on-site is much faster and cheaper than buying virgin,” Moro noted.

In Florida, IRF routinely takes concrete highway and house slabs and large chunks from bridge demolition which contains large aggregate and crushes it back into smaller aggregates and road base. “After looking at the concrete they have in Haiti, you don’t see a lot of aggregate. A lot of it looks like small, pebbly stuff which is very well suited to sidewalks, house slabs and many other building applications that use pump mix. We can crush it down to any size. They will have to decide what they want to use it for,” said Moro.

For Haiti, IRF is planning on bringing two complete crusher packages including screen plants, loaders and excavators with hammers and densifiers. IRF was told to bring experienced crews to get the plants up and running quickly. The plan is to eventually cross-train Haitians to do some of the work. At first Haitians will do more of the manual labor like picking debris not wanted in the crusher, but some Haitians may be trained as equipment operators.

“If we go to Haiti, the biggest challenge is we would have to be completely self-sustaining. We’d have to supply our own housing and all the resources to support our people and our equipment,” Moro said.