April 2005

Chicago implements new recycling rules for C&D debris
by David Fournier, Jr.  Send a message to the author.

In December of 2004, Chicago announced that, effective January 2006, contractors will be required to recycle 25% of all construction and demolition (C&D) debris generated in the city. That number will jump to 50% by 2007. Chicago defines C&D debris as “non-hazardous, non-contaminated solid waste resulting from construction, renovation, and demolition projects”.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 1996, 136 million tons of C&D waste was generated. In addition, C&D debris accounts for almost 30% of all solid waste produced in the U.S., most of which is disposed of in landfills. With large numbers like this, it’s easy to see how these regulations could have major economic and environmental impacts. Economically speaking, the recycling of this debris could be used to avoid hefty tipping fees. It may also be a source of additional revenue for contractors. Environmentally, it means that fewer virgin resources are consumed, and the need for landfill space could be reduced.

Chicago is the first to formally recognize the growing trend of C&D debris recycling in the U.S. Depending on local factors like tipping fees and market value of the recovered materials, recycling may be cheaper than disposal. In fact, not only is recycling cheaper, it could potentially generate revenue that could be put back into a project. C&D Debris Recycling magazine estimates that currently there are around 3,500 facilities nationwide that recycle C&D debris, and that this number is growing quickly.

However, some barriers to C&D recycling do exist. The cost of collection, sorting, and processing material, and the material’s relatively low value sometimes deter contractors from recycling. Not only that, but the recovery of the recyclable debris is very time consuming. Yet, the costs of incineration and dumping are increasing because of the need for control technologies to prevent pollution.

Incineration has become quite the controversial issue over the past several years. Studies have shown that people in the areas surrounding waste to energy plants have unacceptably high levels of dioxins and other related toxins in their blood. These toxins appear in the local food, air, and wildlife, amongst other things. All of this has led to the need for more and more expensive controls to both prevent the escape of these toxins into the environment, and to dispose of the toxic ash in a safe and ethical way. The need to control and contain dioxins, nitric oxide, mercury, and other toxic metals means that the costs of incineration is rising, and soon it may cease to be an economically sound choice for contractors looking to dispose of their C & D debris.

Landfills have also become more expensive for those looking to dispose of their C&D debris. Many landfills don’t want C&D debris because it tends to be bulky and it takes up more space than most household waste. Also, many landfills recognize that C&D debris could be recycled, and raise their tipping fees accordingly.

In addition to not wanting C&D debris, landfills now are being required to implement expensive air pollution and ground water controls to prevent environmental damage. Some landfills have managed to make a business out of recycling the emitted gases for energy, but they are relatively few. Most merely burn the gases in an external flare. Sites are raising their tipping fees in order to cover the costs for these new technologies.

Across the country, incineration and tipping fees for C&D debris are rising. The increased cost of disposing of debris by dumping or incineration should encourage contractors to recycle the debris generated by their projects. Not only is it an environmentally sound decision, it is becoming the economically sound decision as well. If the trend of increasing costs regarding landfills and incineration continue, look for more and more regulation regarding the recycling of C&D debris to come.


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