JULY 2008

Public policy drives C&D handling

As is the case with its counterparts, Casella Waste System, Inc. has facilities that process construction and demolition (C&D) debris such as wood, concrete, asphalt and other standard materials.

With wood in demand for the generation of biomass and concrete for road building aggregate, Casella vice president, Joe Fusco says that public policy, such as state and federal regulations and legislation to purchase recycled materials for road construction, would benefit the C&D recycling industry.

“Public policy can be a powerful driver of markets and economies for certain materials as we have seen with your average household recyclables,” he says. “Certainly a lot of public policy that has encouraged recycling has gone a long way towards building a strong economic foundation underneath recycling programs; C&D recycling could see similar benefits.

“We’re not big on mandates, but certainly there is a role for government to play with smart public policy,” he adds. “We would be more interested in smart public policy with a strong economic and environmental foundation rather than just across the board requirements.”

Keeping certain materials out of landfills, says Fusco, goes beyond issues of reuse, especially in the case of C&D which produces bulky materials that in some cases municipal solid waste landfills are not as eager to accept.

“Some C&D material creates an odor problem – primarily, the hydrogen sulfide that comes out of materials such as drywall,” he says. It’s a really big challenge to manage a landfill with a lot of C&D material coming in, so you want as much possible to remove that material and find good reuses for it, whether that be in roadbeds or biofuels.”

Similar to rail yards, many landfills were located in areas away from residential populations. But as urban sprawl continues unabated, residential development is occurring next to landfills and rail yards and complaints by the new residents become public.

“It’s a challenge, it’s time consuming and it has neighborhood challenges,” says Fusco.

To Brad Guy, the president of the Building Materials Reuse Association, the Netherlands has set the bar on what a country can do to ensure the maximization of recycling and reusing C&D debris.

“They banned the disposal of C&D,” he says. “Everything has to be processed. They divert 90-95 percent of all their waste. In the United States, and the estimates vary, it is anywhere from 25 to 35 percent of C&D that is diverted from landfills. It could be 90 percent in the United States based on existing technologies and policies from other countries, but we would need to adopt these innovations in order to achieve this kind of rate.”

The Netherlands, Europe and Japan, says Guy, have higher recycling rates, due to the premium on land and the inability to export the material.

“In Japan they use incineration and they use C&D to create new land,” says Guy. “Incineration is a method that is the least favorable in the United States.”

Guy appreciates the 50 percent mandated diversion rate in California, and Massachusetts 2006 legislation that brought in a landfill ban for 5 major C&D materials – metals, clean wood, concrete, asphalt and brick.

“They are achieving a diversion rate that is much higher than the national average,” he says. “When I spoke to the people at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection last December, just anecdotally, the comment was that these mandates were easier to implement because of the recycling infrastructure that had already developed over time.”

“But you do get into problems with other types of construction-related material and the infrastructure is pretty weak now in key materials. Examples include drywall and asphalt shingles.” he says. “On the new construction side, drywall is a big component of new construction waste and manufacturers such as U.S. Gypsum and others, if the material is properly handled and protected – dry and clean, it can be recycled that into new gypsum.

“Carpet is an example of a material that was historically difficult to recycle, however, there has been considerable leadership from the carpet manufacturing industry in the last 10 years to implement “take back” programs. In order to make this form of product stewardship work, they are designing products in such a way that they can apply multiple strategies including separating the fibers from the backing and recycling the entire product into new products.”

“How much of it might be recognizing the clear growth in the “green” building market such as with the LEED standard, or whether they see the need to manage their raw materials feedstock (petroleum-based) in light of oil-supply uncertainties, I’m not sure. The bottom line for many of these strategies is the potential for the considerable savings in energy and waste costs.”

Guy has no doubt that federal and state tax credits and incentives would help jumpstart the infrastructure for recycling C&D material.

“We sometimes have a negative reaction to legislation in United States, but it would be disingenuous to say that there is not plenty of legislation that encourages waste, and it can equally encourage resource conservation,” he says, “however, it’s pretty clear that you do need market development and legislation together. Many things that appear to be market driven, still have their roots in past legislation.”

“The benefits of diversion and recycling,” he says, “result in longer life spans for landfills (MSW and C&D), avoidance of hazardous materials being dumped in C&D landfills, items that are reused save energy, the creation of jobs in the recycling industry, and the generation of local and state revenue and taxes from recycling and collection operations.”