NOVEMBER 2009

Regulations increase for construction and demolition debris
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Regulations and legislation covering construction and demolition (C&D) debris – consisting of bulky heavy materials, such as concrete, wood, metals, glass and other salvaged components – generated during the construction, renovation and demolition of buildings, roads and bridges are becoming more common across the country.

Most of the new regulations are being driven at the state and local level, said William Turley, executive director of the Construction Materials Recycling Association. Several cities, for example, have banned C&D debris from either the disposal of it in landfills or require a certain amount of material generated from C&D to be recycled.

The Eola, Illinois-based trade association estimates that there is more than 325 million tons of recoverable C&D materials generated in the United States annually. These recyclable materials include aggregates such as concrete, asphalt, wood and metals.

“C&D used to be the quiet waste stream. Not many people were concerned about it, as opposed to MSW (municipal solid waste),” Turley said. “The general public always knew and supported recycling the material they put in their blue bins down at the end of their driveways, but no one really knew what C&D was and what happened to it.”

As more governmental entities have become interested in recycling more of the waste stream, however, Turley said regulators are starting to realize that C&D presents an additional opportunity for states and municipalities to increase their recycling rates.

Many of the regulations, however, only impact one part of the recycling process, Turley said, noting that recycling consists of three parts; generation, processing into a product, and end use. But only the generator is being required to recycle C&D debris.

“On the one hand we have government agencies requiring the recycling of C&D materials, but on the other hand we have government agencies that should be the biggest consumers of recycled C&D products,” Turley said. “There should be more of a focus on increasing the demand for recycled products, rather than on requiring recycling.”

One example is the state highway departments. Recycled concrete could be used as a roadbase product in highway projects. Turley said it has suitable engineering characteristics to replace virgin aggregates and is almost always cheaper. Therefore, the highway departments could help with recycling efforts by using more C&D materials.

Approximately 170 million tons of building-related C&D materials were generated in 2003, according to the latest figures gathered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Of that amount, 48 percent of it was recovered.

The federal government does not track the number of regulations concerning C&D debris, said Kim Cochran, an environmental engineer for the EPA in Washington D.C. Nor does the EPA have any plans to regulate C&D, she said, noting many of the ordinances concerning C&D by states are relatively new. The EPA, however, actively works with the states to support their various efforts to increase C&D recycling.

“Recycling C&D materials creates green jobs, provides lower-cost materials, decreases the need for landfill space within communities, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, conserves energy, and conserves natural resources,” Cochran said.

Examples of regulations promoting C&D recycling at the state level include landfill disposal bans on various C&D materials, state recycling goals or mandates, requirements for governmental buildings to achieve some level of green building status, and requirements that state procurement agencies purchase recycled materials.

One of the most prominent examples is Massachusetts, Cochran said. It has implemented a combination of regulations to increase C&D recycling, including implementing recycling goals, landfill disposal bans for various C&D materials, and requirements for the state procurement agency to purchase recycled C&D material.

In addition to states, cities and counties have implemented ordinances, Cochran said. Examples include requiring contractors to submit construction waste management plans with their building permit applications, requiring contractors to pay a deposit when filing for a building permit, requiring governmental buildings to achieve some level of green building status, and placing bans on landfill disposal of C&D materials.

Regulation of the C&D waste stream has slowed down recently, said Mike Taylor, executive director of the National Demolition Association. The Doylestown, Pennsylvania-based trade association represents more than 1,000 companies.

A number of states had a flurry of regulations concerning C&D debris several years ago, Taylor said, giving California as an example. The state mandates that by 2010, 60 percent of each county’s waste has to be recycled, including C&D debris.

Across the country there are currently 38 states that have specific regulations concerning C&D debris. Taylor said that the regulations can be very brief, from one or two sentences, to very elaborate regulations, encompassing hundreds of pages.

“I think the trend now is to promote more recycling of these materials,” Taylor said. “You haven’t seen that pushed from a regulatory standpoint. I think state governments are trying to develop systems whereby they provide market support.”

The recession took the wind out of a lot of the efforts to regulate C&D materials, Taylor said, adding that the downturn in the economy has also caused a drop in companies using recyclables that are produced from municipal recycling centers.

The National Demolition Association has identified 14 constituents of a structure from a technological standpoint that can be recycled. Right now, however, there are only two or three materials from the C&D debris that are profitable to recycle, including the smallest piece of metal to other aggregate materials like concrete and brick.

Taylor said it might be helpful if the EPA developed a national C&D recycling policy. This might help some of the states and other local entities remove some of the administrative barriers currently in place and help set up some economic incentives.

“Over time more of these C&D commodities would start to appear in buildings and you would lessen the burden on landfills and people would get used to using them. That’s a lot better than putting this stuff in a hole in the ground,” Taylor said.