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King County Improves Recycling Rates at Building and Demolition Sites

King County, WA - King County, in the State of Washington, successfully improved the rate at which construction, demolition and land clearing debris is recycled and reused with its Green Building Program.

As the urban center of Washington State, there are approximately 1.7 million people living in King County. Large international corporations, like Microsoft, Starbucks, and Amazon.com have contributed to the county's economy, a 10 percent population increase in the past decade and an unprecedented building boom.

One of the ways King County encourages builders and demolition companies to recycle and reuse is to honor companies that participate in the Green Building Program. Pictured is King County Executive Ron Sims (left) honoring Specialized Homes, a homebuilding company owned by Dee Wyman and Bob Nieman, for recycling and reusing items from its building sites.

Theresa Koppang, King County's Green Building Program manager, said, "Construction, demolition and land clearing (CDL) waste contributes 20 to 30 percent of the overall waste stream in the county. In 1998 the county had 187,800 tons of construction waste and in 1999 there was 209,400 tons. The estimated recycling rate for construction debris was 30 to 40 percent before the Green Building Program. The salvage and reuse rate for building material was and still is harder to target."

While King County manages the solid waste system, private companies collect the waste. King County then transfers and discards this waste. Most of the construction waste goes to privately operated landfills rather than to the landfill owned and operated by the county.

In 1993 two private construction landfills in King County closed. The county had to have the CDL waste transported out of the county to private landfills. It was at this point that the county decided to begin educating the building industry about recycling and reusing building materials. King County faced unprecedented building activity, said Ms. Koppang.

She added, "The closure of the two local and private landfills meant that King County needed to step in and provide disposal service to the industry.

Since we were taking a more active role, it naturally followed that we would promote recycling to the construction industry as we do to all of our customers throughout our solid waste stream."

This area of Washington State has a strong private-sector infrastructure for recycling construction materials. Private CDL companies collect and process virtually all construction recyclables. According to Ms. Koppang, the county has found that the most economical to handle are: clean wood, some painted and treated wood and laminates, landclearing, metals (ferrous and non-ferrous), gypsum drywall, asphalt roofing (non-asbestos 3-tab and built-up roofing) and concrete/asphalt/rock and brick. Recycling cost for other materials (carpet, acoustical ceiling tile) are increasingly competitive with disposal rates.

The education and outreach program King County put together included technical information about recycling with extensive education and outreach to the construction industry. In this region the success of construction recycling hinges on two factors: recycling must remain voluntary rather than mandatory; and the marketplace must determine the economic viability of recycling without direct subsidies from King County government.

In this region of the country, job-site recycling makes economic sense. The cost to dump construction materials averages $85/ton. The recycling costs are anywhere from free to $55/ton.

The King County program focuses on creating incentives for construction companies to recycle their waste and to build with salvaged and recycle-content materials with using subsidies, added Ms. Koppang.

Ms. Koppang explained, "In 1996-97 King County was able to test job-site recycling at the state's largest construction project, a criminal justice center, including a courthouse, jail, and administrative offices. The state was able to require large-scale job-site recycling through a construction contract. This created an example to show other companies that the job-site recycling worked."

One of the common beliefs among builders that had to be overcome was that job-site recycling raised labor costs because it required separating and sorting materials into containers. The case study showed that the savings offset the rare and negligible bump in labor costs. Major building trade groups have since established policies supporting construction site recycling.

The Green Building Program gives recognition to help promote recycling.

"Construction Works" is one program that recognizes construction companies that embrace the ethic of job-site recycling and waste prevention during building design and construction, and use recycled-content building materials. The program offers technical assistance and several avenues of recognition for businesses that meet specific recycling, waste prevention, and reuse goals.

Ms. Koppang said, "While there is no stated goal for the county itself, the recognition program for job-site recycling does have a goal of 60 percent per project. It has been relatively easy for job-sites that really apply themselves to meet at least a 60 percent rate."

King County recognizes these companies' commitment to environ-mental building and generates publicity for them through local newspapers, trade publications and county publications such as newsletters and a "Green Business Director." Case studies are distributed highlighting accomplish-ments to the industry and advertisements are placed when the budget allows.

Every two years on Earth Day, King County presents a "Green Globe Award" recognizing the most resource-efficient "Construction Works" company of the previous two years.

Through media promotions and newspaper ads congratulating the winner, it encourages businesses to participate in King County environmental programs.

Some of the "Construction Works" case studies are listed here:

  • Baugh Construction: Boeing Commerical Airplane Group Headquarters, Renton, Washington, 94 percent recycling rate, 6,590 tons recycled.
  • Earthwise, Inc.: Mercer Island, Washington Residence Salvage, $38,443 cost savings, 60 percent recycling rate, 373 tons recycled.
  • Lozier Home Klahanie Development, Issaquah, Washington, $14,736 cost savings, 55 percent recycling rate, 132.7 tons recycled.
  • Sellen Construction: Microsoft Pebble Beach, Redmond, Washington, $186,000 cost savings, 74 percent recycling rate, 2,310 tons recycled.
  • Microsoft office remodel, Redmond, Washington, $38,443 cost savings, 60 percent recycling rate, 373 tons recycled.
  • Lease Crutcher Lewis: Kentlake High School, Kent Washington, $16,500 cost savings, 60 percent recycling rate, 664 tons recycled, 1,689 tons reused.
  • Rafn Company: Rafn Corporate office remodel, $6,500 cost savings, 42 percent recycling rate, 24 tons recycled/salvaged.
  • Hensel Phelps: King County Regional Justice Center, Kent Washington, $242,630 cost savings, 61 percent recycling rate, 2,730 tons recycled.
  • Howard S. Wright: Microsoft Data Center, Redmond Washington, $6,200 cost savings/$195,100 combined demolition and construction phase cost savings, 54 percent recycling rate/93 percent recycling rate combined for demolition and construction phases, 1,260 tons recycled.

For more information on the Green Building Program visit http://dnr.metrokc.gov/greenworks, or e-mail greenworks.swd@metrokc.gov or call 206-296-4466.

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