Reposted from Research Center Technical Briefs
RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION WASTE: FROM DISPOSAL TO MANAGEMENT
This page reproduced on NC DPPEA's web site with permission of Peter Yost,
NAHB Research Center.
For many builders, construction waste disposal is simply
a necessary evil, an unavoidable cost of doing business. Here are four reasons
why you might begin managing this stream of materials, just as
you do other aspects of your business:
- A recent NAHB survey reported that a typical builder pays $511 per house
for construction waste disposal. Your disposal costs may rise as old landfills
close and new ones become more difficult to site and more costly to design and
- If materials are wasted on your job site, you pay twice--once at purchase
and again when the usable material is hauled off for disposal. Knowing what
materials end up in your dumpster can tell you a lot about how efficiently your
crews and subcontractors are using materials that affect your bottom line.
- As a generator of some potentially hazardous materials--certain paints,
solvents, adhesives, caulks--you must protect yourself from any potential
liability resulting from the unauthorized or illegal disposal of hazardous
- As you begin managing your construction waste, take credit for being a good
corporate neighbor and protecting resources. Let the buying public know that as
you build, you are striving to protect the natural environment.
- Know what you throw. Opportunities for reducing waste start with a
working knowledge of what is discarded. Although some information on the
general nature of residential construction waste is available (see table) and
will be addressed below, only you can tell how materials are being used on your
job site. Routinely inspecting your construction waste can reveal much about
the efficient use of materials by your crew and subcontractors.
should also be aware of the need to assess hazardous waste generation on the
job site. Hazardous waste management should be guided by a working knowledge of
both the federal Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) and Comprehensive
Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). NAHB's
The Regulation of Solid and Hazardous Waste: A Builder's Guide is
an excellent reference. Call (800) 368-5242 and ask the Environmental
Regulations Department for a copy.
- Eliminate waste before it starts. If you, the builder, are paying
for all materials and all disposal, your crews have little incentive to use
your materials or the disposal services efficiently. "Supply and
install" subcontracts, in which the responsibility for ordering and
purchasing materials is assumed by each subcontractor, can help maximize the
efficient use of material. In addition, making subcontractors responsible for
their own waste disposal creates a natural incentive for minimizing waste.
"Typical" Construction Waste Estimated for a
||Weight (in pounds)
||Volume (in cubic yards)*
|Solid Sawn Wood
*Volumes are highly variable due to compressibility and captured air space
in waste materials.
**Assuming three sides of exterior clad in vinyl siding.
***Assuming a brick veneer on home's front facade.
- Reuse. Several waste materials, regardless of quantity, can be
reused: fiberglass and rigid insulation; slightly damaged finished products
such as cabinets and doors; large pieces of clean carpet and vinyl flooring;
and masonry/concrete material. Insulation materials can be placed in attic
space and larger rigid insulation scraps can be used under concrete floors.
Cosmetically damaged finish products can be donated to nonprofit organizations
and taken as a tax-exempt charitable donation. Flooring sheet goods can be
neatly rolled and stored for the homeowner. All brick and concrete waste is
inert fill that can be used on site under walkways or driveways. Individually,
these materials do not fill dumpsters but collectively they can send your total
from one or two containers per job to two or three, significantly increasing
total disposal costs.
- Reconsider roll-off service. The standard 30-cubic-yard roll-off
container can represent a big portion of your total disposal costs. It can also
encourage the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" problem; the six-foot-high
sides of roll-off containers can make wasteful practices difficult to monitor.
An alternative is to fence off with rolled wire or plastic mesh a small portion
of the job site and use a hauler who manually or mechanically picks up
construction waste materials from the fenced area. This eliminates containers
and can decrease the degree to which useful materials ending up in your waste
- Recycle. Most residential construction waste is recyclable,
including wood (solid-sawn and engineered products), drywall, corrugated
cardboard, metal, and some plastics. Recovery opportunities for building
materials cannot be developed by builders alone but must be done in cooperation
with waste haulers and processors, local and state solid waste officials, and
product manufacturers. The best way to discover existing or to develop new
recovery opportunities in your area is to bring this group together. If
alternatives to disposal are important to you, encourage your local HBA and/or
local officials to hold a forum to explore obstacles and opportunities for
- Market your efforts. As you take the time and initiative to manage
your construction waste stream more effectively, let your customers know. One
suggested marketing tool is to provide your homebuyers with a trash container
that has your company's logo and a recycling symbol forming the roof line of a
house. Accompanying this homeowner "moving-in gift" is a one-page
brochure explaining your company's construction waste management program and
the total landfill space per year your company is conserving. Regardless of the
approach, be sure to take credit for your efforts.
HERE'S WHAT TO TRY
- Wood waste accounts for 40 percent to 50 percent of the residential
construction waste stream. Wood waste can be used for mulch, in composting
operations, animal bedding, landfill cover, some building products, and as an
industrial fuel source. For many of these applications, however, there is
concern with regard to the adhesive content of engineered wood products such as
plywood, oriented strandboard (OSB), or wood I-beams. Up to half of jobsite
wood waste can be engineered wood product waste. Contact local wood waste
processors to determine the suitability of your wood waste for their markets.
This is a good example of how a local forum would be helpful in identifying
recycling obstacles and opportunities.
- Drywall waste makes up about 15 percent of jobsite waste, which is the
equivalent of one pound per square foot of living space. Clean waste gypsum
board, after being ground, can be recycled into new drywall, used for some
types of animal bedding, or applied as a soil amendment. Drywall manufacturing
plants across the country are gradually gaining the technology for recycling
construction site waste, but few plants can currently take significant
quantities. Some states allow agricultural uses of ground gypsum wallboard,
some do not, and some have no stated policy. Research has been recently
undertaken to determine the suitability of various agricultural uses of waste
gypsum board, with results available within the next 12 months.
It can be
cost-effective to cut and stack waste drywall into uninsulated wall cavities.
Care must be taken to place pieces securely to prevent rattling, to choose
framing cavities without wiring runs, and to use cavities in closets,
basements, and garages in which interference with subsequent additions or
renovations is less likely. This approach addresses any concerns of the
homebuyer or other trades.
- Corrugated cardboard is the most common building product packaging
material. Quantities are increasing as more and more building components are
delivered to jobsites as finished products. Although cardboard may not
contribute much to total weight, it can represent as much as 30 percent of the
total volume and, unconsolidated, can send your jobsite dumpster to the
landfill long before it is necessary. You can handle this material yourself,
engage a nonprofit organization such as the Boy Scouts of America, or see if a
local hauler is interested.
- Vinyl and metal siding cut-off waste typically generated from a single home
can be over 200 pounds. Although it does not represent a significant portion of
your disposal costs, it is the only waste other than cardboard generated by
your siding subcontractor. If it is returned to a central collection area, such
as a siding or building supply distributor, it can contribute to quantities
large enough to warrant recycling. At least one pilot project is being
conducted to evaluate centralized vinyl siding waste collection.
- It is possible to grind up all wood waste and drywall and apply it to the
site just before seeding or sodding the lot. Many states or localities,
however, require evidence that this approach does not harm soil or water
quality. You need to check with state and local solid waste agencies to
determine the acceptability of this method. If all wood waste and drywall could
be handled in this way, containment, transport, and landfilling costs would be
eliminated for up to 65 percent of jobsite waste. If cardboard can be included,
cost savings would be even higher. A low-speed, low-noise, mobile grinding unit
is best suited for job-site service. Large production builders may consider
purchase of the equipment. Smaller builders would have to arrange service with
a hauler or waste processor interested in this method of waste management.
- In Portland, Oregon, and Chicago, Illinois, builders are being serviced by
haulers that charge by the square foot, do not require roll-off containers, and
recycle more than 50 percent of jobsite waste. The clean-up services time their
waste pick-up to coincide with the various stages of construction, allowing
wood, cardboard, drywall, or other materials to be substantially separated by
the building process. The builder knows waste disposal costs upfront, can
determine the level of service required (number of jobsite visits and degree of
clean-up), and saves money while someone else determines what can and cannot be
recycled. So far, clean-up services have been cost-effective in areas that have
high disposal costs and established recycling markets for common construction
A new builder's field guide on construction waste management
is now available through the Research Center. To order, contact the Center at
If you need more information about methods presented in this
document, call Peter Yost at the NAHB Research Center, (301) 249-4000,
Reposted from Research Center Technical Briefs
Copyright ©; 1997 NAHB Research Center,
[Edited to delete discontinued links by site editor on September 21, 1998 and
January 13, 1999.]