The incentives for green demolition extend beyond eco-consciousness. Salvaging materials that would otherwise be thrown away brings some National Demolition Association members 20-50 percent of their annual revenue. Furthermore, a green demolition approach often makes it much easier to achieve local and federal cleanup guidelines. Finally, diverting waste in an earth-friendly way can help projects earn points toward LEED certification.
However, all of this information isn’t much use if your project manager has never heard the term “green demolition.” To promote a green demo project, we recommend starting with a basic definition for this fairly new practice. It’s also helpful to describe demolition contractors’ approaches to recycling materials, and to delineate which materials may be recycled.
Defining Green Demolition
Broadly defined, green demolition seeks to reuse as many demolished materials as possible. Certain municipalities may have more specific standards for green demolition. For instance, San Diego requires contractors to recycle at least 50 percent of their construction waste in order to earn back their license deposits. Commercial and industrial demolition poses unique challenges for green demolition. For instance, industrial projects (factories, manufacturing plants, etc.) often contain hazardous materials that can’t be recycled.
Industrial and Commercial Demolition: Onsite Recycling Approaches
Sometimes, salvaged materials will be sent off-site for recycling. In other circumstances, materials may be processed and reused on site. For instance, here at Elder Demolition we use a mobile crusher to turn demolished concrete into fill.
In addition to machinery specifically designed to facilitate reuse of materials, some demolition contractors are now dismantling buildings by hand. Often called deconstruction, this approach is time consuming and can be costly, but it often results in far higher rates of reuse. For instance, a deconstruction crew could spend dozens of hours removing nails from lumber; these nail-free boards could be used later to build a fence. Habitat for Humanity and other similar companies may accept donations of residential and commercial demolition materials.
At this point, experts estimate that just 5 percent of demolition projects involve deconstruction, but this method is gaining popularity for many reasons. Green demolition, including deconstruction, saves tons of trash from going to landfills; cuts transportation fuel and costs; and provides salvaged construction materials that are affordable for low-income families.
Materials that May Be Salvaged & Reused
About 80 percent of materials in an average demolition project can be salvaged for use in new projects. Oftentimes, salvaged materials earn a respectable resale value. Knowing this, some green demolition contractors offer to pay the property owner for the claim to any recyclable materials.
Steel is highly recyclable and usually earns a high price from recyclers.
Drywall is also recyclable, but it carries more potential complications than steel. For instance, if it contains asbestos or lead paint, drywall may require special handling techniques.
Fixtures and finishes may be recycled. Lighting, woodwork and other surface treatments can certainly be put to good use in a new project. However, because these features typically require dismantling by hand, they often represent a higher demolition cost.
Plumbing, wires, floors and other construction materials may also be reused. Indeed, stories of foreclosed homes stripped of their copper wiring have popped up all over the country during the last few years of recession. Carpeting, tiles, appliances, roofing, bricks, windows and doors can also be salvaged.
As you promote green demolition for your project, beware that it can cost more to demolish in an eco-friendly way. However, you may be able to offset this cost with savings on landfill charges and tax credits.