Since the 1990’s it has become increasingly common for industrial demolition contractors to recycle as much of the waste created during the demolition. This has led to lucrative opportunities for owners and contractors and created a new industry in demolition recycling.
Demolition and construction industries continue to evolve. Where only concrete was once collected for recycling, now a whole host of materials are collected from scrap metal to wood, and sometimes even whole architectural features. Let’s take a look at how the industry is changing with the modern demand for more environmentally friendly demolition.
The History of Recycling in Commercial Demolition
Decades ago, the most common construction recycling was for “concrete, metal, or wood separation”. Everything else was treated as waste and hauled off to a landfill to be dumped.
Even then, the materials that were separated had to be very clean or they would be rejected. As a consequence, many contractors chose to skip this part of the build entirely, not wanting to spend the extra time and labor to see a small financial return, if any.
Most recyclable materials were separated at the source, the construction or demolition site, and the process was often very inefficient. However, this gradually shifted in the 2000s as technology improved to sort through the debris. This made such operations more efficient and provided a higher yield of usable materials. The new tech allowed for a higher amount of commingled containers to be sent to sorting and recycling facilities, increasing the ease of recycling for any project. Technological advances also allowed for more efficient sorting on-site, further reducing carbon emissions with transporting debris to a sorting facility.
There was also a growing public concern over the importance of recycling and the disposal of waste, especially as it became more and more apparent that climate change was affecting our global society. Owners came to push more and more for recycling as they understood its importance and saw the opportunity to use it to offset costs of C&D.
Recycling Challenges in the Industrial Demolition Industry
Today, industrial demolition recycling is facing a number of issues that require clever solutions. These issues are diverse and represent a need for an industry-wide effort to create a greener and low-impact form of demolition.
Some issues include:
- Cost of labor
- Lack of available labor
- End markets
- Need for greater demand for recycled products
The need for end markets to be strong incentivizes operators to invest in recycling programs whenever possible. If such markets do not exist, or if demand in the market is not sufficient, then the materials will end up in a landfill.
Factors like transportation and economics play big roles in determining if there is a market for recycled industrial and commercial demolition debris. It is all well and good to sort the materials properly, but just what to do with them is a problem we have yet to solve.
3 Recycling Opportunities for Demolition Contractors in Oregon
Governments may have a role in creating new markets, as they can incentivize people to buy recycled metal or wood or other materials. But there needs to be specificity on their bid demands, and manufacturers need to consider the end-of-life solutions of the products they manufacture during the manufacturing process. Here are three materials that could help change the recycling landscape in the demolition industry.
1) Concrete Recycling
Concrete is the number one material that is recycled in a demolition project. Concrete recycling can help offset some of the costs of the project. Many Portland demolition contractors will divert concrete from landfills, instead of crushing it for use as gravel or as an aggregate that can then be used to create even more concrete.
Recycled concrete can even be used as a base for roads, for foundations, to help with erosion control, or for landscaping. You can also get LEED points from recycling concrete. As aggregate sources become depleted, there is an increasing demand for crushed concrete as aggregate
2) Recycling Wood Waste
With wood waste being the second-largest component of construction and demolition debris after concrete, it accounts for the 20% to 30% of total debris generated. In 2010 about 70.6 million tons of urban wood waste was generated in the U.S., with 52% resulting from construction and demolition.
Wood waste is often received at mixed processing facilities where it is sorted by various loaders and excavators before moving to a conveyor system which allows for further sorting.
Often reused or reclaimed wood sells at a premium because of the extra labor that went into processing it for reuse. Wood recycling can create landscaping mulch, bedding materials, fuel, and fiber for composite boards. There are many more possible avenues for used wood to be transformed into something new.
3) Scrap Metal Recycling
Scrap metal can be recycled as well, and doing so can be very lucrative. By recycling scrap metal, precious materials are saved from landfills and transformed into new metal products. The industry of scrap metal recycling also creates close to a half-million new jobs and is a $90 billion dollar industry.
Like wood and concrete recycling, recycling scrap metal can offset the costs of the job and earn you LEED points.