By William Turley, Executive Director, Construction & Demolition Recycling Association
It seems that everyone wants to see waste recycled because the practice is considered a benefit to society, but many challenges face the industry that does the recycling, including the sector recovering construction materials.
At 600 million tons generated annually, construction and demolition (C&D) waste is the largest material stream in the United States, dwarfing that of waste collected at the residential curbside, offices, and other locations. C&D is generated from road, bridge, and building demolition and construction projects, and is made up of building materials such as concrete, asphalt, wood, drywall, metals, and roofing.
C&D is the most recycled of all waste sectors – though a lot of that is thanks to very high recycling rates for concrete and asphalt – but still the market faces challenges.
High rates for recycling concrete and asphalt are understandable. Concrete is heavy, and if it can be recovered from the site where it was generated and used there or nearby as a base product or similar, great economic and environmental benefits ensue. Metals have been recycled since man started working with them centuries ago and still remain valuable today. All three of these materials are in demand in the marketplace. The fundamental point to understand about recycling is when provided end markets, materials can be recovered.
What isn’t always easy to recycle are many of the remaining items, though new markets are emerging all the time. A common example is drywall. The Construction & Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA) is a 29-year-old organization that promotes C&D recycling, and represents the interests of those companies participating in recovering as much construction material as possible in a safe and economical manner. Over the years probably the most common question we have received from the construction industry and the general public is, “Where can I recycling my drywall?” They figure there is so much of it, there must be a market for it.
The truth is virgin gypsum is relatively inexpensive to mine, and for many years the only end markets for recovered drywall were agriculture and a little into the cement industry. Closed loop recycling into new drywall was pretty scarce. However, recently Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) awareness, plus pressure from some government agencies, have drywall manufacturers interested in finding ways to use recycled drywall back into new drywall. The CDRA recently founded its Gypsum Recycling Committee, which is working with stakeholders ranging from drywall manufacturers to construction contractors to processors of waste drywall to make this all happen.
We are seeing a similar situation in the asphalt shingle recycling sector. The CDRA has long had a Shingle Recycling Committee and will be holding the ninth Shingle Recycling Forum later this year. There is much interest in these efforts for a couple of reasons. First, the price of oil is going up, and the asphalt shingle contains recoverable bitumen. Second, EPR pressure has the shingle manufacturers wanting to close the loop as well, though some of them have been working on this for years. As an example, GAF recently announced a $100 million capital expansion program to prepare processed shingles for reintroduction into the new shingles. We expect other shingle manufacturers to make similar announcements in the coming months.
Like all waste facilities, C&D recycling facilities are heavily regulated at the state level. This is not necessarily a bad thing, we all want to avoid bad actors mishandling the material.
Other regulatory hurdles are rising for the industry to face. An example is Environmental Justice (EJ) and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria. While worthy goals, these concepts, which are part of the core goals of the Biden Administration, can be challenging for recycling facilities to meet.
For example, in general, while most everyone supports recycling, few want a recycling plant anywhere near their residence. Historically waste and recycling operations have been located in areas with lower real estate prices because they prefer more space to operate. These are generally in areas considered disadvantaged based on race, language, or high poverty rates. New Jersey has passed an EJ law that will give the local community more say in the operation of an industrial operation, including whether it should stay permitted. Other states are expected to follow. As no one wants these plants by them, what if they are forced to shut down, even though they have operated for years as a good neighbor, paying taxes and providing local jobs? Just as important, where is the material going to go if they are all shut down?
The CDRA is working to develop guidance for its members on how to proactively respond to EJ regulations and pressure. We want to be good neighbors and continue to provide the recycling’s environmental benefits.
Those benefits are part of the ESG discussion. Climate change is the other major cornerstone of the Biden Administration. Recently, the SEC announced expansive requirements for publicly held companies to provide data on the effect their operations have on the environment. Most the C&D industry is privately held, so it is not an impacted. However, Scope 3 of the SEC regs will require companies that either receive materials from, or supply materials to, publicly held companies to also provide environmental impact information to its business partners. This could be a tremendous paperwork burden on privately held companies, which mostly do not have the bandwidth to handle those requirements.
However, there is good news. Because of the tremendous environmental benefits C&D recyclers provide, we are a tremendous boost overall on affecting climate change.
The well-known Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, administered by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), has grown in influence over the years. Under its points program, the credits are the most commonly claimed. Why? Because there is a national infrastructure of recycling plants available, and it makes economic sense as recycling plants are often located closer to projects than landfills and many waste transfer stations.
To get the LEED points, the project had to recycle certain amounts. But unlike most of the LEED program, there was no certification program to make sure the recycling rates claimed were true. Over the years many of the points awarded were based on false recycling rate claims, and the practice was well known. Most contractors didn’t mind, they got the recycling rates their customers wanted and didn’t look too deep into the documents some waste haulers sent them.
The CDRA developed the Certification of Recycling Rates (CORR) program, now administered by the separate Recycling Certification Institute, that certifies the recycling rates reported by C&D facilities are true. USGBC has been slow to adopt this level of certification totally for the recycling credits because of pushback from those enjoying getting the recycling credits easily, so unfortunately the mendacity continues.
Looking to the Future
The future of C&D recycling looks solid because of reduced available landfill space, increased support for recycling, and developing end markets. The construction industry can help in seeing more recycling done by working with their local C&D facility on end markets and making sure the material is sent to a certified facility.
For more information about C&D recycling, contact the CDRA at email@example.com, or check out cdrecycling.org.
This material appears in the May 2022 issues of the ACP Magazines:
California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor, Western Builder