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How to Effectively Manage Construction Waste

How to Effectively Manage Construction Waste

Exterior renovationsHow to Effectively Manage Construction Waste

Since cities and suburbs are ever-developing, interior design and building trends rapidly evolving, and outdated buildings are brought up to code, it’s no wonder the construction, renovation, and demolition industry is booming. Although the desire for something new and beautiful is not likely to wane, it's becoming increasingly important, logical even, to reduce the waste generated by this industry. This includes recycling, processing, and repurposing materials.

In keeping with environmental awareness and social responsibility, the following is intended to highlight the key ways in which you can improve worksite waste sorting and disposal.

Why the need to manage construction waste?

Regardless of the job site, it'll generate a diverse and varying amount of waste. Mostly, it'll be new material scraps (on construction worksites) or bits of mixed materials (on renovation and demolition worksites). On top of that, the presence of common waste such as packaging, dust, and trash from those working on the site (tissues, food, damaged equipment, etc.) will be found.

The sheer volume and variety of waste materials will pose some challenges:

  • Available storage space to sort materials at the source;

  • Local resources, such as ecocentres or haulers;

  • Worker training/awareness;

  • Responsibility (Who's responsible for proper waste management depending on the type of waste – Is it the municipality, contractor, engineer, or owner?)

Since the planet's future is at stake and guidelines have been established by several government departments, and since recycling generates employment, it's worth considering how you can take care of your residual waste materials!

Quick Facts:

 » A landfill site that receives one ton of waste, as a result, releases one and a half tons of greenhouse gases. For example, renovating a triplex can generate up to 55 tons of waste (cement, bricks, wood, gypsum, paper, etc.). For this reason alone, better construction waste management is key to preventing all that waste from ending up in landfills.

 » Burying seemingly harmless materials such as lumber also contributes to climate change. When buried, the lack of oxygen promotes methane gas emissions, a result of organic matter decomposition.

 » Plaster, along with toxic residues such as glues, paints, etc., create noxious fumes that contaminate the water table.

 » A typical renovation job site can generate up to 78 tons of GHG, while a similar green job site can manage to emit only 35 tons.

Building demolition necessitates that we effectively manage construction waste

Source: coia.nac - Flickr - Title: waste - Changes: adjusted image size

Construction Waste Management: Options

Whether you outsource your waste management to a recycling centre or sort the waste yourself, it's essential to accurately identify the materials used or removed during the span of your project. Likewise, it's worthwhile to list your options.

Several sustainable worksite management methods are available:

  • Sustainable design

  • Green materials

  • Sustainable building design

  • Selective deconstruction

  • Converting existing buildings

  • Advanced woodworking technique

  • LEED program

  • Routing construction, renovation, and demolition waste to the appropriate facilities

Selective deconstruction

This technique consists of carefully stripping, layer by layer, the components of a structure to salvage and repurpose the maximum amount of material for another construction project or to repair certain elements of an existing structure.

Advanced woodworking technique

Here, engineers and architects, using cutting-edge techniques and advanced calculations, work together to reduce lumber use for structural frameworks and design buildings that generate as little waste and junk as possible.

LEED®

This program, known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®), offers a range of evaluation systems and certifications for environmentally responsible projects. Numerous contractors rely on these measures and guidelines to manage their projects or develop new approaches for their clients.

Ecocentres

In Quebec, about 260 centres are attempting to effectively manage residential waste of all kinds. You've probably heard of them through recycling ads where you’re encouraged to drop off old appliances and electronics.

Naturally, several ecocentres also have a place to drop off wood, aggregates, gypsum, shingles, batteries, dead leaves, peat, plumbing, and hazardous waste such as sealants or propane tanks, etc. Once the waste is sorted, it's then sent to various recycling or transformation sites.  

Recyclable Construction Materials

Wood frame related to managing construction waste

Source: marcel.toruno - Flickr - Title: DSC04251 - Changes: adjusted image size 

Here are two of the most common concrete examples:

Wood

More than 60% of the wood collected from sorting centres will be repurposed into energy, and more than 35% will be used to manufacture new materials: melamine panels, pellet fuel, mulch, soundproofing panels, plywood, and much more.

Gypsum 

Since this material can easily be broken down and eventually turns into fine powdery particles, it’s often used as a covering material in engineered landfills, as agricultural soil fertilizer, as an ingredient in cement, and even as a component in the manufacturing of drywall. However, for all these transformations, gypsum must be separated from other materials on worksites.

Waste Container Rentals

Some companies offer a one-stop shop-type of service that includes delivering the waste container to your door, transporting it back to the sorting center, and issuing a certificate showing the percentage of recycled materials in the dumpster. 

Containers ranging from 10 to 35 metres are rented depending on what will be discarded. Rest assured, depending on what you’re disposing of, you’ll be advised accordingly; whether it be heavy materials like concrete and dirt, or just a few pieces of wood and carpet.

WM is one of the companies that offer such services in Canada.  

Temporary waste container to manage construction waste

Source: Bill Smith - Flickr - Title: Dumpster Number Nine - Changes: adjusted image size 

And, as it goes, nothing’s perfect: 

  • Some remote areas are underserved.

  • Lack of available workforce and the high cost of processing often prevent some materials such as vinyl, insulation, porcelain, and many others from being repurposed.

  • The lack of knowledge regarding the origin of the materials creates ambiguity about quality standard compliance and the type of emissions generated during the transformation process, which altogether hinders recycling.

  • Poorly sorted materials on worksites can be impossible to salvage because materials may have been compromised with incompatible residues. 

If correctly managed, there’s nothing to worry about – however, it's virtually impossible for all construction waste to be recycled, reclaimed, repurposed, or sold. For example, a mouldy carpet will inevitably end up in the landfill despite your best efforts!

Lastly, before dumping everything into a recycling bin, consider the potential appeal of your used supplies and materials. Many DIYers, artists, and antique dealers look for items such as wrought iron railings, mouldings from earlier decades, intricately carved wooden doors, and so on. Likewise, when it comes to smaller projects, one person's trash is another person’s treasure. In this case, websites such as Kijiji, Marketplace, Craigslist, etc. can be useful. Who knows, perhaps you'll also discover a passion for restoration!

Cover image: MPCA Photos - Flickr

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Last modified 2023-11-07

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