Demolition Material Recycling Efforts Reach New Heights
Many construction projects start with demolition of existing roadways, bridges and buildings. If you aren’t directly involved in this type of construction work, you may have been wondering where all this demolition material goes. And you may be quite surprised (and pleased) to learn that 70% of these materials do not enter our nation’s landfills. Today, construction and demolition material recycling is a thriving business.
Picture this, if you can: an area greater than 440 acres in size and 50 feet deep. That’s the landfill area spared each year by demolition material recycling.
More statistics reinforce the value of recycling
Dr. Timothy Townsend and his team of researchers at the University of Florida recently conducted a study of industry practices on behalf of the Construction & Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA). Here are some of the highlights from their findings, which noted both economic and environmental benefits to demolition material recycling:
- Construction and demolition (C&D) generate 480 tons of asphalt, gypsum drywall, concrete, asphalt shingles, metals and similar materials each year. That makes C&D the largest waste stream in the US. However, of that total, more than 325 million tons are recycled.
- Recycling facility owners have invested more than $4.5 billion in C&C recycling infrastructure.
- The construction and demolition industry directly supports 19,000 jobs around the country. That’s far more jobs than would be created by disposing of these materials in a landfill.
- The industry is responsible for $7.4 billion in direct annual revenue. Again, that’s more economic activity compared to landfilling. Researchers noted this figure jumps to $17 billion if you include indirect economic output as well.
In the executive summary of their report, Townsend’s team noted, “Avoidance of landfilling also provides for a greater degree of environmental protection, smarter use of natural resources, energy savings, and a net decrease in greenhouse emissions.”
Private studies provide data the government does not collect
The Construction & Demolition Recycling Association is a trade association with members in a variety of materials recycling disciplines, including governmental agencies as well as private companies in the US and internationally. The organization commissioned this study because the US government does not track in detail the amount of construction and demolition material landfilled or recycled each year.
The CDRA wanted to know the current status of industry practices. They also noted that better data would help their membership better predict future activity. Up till now, predictions have varied significantly because data is spotty and unreliable. Researchers gathered information from multiple sources, including surveying C&D industry companies.
Of the 480 million tons of C&D material generated each year:
- Mixed construction and demolition materials account for about 100 million tons
- Bulk aggregate, mostly concrete, represents 310 million tons
- Reclaimed asphalt pavement comprises 70 million tons
As noted above, researchers determined that 70% of this material is recycled for reuse. This figure is an average, with recycling rates varying depending on the category:
- 35% for mixed C&D
- 85% for bulk aggregate
- 99%+ for reclaimed asphalt pavement
And they said that energy savings and greenhouse emission reductions are equivalent to removing 4.7 million passenger cars from the nation’s roads for a full year. That’s about the same as saving more than 85 million barrels of oil.
So if you’re in the construction and demolition recycling business, take pride. And if you aren’t, take note. Tearing down the old to make way for the new creates jobs and benefits the environment.