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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Construction and Demolition Debris

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Case Studies

The following case studies and articles highlight successful C&D debris management projects implemented in Region 9. Additional case studies and fact sheets are available on the national C&D Debris Web site in the Publications area.

Turning C&D waste minimization policies into practice

(Source: Smart Investments for City and County Managers: Energy, Environment, and Community Development; EPA 231-R-98-004)

Los Angeles, California has developed ambitious waste minimization practices to comply with a state law (Assembly Bill 939) which requires towns and cities to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills by 50 percent by the year 2000. Since C&D waste comprises 15 percent of the city's solid waste stream:
  • The Bureau of Street Maintenance recycles old paving materials into crushed road base and new asphalt. This program has saved the city $14 million in its first nine years.
  • The Los Angeles Earthquake Demolition Recycling Program diverted approximately 1.6 million tons of debris from landfills following the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
  • CalRecycle (California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery)  Exiting EPA (disclaimer) has provided technical assistance and a series of guides on C&D waste recycling and reuse for specific types of C&D waste in the Los Angeles area.

Public building deconstruction and reuse in the San Francisco Bay Area

The following case studies are available online:

Recycling success story -- Looney Bins, Inc.

(Source: California Integrated Waste Management Board, Recycling Market Development Zone Program, August 2004)

Founded in 1986, Looney Bins, Inc. is an award-winning, progressive, and rapidly growing C&D debris waste hauling and recycling company with locations in Los Angeles, California. Looney Bins found a market niche by contracting with local Hollywood movie studios to deconstruct movie lots containing wood, cardboard, metal, plastic, and other salvageable items. Looney Bins then sells and/or donates the recovered materials.

Some of the uses promoted by Looney Bins have included providing wood to a company that makes reconstituted pallets; reusing Warner Bros. Studios' telephone poles for the Special Olympics; shipping reclaimed nails, screws, and other building materials to hospitals overseas; and helping a Southern California nursery reuse wood scrap for planter boxes. In 1999, the California Integrated Waste Management Board's Recycling Market Development Zone (RMDZ) Program made its first loan to Looney Bins for the purchase of a wood grinder, ancillary equipment, and working capital. This enabled the company to expand into grinding wood and drywall into mulch.

By 2003, the company had grown considerably and it received another RMDZ loan. Its new site, Downtown Diversion, is capable of processing all types of C&D debris, including asphalt, brick, wood, drywall, cardboard, concrete, carpet, scrap metal, roofing shingles, and other similar materials. Eighty percent of what is brought in will be diverted from landfill disposal. Material diversion is expected to reach 50,000 tons of C&D annually.

Firms see cash in others' construction trash

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(Source: Sharon Simonson, Silicon Valley Business Times, Exclusive Reports, August 20, 2004 print edition)

At Oak Elementary in Los Altos, the local school district is spending $6 million to rebuild and expand a 20,000-square-foot campus -- a relatively small job in the world of construction. Despite its paltry size, however, the Oak Elementary re-fit will produce a lot of one thing: trash -- hundreds and hundreds of tons of wood, metals, cardboard, concrete and asphalt.

But 60 percent to 65 percent of it won't be deposited in local landfills. Instead, it will be recycled.

"Landfilling is so expensive now. The cost is astronomical," says Thomas Hill, program manager for Santa Clara's Blach Construction, the district's construction manager. "It's just cheaper to get the stuff recycled."

In today's Silicon Valley, the Oak Elementary project is far from unusual. For a lot of reasons -- some market-driven and some not -- recycling construction materials and demolition debris is making greater and greater financial and economic sense, not only for the construction industry but for recycling companies.

This year, in San Jose alone, building and demolition contractors will send 200,000 tons of mixed construction and demolition (C&D) debris to be recycled, according to city estimates. That sum does not include the millions of tons of concrete, asphalt, wood and other products that are segregated and then recycled. Nor does it count the bathtubs, kitchen sinks, stoves and refrigerators salvaged and sold in the secondary market.

Alviso's Zanker Road Landfill and Materials Processing Facility, which bills itself as the nation's largest C&D recycler, says it has recycled 405,240 tons of material in the last 12 months.

The company is making money, says Michael Gross, Zanker's marketing manager, though he declines to say how much.

He also won't say how much of the company's revenue comes from the recycled concrete, wood chips and sundry other items the company sells to road makers, Gilroy farmers, electricity companies and others, and how much comes from charges to those dropping off their loads.

He does brag, "It takes us 25 minutes to recycle a mobile home, and if your brought us your (typical Santa Clara County) home, excluding the foundation, I could recycle it in about 45 minutes, and recycle 95 percent of it."

The city of San Bruno required demolition contractor Stomper Co. of Newark to recycle 65 percent of the materials that will come out of the Tanforan Mall as it reduces the structure to its steel bones, removing roofing, flooring and even escalators, says Rick Tingstrom, Stomper's sales and marketing director. Stomper, a $10 million company with 100 employees, can do little to lower labor and equipment costs, Mr. Tingstrom says, so cutting the cost to transport and dispose of debris is paramount if it wants to improve margins. Recycling is one way to do that.

Sutter Health hopes to save money by recycling much of the old Emporium building in Mountain View at Highway 85 when it pulls the massive brick structure down to make way for a new $100 million medical office building.

"Virtually all of the materials that come out of that building we or the demolition contractor will do our utmost to sell or reuse," says John Holm, Sutter's project manager on the redevelopment.

Driving the C&D recycling push in the Bay Area is a 1989 California law that required all cities to recycle 50 percent of all their waste -- household as well as C&D and industrial -- by 2000. In 2002, the most recent year available, San Jose diverted 62 percent of its trash to recyclers, down from 64 percent in 2000, according to state estimates. In comparison, Oakland was at 50 percent in 2002, also down from 52 percent in 2000. Palo Alto was at 55 percent in 2002; Fremont was at 63 percent.

Nationally, 31 percent of municipal solid waste, better known as household garbage, is recycled, but there are no statistics on how much C&D waste is, says Adrienne Priselac, an environmental protection specialist in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's San Francisco office.

The city of San Jose estimated in 1998 that 31 percent of the trash going into its landfills was from construction sites and demolished buildings, making the waste stream an obvious target for recycling efforts, says Stephen Bantillo, the city's commercial solid waste programs manager.

The city passed an ordinance in 1992 that rewarded companies for recycling by assessing no city disposal tax when materials are recycled; the city charges $13 a ton when trash goes to the landfill.

Then, starting July 1, 2001, the city initiated a construction deposit program that required anyone pulling a building permit to put down a deposit based on the project's size. The deposits, which can reach as high as $50,000, are refunded if waste from the construction or renovation is recycled.

The EPA's Ms. Priselac says she believes the San Jose deposit program is among the most progressive in the country.

But it's not only government regulation that is pushing demolition contractors and building companies to recycle, particularly here in the Bay Area but also nationwide. From a recycler's perspective, C&D materials have an inherent advantage over household garbage in that there are no coffee grinds, banana peels and baby diapers to deal with, she says. "People are increasingly asking if there are opportunities
there because it's already segregated from household trash, and it should be easier to recapture and reuse it." In addition, the state and region benefit from proximity to potential buyers. "In California, we are pretty close to strong markets for recycled goods locally and even overseas, predominantly in Asia," Ms. Priselac says.

William Turley, executive director of the Construction Materials Recycling Association in Lisle, Illinois, says that recyclers enjoy profit margins as high as 12 percent, though those margins vary widely among operators and across years. The association, established in 1996, in some ways reflects the industry's newness. Mr. Turley says he knows of no national data that shows either the number of C&D recyclers or the market's size.

The country's coasts, especially the Bay Area and New England, have the most evolved business infrastructures, he says, which is not surprising given that both are land- and landfill constrained. In comparison, Chicago has almost nothing, he says.

Rocky Hill, owner of Premier Recycle of San Jose, a $5 million company that processed 45,000 tons of C&D material last year, says he's still astounded at how much valuable stuff he's able to glean from the trash that comes his way.

"It's absolutely amazing," he says. "I still can't believe how much recyclable material leaves (construction and demolition) job sites as waste, and there is still so much more than could be recycled."

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Still, he concedes, without government intervention, none of what's happening would be.

For information on specific state regulations for C&D debris, see Region 9 State Links.

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