Is construction site recycling worth the effort?

Waste to Wealth

Builders need to do their homework before recycling, if they want to save the most money. Each recycling plan needs to be tailor-made for individual projects. In the long run, though, recycling is less expensive than just bulldozing the trash away. While construction companies will spend a bit more money and time up front to carefully separate waste, at the end of the day, they'll save on landfill fees, and will also get various tax credits from the federal government if they recycle.

In Massachusetts, for example, it costs about $136 per ton to dispose of concrete, brick and block in a landfill. However, it costs $21 per ton to recycle the same material. Recycling other construction debris, including drywall, metal and glass, is also cheaper than dumping the rubbish in a landfill. Savings can amount to tens of thousands of dollars for one construction project [source: Lennon].

Yet, builders don't have to recycle everything to save money. The best recycling programs take aim at high-volume materials that have the highest market value [source: North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources].

Economics aside, reducing waste from a construction project is perhaps the most important reason to recycle. Consider these statistics from the Deconstruction Institute that show the significance of recycling:

  • A 2,000-square-foot-house generates about 10,000 cubic feet (283.1685 cubic meters) of construction debris. If contractors stopped demolishing residential homes and instead reused wood, builders in the United States alone could recover enough lumber to construct 120,000 new affordable homes each year.
  • Recycling all of the steel and plastic in a single-family home reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 2,956 pounds (1,340.82 kilograms).
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 60 pounds (27.22 kilograms) for every ton of wood builders reuse [source: Deconstruction Institute].

For even more info on why recycling makes sense, click to the next page and read on.

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More Great Links


  • Construction Materials Recycling Association. (Dec., 2010).
  • Deconstruction Institute: "Benefit Calculator." (Dec., 2010).
  • Lennon, Mark. "Recycling Construction And Demolition Wastes: A Guide for Architects and Contractors." April 2005. (Dec., 2010).
  • McDonald, Martha. "A Million to One." Traditional Building. Aug., 2008. (Dec., 2010).
  • North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. "Best Practices For Construction Job-Site Recycling: The Recycling Plus Program." Nov., 1997. (Dec., 2010).
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Green Renovation Brings a Community Back to Life: The Lazarus Building." (Dec., 2010).
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Waste-Resource Conservation-Reduce, Reuse, Recycle-Construction & Demolition Materials." (Dec., 2010).

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