How do I dispose of my construction waste without bruising my environmental conscience?

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Construction

Reduce, reuse, recycle are the three "R's" of waste management, and this phrase has long been the battle cry for avid environmentalists. People generally use the term "recycling" as a blanket term for all of these acts, but recycling really means processing old materials and turning them into new products. Recycling is actually the least cost-effective method, so reducing and reusing are very important distinctions in the cycle.

Reducing waste during a construction project involves careful planning. Construction materials come in standard sizes, so if you design your project with these dimensions in mind, it can greatly cut down on excess that gets thrown away. Wood, drywall and cardboard make up around three-quarters of all job site waste, so these three items particularly should be considered.

Reusing waste may be the most important part of the cycle, because this is where you have the most opportunities to assuage your green conscience. Here are some of the materials that can be reused if they're harvested properly:

  • Wood floors and beams
  • Doors and windows
  • Appliances and fixtures
  • Tile and carpet
  • Roofing materials and aluminum siding
  • Bricks
  • Pipes

Brick and drywall scraps can be used as backfill, and shingles that are in good shape can be used for a new roof. Wood beams can be installed in another home, or used in the garden to build raised beds. And salvaged wood flooring is a highly sought after item for renovators who are rehabbing older homes and desire original details, especially since many sizes of old floorboards are no longer manufactured.

Recycling waste is the last of the three R's, because it is the least desirable for several reasons. If a recycling facility isn't located nearby the construction site, transportation costs make recycling too expensive. Also, the process of recycling itself can be costly, and not all materials can be recycled. But of course, recycling is preferable to using landfills. Drywall scraps can become textured wall sprays, acoustical coatings and agricultural products. Roof shingles can be recycled into asphalt pavement, and cardboard containers from material shipments can be recycled into boxes and other packaging materials. In our next section, we will talk about how to reduce, reuse and recycle in your own home improvement projects.