Construction and demolition (C&D) debris recycling is a growing market, but one that is highly dependent on a variety of local factors. Because C&D debris is a bulky, high-volume stream, it is often targeted by municipalities and states looking to reduce landfill tonnage and increase recycling rates. However, the availability of nearby market outlets for individual C&D commodities, the relative cost of landfill tipping fees versus the cost to recycle the material, and the proximity of recovery plants versus landfills all play a role in determining how much C&D debris is recovered in a given region.
Crushed concrete and reclaimed asphalt have established themselves as the most frequently recycled debris types, followed by certain types of scrap wood. Programs to recover scrap shingles and gypsum are increasing but still in their early stages. Other commodities that may be recovered through C&D programs include old corrugated cardboard (OCC) and plastics, although markets for these materials are suffering at present.
Significant amounts of C&D debris that are technically recyclable may be landfilled sometimes due to regional market conditions. “When disposal fees are high, processors can afford to have more manual sorters and more equipment, but when disposal fees are depressed, processors tend to go after the bigger, easier things that give the most bang for the buck,” says Bob Brickner, senior vice president of consulting firm Gershman, Brickner & Bratton Inc., Fairfax, Va. “At those times, smaller volume materials may not be economical to recycle.”
Wood waste is one of the largest segments of C&D debris, but markets are stronger for some types of wood than others. Pallets and crates, construction scrap and tree service waste are generally easier to recycle than wood reclaimed from demolition.
Davin Industries, Elk Grove Village, Ill., recycles mainly crates and pallets, according to Dan Kallaf, president. “The amount of materials coming in is growing every week, and we’ve been able to market everything we get,” he says.
The wood is ground and used for playgrounds, bedding, and other products, depending on the season. End users like the product as long as the price is right and it performs well, says Kallaf. He is optimistic about the future. “I believe the market will stay stable and even grow in 1999,” he says.
Markets for end products from recovered wood depend largely on a company’s own efforts, says Paul Horst, president of C.E.S. Waste Reduction Services, Crown Point, Ind. C.E.S. processes forestry waste and tree service waste into a commercial mulch product. “Demand is strong if your marketing efforts are good,” says Horst.
Regional factors also play a part. In some areas where there is a lot of virgin wood available and the population is not very dense, markets for recovered wood products are soft. “On the other hand, Chicago is great,” he says.
Winzinger Recycling Systems, Hainsport, N.J., also processes wood such as tree stumps and branches into mulch. “We take very little demolition wood because it is hard to get rid of,” says Audrey Winzinger. “We put a high tip fee on it, and if we get any we use it to cut the natural mulch for certain applications, such as outer ring parking lots at a mall. It’s not for home use. And we don’t take anything chemically treated or painted.”
Clean construction scrap, on the other hand, is increasingly being recycled around the U.S. The city of Portland, Ore., for example, passed an ordinance in 1996 requiring that construction debris be recycled for any job over $50,000, according to Brice Jacobson at Metro Portland. As a result, a great deal of wood has been recovered.
“In the single family, new construction sector, wood is our success story, with a 60% recycling rate,” says Jacobson. “Wood is the majority of the mass that would normally go to a dumpster. Of that amount, 90 to 95% is being burned as industrial fuel in place of sawdust, oil and tires.”
But the wood chip market has experienced some volatility. In California, this market underwent a dramatic shift around 1995, according to Kelly Ingalls, senior management analyst for the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation’s Citywide Recycling Division. “The wood market took a dive at that time because they were no longer able to sell wood chips for biomass. This was due to changes in electric energy facilities that were not getting state subsidies to accept materials anymore.”
The city is actively working to increase markets for wood waste, Ingalls adds. “We have continued to distribute a wood recycling guide to C&D contractors so they are aware of the facilities where it can go,” he says. “And the city has a requirement to buy compost and soil amendments containing recycled wood.”
“Wood is definitely a mixed bag,” says Brickner. Just as in California, there were facilities in New England that were paying high prices for electricity when capacity was short. Now they have more capacity and there is a reduced demand for burning wood chips, resulting in a glut in that market. “Processors that generate a high quality wood chip product will keep the market niche,” says Brickner. “Those making a marginal product will not be able to move it as consistently.”
Markets for reclaimed asphalt in the western U.S. are healthy and likely to stay strong, according to Chuck Valentine, president of Valentine Surfacing, Portland, Ore., and president of the Asphalt Recycling and Reclaiming Association. His company operates in nine western states.
“The amount of asphalt recycling and reclaiming in the West continues to grow by leaps and bounds,” says Valentine. “The market out here is in very good shape. The feeling is that the new highway bill will drive a lot of work. Also, the overall condition of the roads in some of the states we work in is deteriorating. To do the needed work, they need to increase the funding level, and they plan to do that through a gas tax. Those two things are working in favor of recycling and rehabilitation.”
The “new highway bill” is TEA-21, the federal transportation legislation which authorizes funds to be used in building and rehabilitating roadways throughout the U.S. over the next six years. The previous legislation that served this function was the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). “TEA-21 has record funding levels and an emphasis on maintaining the interstate system, which is good for recycling and rehabilitation,” says Valentine.
The specific recycling requirements from ISTEA have been removed, he adds. “In the last bill there was some language requiring the use of recycled rubber in hot mix, and they deleted it from this bill,” he says.
There are a lot of areas in the country in which asphalt and construction products can’t be landfilled, or if the landfill accepts the material, the tipping fees are very high, says Valentine. “The days of just tearing up a road and hauling chunks of asphalt to the landfill are over,” he says. “This has helped the recycling and reclaiming business. It forces generators to find ways to use these products and become more efficient.”
Valentine does not run into a lot of road building specs that limit recycling, he says. However, each state has its own regulations regarding how much RAP (reclaimed asphalt pavement) can be used in hot mix. “Every state has its own opinion, from 5% to 50% recycled,” he says.
Markets for asphalt reclaiming are likely to be strong for the remainder of 1999, says Valentine. “Led by state DOTs, the amount of work is going to increase. And people are starting to realize that there are ways to fix our roads in a cost effective, productive manner, so this industry will continue to expand in scope and size.”
On the East Coast, markets for crushed concrete are strong, says Winzinger. “This is a good time to be in the C&D market,” she says. “We’re in a good area for it, since there aren’t a lot of quarries. And we are also road builders, so we have a constant customer in our other divisions.”
Business is also good on the West Coast, according to Dan Kopp, president of Kopp Crushing, Anaheim, Calif., partly due to the dry winter that has allowed construction to continue unabated. His company crushes concrete and asphalt together to create an aggregate material used for road base.
“The market is steady,” says Kopp. “It’s all dependent on construction. We’re now in a good economy, so the recycling market is also good. Recycling follows the market trend.”
However, it is hard to predict how the market will fare in 2000. “No one is forecasting into next year,” he says. “We’re not sure how TEA-21 is going to affect the market. It will put funds into the infrastructure, but we’re not sure how fast it will move in and affect the industry. It will probably influence the stability of the market.”
There is still a lot of C&D debris being landfilled in his area, says Kopp, due to the low cost of disposal. “County and private landfills charge around $20 to $40 a ton for most material, and $75 a ton for material that is hard to handle.”
But there is a strong market for the crushed concrete and asphalt that Kopp Crushing produces, says Kopp. “This material has gained status to be equal to rock supplies from quarries,” he says. “Road builders have a lot of access to virgin material locally, but we’ve been producing this material since 1970, and it has been accepted here more than in other communities because it is such a mainstay.”
Most concrete contains some kind of reinforcement such as rebar or fiber mesh, and this material will continue to be recycled despite the current low price of scrap iron and steel, says Kopp.
“That material has never been a revenue generator,” he explains. “It’s not very good scrap iron; it always contains chunks of concrete and has always garnered the lowest price possible. We’ll sort it as usual, but the scrap yards are paying much less per ton. If I send a five-ton load, they may deduct a ton and a half for concrete, and I can’t argue with that.”
Although the market for recycled aggregate is better than it has been in years, it is not a runaway market, Kopp cautions. “You can still buy base for $3 a ton, or $5 a ton,” he says. “It’s really supply and demand. If the supply of virgin aggregate is great, it’s hard for recycled material to compete.”
GYPSUM RECYCLING INCREASES
Numerous C&D debris recycling programs across the country are beginning to target gypsum wallboard for recycling. “Drywall recycling has a place in any comprehensive C&D segregating and recycling plant,” says Ben Gordon, president of Construction Debris Recycling Inc. (CDR), Colony, N.Y.
As with other C&D commodities, transportation costs are key in gypsum recycling, he adds. “If someone is paying good money to bring gypsum from mines far away to add to a manufacturing process, and you have a plant nearby recycling it, they might as well take yours.”
The market outlook for good quality recycled gypsum is positive, says Gordon. “In most areas there’s someone using gypsum within a reasonable drive, so those in the business can find markets for it,” he says. “The question is how much they can charge for it. If you’re in a high cost disposal market as we are, you can get paid a fair amount. If you’re in a low cost disposal market, you have to be brutally efficient and have a consumer nearby.”
There are a variety of markets for recycled gypsum, says Gordon, including soil amendments and composting products, among others. “There are a lot of things you can blend gypsum with to increase its desirable characteristics, like topsoil, compost, wood chips, manure and sand,” he says. “Gypsum is also a fantastic oil spill absorbent. We expect some of our material will be going to that market as we develop it.”
Most recycled drywall comes from new construction, he explains. “About 17% of the drywall that is purchased for constructing a new building is discarded due to holes made for doors and windows, so it’s a major constituent of new construction waste,” he says. “That’s the stuff we like to recycle because the paper is clean – we separate paper and gypsum, which is rare in the industry. This allows us to market the paper as an animal bedding product. Because the paper is coated with small amounts of gypsum, it’s excellent for this use.”
The company is not currently processing post-consumer drywall, but plans to in the future. “It has to be handled separately from unpainted gypsum because the chance of paint in gypsum negates its use as soil amendment,” says Gordon. “The best thing to use it for is something where trace toxic residues wouldn’t matter. We have an industrial company that has a manufacturing process in which that is the case. They are quite willing to take any gypsum we generate from that sector.”
In addition, there are some new gypsum wallboard plants locating near power utilities that have installed flue gas desulfurization systems, according to Brickner. The wallboard plants can use the utilities’ sulfur waste product in their manufacturing activities.
Ideally, these new plants would also be set up to accept some percentage of recycled gypsum wallboard from C&D sources, says Brickner. But he points out that historically, wallboard plants had stockpiles of flawed materials that they were unwilling to incorporate back into their manufacturing process because it was cheaper to use virgin feedstock. “The older plants have mountains of their own materials, so they have had little incentive to take in more from the C&D stream,” he says. “But the new plants can use maybe 15 to 20% recovered wallboard, and they are starting to mine their own piles.”
The number of facilities that accept and sort commingled C&D debris is increasing. One such facility, Central Recycling, Des Moines, Iowa, handles a variety of C&D materials, including metals, wood chips, corrugated cardboard, plastic, shingles, sheetrock, dirt, tires, brush, and yard waste from a variety of sources such as contractors and builders.
“We also do carpet and carpet pad, and plan to expand this aspect of our operation,” says Jim Blazek, marketing coordinator. “We separate materials, and grind wood and shingles. Shingles have the potential for asbestos, so we do a lab analysis of each shingle type to assure it contains no asbestos, and then grind it. It is used for road aggregates.”
Markets for components of C&D debris vary, says Blazek. The company is currently not recovering OCC because the markets are so poor. Plastics from the C&D stream can also be difficult to market, he adds, as they can be contaminated and the volume is low, adding to handling costs.
“We are generating just over a ton a month of plastics, which is primarily buckets and #2 plastic pipe,” says Blazek. “There’s a cost to pulling it out and grinding it. But we do have a local plastic marketer who is willing to take our small volume and blend it with his.”
On the other hand, the market is strong for asphalt shingles, he says. The company grinds about 1,000 tons a month in the warmer seasons, and somewhat less during the winter.
Much of the material the company accepts is commingled, but drywall and wood waste such as pallets tend to be source-separated, says Blazek. The company sends scrap drywall to a gypsum mill to be made into new drywall. Wood debris is run though a grinder and screened, and then sold as nursery mulch, refuse derived fuel, or animal bedding.
“We are fortunate to be the only C&D processor in a community of 336,000, aside from the landfill itself,” says Blazek. “We share common goals with the Metro Waste Authority and work with them. Although they have a C&D fill area in their landfill, they actually promote our facility because of the waste reduction we provide. Also, we’re located inside the city limits of metropolitan Des Moines, and the landfill is in a rural area, so for transportation purposes we are more convenient to the generator.”
Blazek feels that C&D markets will continue to improve throughout the remainder of 1999. “C&D recycling is growing around the country,” he says. “Communities will have to recover it to meet their reduction goals.”
There are more than 145 companies in Los Angeles processing C&D materials, including concrete, asphalt, wood, scrap metal, mixed debris, gypsum drywall, asphalt roofing shingles, yard trimmings and organic material, says Ingalls. All of these companies have markets for their materials.
“There have to be good markets,” says Ingalls. “Otherwise, the materials are not going to get processed. The city is unique in that we have so many processors.”
Contractors routinely recycle C&D debris because there are so many facilities in the L.A. area that recycle C&D at the same cost or cheaper than disposal. “This has become a standard approach in L.A.,” he says. “If there is a lot of concrete on a particular job, the contractor grinds it and uses it on site, which saves them on transportation costs and prevents them from having to buy new materials.”
A lot of the C&D recycling in L.A. is happening because of market forces, says Ingalls. “Contractors realize if they recycle road base, they save money over buying new aggregates,” he says. “Recycled road base costs less than $4 a ton, and virgin aggregate is selling upwards of $7.50 a ton. This is combined with high landfill prices of up to $33.80 a ton. If they can beat that, it is an incentive for recycling businesses to come into place.”
As for gypsum, he adds, there is a demand for it and a use for it, so recycling makes sense. “A lot of the recycling infrastructure in L.A., including concrete, metal, and wood, happened for business reasons,” he says. “As far as C&D goes, the business community was already moving on its own in the market economy before the government told them to do it. Contractors and operators seem to be the ones that pulled the levers on this.”
One of the goals of the newly-formed Construction Materials Recycling Association of Southern California, of which Ingalls is the regional director, is to bolster markets for C&D end products. “Markets for wood, miscellaneous construction debris, mixed loads, and salvage and architectural salvage are areas of concern for our group,” says Ingalls. “We want to increase the recovery of these items.”
There will eventually be a point at which 100 percent of C&D debris can be recycled in a closed-loop system, according to Gordon. “I can’t think of any components that don’t have a meaningful recycling solution under development,” he says. “But recipes for making safe, durable, usable, attractively priced products take a lot of tinkering. It’s going to take some work, and we need economies of scale. Being on the ground floor is exciting.”
The author is former editor of Recycling Today.
There are some new technologies for processing wood waste from the C&D stream, according to Jim McElvenny, president of Strategic Technologies, Boston. He is currently investigating a process to remove lead-based paint from wood. “It’s a portable system that will reclaim lead paint from wood and solidify it for resale in the after-market for scrap lead,” says McElvenny. “It will also allow the wood to be used for an activated carbon material, not just as wood chips. Activated carbon is used for air filtration and water filtration. Landfills use it, as well, to clean up effluent.”
Another technology McElvenny is looking into is an enzymatic process that would inoculate waste wood with an enzyme that attacks the lignin and renders the cellulose intact so that the chips can be sold to pulp and paper plants. “This would result in a 30 percent energy savings in the conversion of chips to pulp,” he says. “It might be helpful in areas where energy costs are high.”
Strategic Technologies assists in commercializing and licensing promising new technologies. “Often, ironically, when markets are poor, it is the perfect time for someone to come in with technology that would redirect the market into new channels,” says McElvenny.