Sustainable By Design: Construction Conservation

Successfully executing a recycling plan for construction materials requires careful planning.
Successfully executing a recycling plan for construction materials requires careful planning.

Sustainable By Design: Construction Conservation

Sustainable By Design: Construction Conservation

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the March 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

When involved in a construction, renovation, or demolition project, a facility manager usually has more than enough tasks to manage. So unless required by law in the specific locale, recycling construction and demolition (C&D) debris from the work site may be considered an extra chore that many do not incorporate into the project checklist. However, the volume of materials generated from even a moderately sized project can be substantial when considering the landfill space the waste will inhabit as well as the raw materials that have to be used to manufacture new construction materials.

In addition, those who are pursuing LEED certification for a project can earn credits for diverting this waste from landfills. These “Construction Waste Management” credits are listed under the “Materials and Resources” category of LEED. These credits require diverting 50% or 75% of materials from landfills in order to earn one point (per each percentage achieved).

Whatever the reason for considering C&D recycling, planning at the outset of the project is crucial. Debris headed for recycling can either be separated by category on-site, or mixed debris can be sent to a recycling facility for separation.

There are pros and cons to each approach. In general, if separating on-site, recycling costs will be lower. However, there will be multiple containers on the job site and workers must be trained to separate properly. Sending mixed debris to a recycler will help to simplify the process and reduce training on the job site, but costs will be higher due to the work the recycler must do to process the materials. These are factors the project team must consider, taking into account available resources.

The Institution Recycling Network (IRN), a cooperative recycling services network located in Concord, NH, recently published a guide to effective recycling plans for C&D materials. In addition to clear communication between all parties, the guide highlights the importance of specifying appropriate performance goals and guarantees for recycling. These goals should be made explicit in requests for proposals and other contract documents, advises the guide, along with reporting and record keeping requirements for performance.

The IRN guide also advises that for demolition and renovation projects, the project team should conduct an on-site audit with the recycler prior to beginning. This will provide an opportunity to identify any potential conflicts between the goals of the parties involved.

When the project team for Kimball International’s recent showroom renovation in Jasper, IN, began planning, C&D recycling quickly became an important issue. The team was aiming to achieve gold level LEED-CI (commercial interiors) certification for the 35,500 square foot furniture showroom. There would be a significant amount of materials gleaned from the project. “The project was a renovation, technically,” says Chris Whann, corporate facilities manager at Kimball. “But it was a total renovation, as the entire existing internal space was demolished and removed and a new space designed and constructed.”

The project successfully earned the LEED-CI gold certification, garnering two points for “Construction Waste Management” under the “Materials & Resources” category, and an additional “Innovation” point for diverting 96.5% of construction waste from landfills, thus “greatly exceeding the percentage thresholds set forth.” Nearly all the waste from the site was sent to recycling facilities, reused in the new facility, or donated to local organizations.

TVS Interiors, with offices in Atlanta and Chicago, was the interior design firm on the project and initially suggested Kimball pursue LEED-CI. Upon this suggestion, the project team focused on aggressively recycling the C&D debris.

Contributing to this motivation was the fact that Kimball had a corporate recycling center in place. “With this expertise in-house, and the center located only a half a block away from the site, we felt this was a credit we were fully capable of meeting and exceeding in the LEED-CI criteria,” says Ron Rothgerber, CHMM, corporate recycling center manager/corporate environmental engineer at Kimball.

The team brought in all parties to the project from the very start. Members of the corporate recycling center and the construction crew supervisors and managers met before construction to discuss procedures for collecting and sorting materials. “We also discussed what materials would lend themselves to recycling and which ones were not feasible to recycle at this time,” says Rothgerber. “Once the project started, the corporate recycling center provided collection containers. During the first few weeks, members from the center went to the site every morning to answer any questions the contractors had.”

An example of the innovative efforts was the reuse of fiberglass insulation. “Since fiberglass is very difficult to recycle, this would have been a large volume of waste material generated from the project,” says Whann. “By working closely with the contractors, the Corporate Facilities Group was able to find areas in the new construction to use a majority of this material. Also, prior to demolition, Kris Heeke, the Office Furniture Group’s project leader for the renovation, found several groups that wanted materials. Several hundred light fixtures were donated to a local museum; furniture and fixtures were given to the area hospital and a new church community center; and carpeting, ceiling tiles, and lights were donated to a local volunteer fire department.”

Once the decision is made to pursue recycling, up front planning and consistent follow through are key to tracking progress. Facility managers who know the issues will play a significant part in success.

Information for this article was provided through an interview with Rothgerber and Whann. To download a copy of the “Recycling Construction And Demolition Wastes” guide available through IRN, visit For national information, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at

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