Reducing Construction Site Waste

A major key to reducing construction site waste, especially controlling costs, is planning.

Construction professionals should be quite familiar with the value of planning; after all, it would be immensely difficult to successfully complete any project without doing so, and managing waste is no different.

During the pre-construction phase, project owners, architects, engineers, and construction managers can follow some of the following guidelines to better managing and reducing construction site waste.

• Specify waste reduction goals, targets, and documentation procedures within contracting documents.
• Identify materials that can be recycled or reused, and how those materials can be transported for such purposes.
• The following are all common materials found on construction sites that can be recycled:
• Metal (Both ferrous and non-ferrous)
• Cardboard
• Paper
• Plastics
• Wood (Be careful that it is not painted or stained!)
• Concrete
• Gravel and other aggregates
• Drywall
• Asphalt roofing
• Window glass
• Carpeting

Just because something doesn’t appear on this list doesn’t mean it can’t be recycled or diverted from a landfill in some other way.

• Design building dimensions to correspond with standard material sizes, especially lumber.  This will reduce material wasted and wood accounts for nearly a third of all construction waste.
• Order materials to optimally fit your needs; try avoiding having excess materials delivered to the project site. Doing this can really save your pocketbook.
• Work with suppliers towards reducing unnecessary packaging on materials, or even better, ask if they can provide reusable/returnable packaging.
• You can also work with suppliers to buyback any unused supplies.
• Develop methods for storing materials that will reduce their susceptibility to damage.
• Estimate how much waste a project is likely to produce and what it will cost to remove that waste in a variety of ways, such as traditional garbage collection, recycling, salvage and reuse, etc.


Trash containers at a construction site used for reducing construction site waste

Reducing Construction Site Waste on the Job

Once on the job site there are numerous things that workers and managers can do to for controlling and reducing construction site waste.

• Sort waste as it is created into things that can be recycled, things to be reused, and things to be thrown away.
• Recycled items can be co-mingled together or separated into different types, such as wood, cardboard, metal, classified plastics, concrete, etc.  It’s obviously more environmentally friendly to recycle specific materials separately rather than all materials together, but it can also be more cost effective to do so. This reduces contamination of the materials, which lessons their value, and eliminates the recyclers sorting cost.
• During demolition or remodeling projects attempt to salvage materials, especially doors and windows since they are not recyclable, to be used during construction.  If an item can’t be used on your current project, it can be saved for future use, sold to someone that can use it, or even donated.  Organizations that build for the disadvantaged greatly appreciate supplies and donations can be tax deductible!
• Don’t throw away materials at the end of a project just because there isn’t enough left to complete another project.
• Instead of throwing wood and metal scraps away, keep them at cutting and fabricating locations to be used as test pieces.
• Chip branches and trees that are cleared from a project and use as landscaping mulch.
• Excess insulation can be used within interior wall cavities or above attics, if not used on another job, rather than being discarded.
• Limit the use of adhesives, finishes, laminates, and other protective coatings because they limit the reusability and recyclability of materials at the end of their useful lives.  Unfortunately super glue doesn’t salvage very well.
• Avoid using temporary support systems when possible since they usually are discarded as waste at the end of a project.

Planning ahead and following some of the practices noted above can make a major difference in reducing construction site waste for your project.

American Construction is proud to be a construction company mindful of our green footprint, employing construction site waste reduction programs among other sustainability initiatives.

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