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Construction and Demolition Recycling in the Electrical Industry

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Electrical Construction and Maintenance


Beck Ireland

By Beck Ireland,Staff Writer


Mon, 2012-11-12 16:08

Not even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows exactly how much construction and demolition
(C&D) waste material the United States generates each year. Not federally regulated, C&D debris classified as
nonhazardous is managed at the state level. However, extrapolating from case studies and using available
collected data, the EPA has estimated the United States produced approximately 325 million tons of total C&D
waste in 2003 the last year for which it undertook a survey of C&D debris.
Of the 325 million tons of C&D debris in 2003, 170 million tons consisted of building-related construction and
demolition (C&D) materials. This amount marks a 23% increase from the estimate of 136 million tons of
building-related C&D debris generated by the United States in 1996. From 1996 to 2003, there was a 32%
increase in overall building construction, though construction spending increases can also reflect inflation,
profit, and other factors that do not necessarily correlate to increased materials use.
Although the definition of C&D debris varies from state to state, it generally refers to the inert materials
produced in the process of construction, renovation, and/or demolition of structures, where structures include
buildings (residential, commercial, institutional, etc.), roads, and bridges (see SIDEBAR 1: C&D Defined).
Many states exclude materials that might meet the legal standards of hazardous waste from their definition of
C&D debris, using terms such as hazardous, unacceptable, potentially toxic, or illegal. These materials
must be treated or disposed of in a manner consistent with the federal requirements for hazardous waste, as
outlined in the EPAs Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). (For a state-by-state look at definitions
and regulations, visit The Construction Industry Compliance Assistance Center at http://www.cicacenter.org
/solidregs.html.)
The three largest waste components on most job sites comprise cardboard, wood, and drywall. These materials
typically make up 75% of job-site waste. The majority of C&D debris ends up in one of two types of landfills:
municipal solid waste landfills, which handle household waste, and C&D landfills, which are devoted exclusively
to C&D materials. The C&D landfills must comply with the few basic standards outlined in the Federal Register
at 40 CFR Part 257, but state regulations governing them vary widely. In addition, unaccounted for amounts of
C&D materials end up in combustion facilities or unpermitted landfills.
Still, most C&D materials can be recovered through recycling and reuse. Of the amount of C&D debris generated
in 2003, the EPA estimates, based on state reported disposal and recovery data, approximately 48% was
recovered. This recovery estimate marks a 23% increase from the amount estimated to have been recovered in
1996. However, this figure may be an overestimation due to the inclusion of materials that are from
non-building sources.
Nevertheless, the recent rise in prices for commodities, such as copper, has led to an increase in the recovery of

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Construction and Demolition Recycling in the Electrical Industry

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scrap metal on job sites. The EPA is hoping the interest in green building will also have a positive impact on the
rates of recovery of other C&D materials. The agency vows to continue to work in partnership with state
environmental agencies and construction organizations to actively promote recovery and recycling of C&D
materials (see SIDEBAR 2: Construction Industry Efforts).

Reduce, reuse, recycle


There are numerous benefits of recovering construction and demolition materials, according to the EPA. It
reduces the environmental effects of extraction, transportation, and processing of raw materials; reduces project
costs through avoided disposal costs, avoided purchases of new materials, revenue earned from materials sales,
and tax breaks gained for donations; helps communities, contractors, and/or building owners comply with state
and local policies, such as disposal bans and recycling goals; enhances the public image of companies and
organizations that reduce disposal; and conserves space in existing landfills.
To attain these benefits, electrical firms can take a multi-stage strategy. Design planning is the first defense
against construction waste. Using standard sizes and high-quality engineered products and ordering accurately
are both proven ways of saving on materials. In addition, prefabrication practices can cut down considerably on
the amount of waste at the job site.
Despite advanced planning, every project will generate a certain amount of C&D debris. Therefore, recycling is a
necessary component for keeping waste material out of the landfill. Packaging, new material scraps, and old
materials/debris all constitute potentially recoverable materials. There are two ways to recycle at a job site:
commingling and source separation. Commingling, or mixing recycled items together, allows workers to quickly
throw debris into one bin, saving time and cutting down on the number of recycling containers on the job site.
However, construction companies have to pay a C&D processing center to separate the waste.
Source separation allows builders to recycle at higher rates and at lower prices. Builders sell the recyclables
directly to market, eliminating the step of hiring a processor to sort the material for them. Hand-separated
debris is generally worth more than commingled trash because it contains fewer contaminants. On-site
separation requires more up-front training for workers at the site. It is also more labor intensive. In addition, the
labeled roll-off bins used for the separating can take up space, especially on small work sites. Furthermore, each
bin will have to be transported to a specific recycling center, creating more administrative work for project
managers. Finally, if a project will be seeking green certification, the electrical contractor may be responsible for
tracking the amount of material removed and recycled to provide the information to the general contractor.
However, once these processes are established, recycling can be done at little or no additional cost, especially
because it eliminates the processing fee and contractors can benefit from tax credits for recycling.
In renovation, appliances, masonry materials, and doors and windows may be reusable. Many construction
waste materials that are still usable can be donated to non-profit organizations classified as 501(c)3 and are
tax-deductible.

Green team
Recycling at 100% employee-owned Rosendin Electric, San Jose, Calif., began not on its construction job sites
but in-house. Twenty years ago, the firm started its Green Team in order to become certified as the first green
contractor with the City of San Jose. The Green Team, a cross-section of around a dozen employees from the
company, consists of project managers and members of staff from every department. One of the teams first
initiatives was to put a recycling bin beside every trash can in its office. The first thing we did was look at
anything that said trash, says Brad Rogers, yard manager for Rosendin Electric and one of the founding
members of the Green Team. Every office had a trash can, so we put a recycling can beside it. Then we started
looking at what more we could do.

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It wasnt long until the company started recycling waste materials from its job sites. The effort started with scrap
cable, including copper, aluminum, and steel. Years ago, they called scrap cable on job sites rabbit because it
ran away from jobs so quickly, says Rogers. The Green Team put out to all Rosendin Electrics employees that
scrap cable was not rabbit: it was part of the cost of the job.
At all its project sites, the company began placing special locked bins one of its security experts designed and its
processing vendor fabricated. Weve never had one broken into, says Rogers.
The projected money generated from selling the scrap is included in the estimate of the project from which its
expected. The Green Team made sure the project managers were aware of this status. They started making a
good effort to recycle because the customers were going to benefit, Rogers explains. Everybody got onboard
pretty quickly.
Not long after, the company was able to eliminate the trash dumpsters at its job sites, replacing them with a
construction debris box. That means its not trash, says Rogers. Its all recyclable materials even the wood
and cardboard.
Rosendin Electric commingles, so its debris box is taken to a transfer station where its separated. It also
recycles fluorescent lamps and ballasts. Cardboard from packaging, particularly from solar panels, which come
individually wrapped, merits its own bin. It can be a lot of cardboard, says Ernie Beltramo, facilities manager
for Rosendin Electric.
Although an incentive for recycling comes from the money it saves the customers, Rosendin Electrics staff also
desires the environmental benefits. We have a growing number of employees who are heavily involved in all
things green and understand and appreciate the importance of doing our part to help the environment, says
Rogers.
Rosendin Electrics recycling plan is addressed at each projects kickoff meeting, which members of the Green
Team attend. Now, when we go to a startup meeting, we ask about the steel, aluminum, and copper, says
Rogers. Are we removing fixtures from this job? If so, well scrap them for the steel value. Cardboard? Half the
stuff used to go to landfills, and now we literally recycle every bit of it.
Additionally, in some of the areas the company works, the general contractors are under guidelines with owners
or cities to provide proof that all fixtures and materials being torn out of renovations are recycled. They want
proof you didnt take it all to the dump, says Beltramo. Were actually on a remodel job in San Francisco now,
and we have to show documentation to the general contractor for everything we take off the job.
Headquartered in San Jose, Calif., Rosendin Electric has branch offices in San Francisco; Sacramento, Calif.;
Los Angeles; Tempe, Ariz.; Hillsboro, Ore.; Las Vegas; and most recently, Arlington, Va. The Green Team has
started recycling initiatives with all the branch offices too. Our other branches across the country have been
implementing the same thing were doing in the Bay Area, says Beltramo. Everybodys coming on-board to
give the benefit to our customers and to help the environment.

Personal mission
San Diego estimates that each year 20% to 35% of the waste that goes to landfills is made up of C&D debris. This
amounts to more than 100,000 tons annually for the unincorporated areas of the county and more than one
million tons countywide. To lessen this amount, effective April 21, 2007, debris from C&D projects must be
diverted away from landfill disposal in the unincorporated County of San Diego. The ordinance requires that
90% of inerts and 70% of all other materials must be recycled. In order to comply with the ordinance, applicants
must submit a Construction and Demolition Debris Management Plan and a fully refundable Performance

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Guarantee prior to building permit issuance.


This ordinance applies only to construction, demolition, or renovation projects 40,000 square feet or greater in
the unincorporated county of San Diego. Yet, Braulio Sanabrio, owner of San Diego-based Energy Care Electric,
insists on recycling materials from all of his projects, which currently largely fall outside the jurisdiction of the
ordinance. Its very important for me to do what I can, says Sanabrio. Since the beginning, Ive been recycling
and taking part in that. Everything that can be recycled, which now is just about everything I throw very little
away in the trash can it gets recycled job after job.
Sanabrio is a 12-year veteran of the electrical industry. Hes owned Energy Care Electric for the last four years,
hiring additional workers when necessary, and also working solo when circumstances (mainly the construction
economy) dictate. When he worked for others, Sanabrio initiated recycling programs. Ive always had that drive
to influence my bosses to do it as well, he says.
As the owner of his own firm, he maintains his record of avoiding landfills. Right now, I have no employees, so I
do all of these things myself, he says. But it doesnt mean that I dont create recyclables. Every small business
can make a big difference.
The bulk of his current projects is designing and installing lighting upgrades. Each bulb has a tremendous
amount of cardboard, which is extremely wasteful, he says.
The popularity of green building hasnt yet translated to the packaging, according to Sanabrio.
High-performance lamps may have more packaging than regular lamps. Its amazing how much packaging
goes into one light bulb, especially the fancy ones, he continues. But fixing that is a whole different job.
Sanabrios commitment to recycling remains steadfast, even when it means paying processing fees himself. The
industry is not really geared toward recycling, he says. A lot of the fees for dumping and the cost of moving
the material are very expensive.
Sanabrio doesnt adjust his bids to account for the fee. Its something I do on the backend, he explains. Its
something I hope people can see, but its not something I put in my bid. It doesnt change how I charge my
customers. My focus is to rid the customer of all the headache of the waste.
On smaller jobs, theres not much profit from recycling. The metals are easy recyclables, he says. Dont get
me wrong, I recycle copper as well. Ive got a huge pile of copper, but its not what I go into a job expecting to get.
What I do know Im going to have is plenty of cardboard, and the idea for me to profit off the cardboard
theres no such thing.
On one job, Sanabrio held onto the cardboard for an entire month in order to recycle it all at once. For only one
guy, I get a lot of cardboard, he says. But I made a buck fifty off it. It made no financial sense, but I felt I did
the right thing. Its something I feel passionate about.
Without financial gain from it, Sanabrio had to change the way he recycled. It doesnt make any sense to hold
onto it all, he says, meaning that he now recycles as he goes.
Sanabrio contracts with EDCO, a family-owned waste collection and recycling company that operates out of San
Diego. Its been serving numerous communities in Southern California since 1967. The EDCO family of
companies specializes in offering integrated, user-friendly waste removal and recycling programs to residential
homes, multi-family properties, commercial businesses, multi-tenant buildings, industrial centers, construction
sites, and community events. They have a commingling plant and will pull out some material out of the trash
can, says Sanabrio. I support local companies that do that sort of conserving and recycling. If I get a
construction dumpster, it will be with EDCO. Of course, I cant control everything, so at least I can take some

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Construction and Demolition Recycling in the Electrical Industry

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comfort in knowing that EDCO will catch some of the recyclables in the dumpsters.
Sanabrio credits these expenses with keeping other firms from recycling. It doesnt make dollars and sense for a
lot of business owners, he says. I feel that people would like to do it, but theres just nothing really there for
them to make it part of their routine. You have to pay people to do anything, so thats time and money that a lot
of contractors, especially now, just arent willing to give.

Definitions of construction and demolition (C&D) debris vary from state to state. However, in general, discarded
inert materials include:
Concrete, cinder blocks, drywall (sheetrock, gypsum, or plaster), masonry, asphalt
and wood shingles, slate, and plaster
Forming and framing lumber, plywood, wood laminates, wood scraps, and pallets
Steel, stainless steel, pipes, rebar, flashing, aluminum, copper, and brass, residential
and commercial steel framing, structural steel, and steel utility poles
Brick and decorative blocks
Siding
Doors and windows
Plumbing fixtures
Electrical wiring
Non-asbestos insulation
Wood, sawdust, brush, trees, stumps, earth, fill, and rock/granular materials
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The construction industry is taking large strides to lessen its impact on the environment. To further these efforts,
in 2006 the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) created an environmental agenda that listed
seven goals, four of which relate most to materials management. Other efforts undertaken by the construction
industry include the following:
The Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA) facilitates building deconstruction and the reuse and
recycling of recovered building materials.
The Construction Materials Recycling Association (CMRA) aids its members in the appropriate methods for
processing material to ensure environmental protectiveness, as well as producing a high-value product. It has
developed websites to reach out to any recyclers, users of recycled materials, and regulators in order to provide a
better understanding of C&D materials recycling.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) issued Green Home Building Guidelines that contractors

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can follow to make their homes more green, including reducing, reusing, and recycling construction waste. It
also puts on an annual Green Building Conference. The NAHB Research Center also pursued research in the
area of C&D materials recycling, such as using the material on-site.
The National Demolition Association (NDA) actively promotes recycling and reuse of the materials generated
during a demolition.
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
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