How to Reduce & Recycle Construction & Demolition Waste

We are all encouraged to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but have you ever considered what that looks like on a construction site? Troy Johns of Urban NW Homes did when he sought to reduce his job site waste. As recorded by Joe Bousquin for Builder magazine, Troy learned rather quickly how difficult recycling could be. Besides the time Troy set aside for sorting the materials, the hauler wanted to charge extra to pick up the sorted recycling. To make matters worse, the hauler was throwing the sorted pieces in with the rest of the landfill trash rather than recycling it. While this occurrence may seem unusual, it is not an uncommon experience among environmentally conscious builders.

How Much Waste is There to Recycle?

To put the necessity of recycling into perspective, here are some statistics. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), 8,000 pounds of waste is produced during the construction of every 2,000-square-foot home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2015, construction and demolition (C&D) waste was 548 million tons. Of that 548 million tons, building construction alone accounted for 169 million tons or 30% of the total C&D waste in the U.S. [i] In comparison, American families contributed 262 million tons of waste. That means, C&D waste constitutes two times the amount contributed by American households. If we can reduce C&D waste, think of the impact we can have.

Why Aren’t More Builders Recycling?

Solana Condo SIP Stack

If C&D waste is so high, why is no one taking action to reduce it? The EPA explains a few factors that influence C&D recovery: public policy, corporate policy, and material markets. As the EPA states, “These factors are interrelated. Economics may primarily influence the contractor’s decisions, but local and regional public policies, the corporate policies/goals of the client, and the status of the area’s C&D material markets all have financial implications on the final management strategy selected by the contractor.” [i]

To begin with, the regulations to which builders must comply vary from the federal and state levels to each local municipality. To demonstrate this, the federal goal is to recycle 50% of C&D waste, including roads and bridges. Several states have followed suit by writing recycling regulations into their building codes. California requires that job sites recycle 65% of their materials. Florida has a goal of 75%, and Colorado has 60%. Unfortunately, not al

l states meet these goals. For instance, Massachusetts’ goal is to recycle 50% while the actual amount it recycles is 30%. Even worse, other states do not require any recycling at all. Because C&D waste has varying regulations based on the city or state, recycling is left up to the personal convictions of the builders.

What are Some of the Factors Affecting Recycling?

Other determining factors come directly from the building market. Depending on the location, labor rates, physical construction space, distances from C&D recovery facilities, costs, and other requirements, recycling construction materials becomes fiscally impractical. For example, it saves time and labor costs to throw all excess materials into the same waste bin. Sorting materials slows down construction times and costs more in labor.

For builders who do not have access to C&D Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF) landfills, the price is much higher. They may have to drive hundreds of miles to recycle a load they could dispose of at a local C&D landfill. Secondly, even if a builder is close to a C&D MRF, the load will cost $77 per ton compared to $43 at a C&D landfill. At almost every turn, builders have to pay more to recycle. [ii]

How can SIPs Cut Down on Waste?

Nailing in Window Bucks

The primary issue a builder faces is waste in general. Therefore, the issues with recycling can be fixed by its partner, “reduce.” According to the EPA, “[s]ource reduction reduces life-cycle material use, energy use, and waste generation. While reuse and recycling are important, source reduction prevents waste generation in the first place. This is possible by, “optimizing the size of new

buildings; designing new buildings for adaptability to prolong their useful lives; using construction methods that allow disassembly and facilitate reuse of materials; and employing alternative framing techniques.’”

This is where Insulspan® Structural Insulated Panels or SIPs come in to play. Insulspan manufactures SIPs by laminating two pieces of oriented-strand board (OSB) to a continuous core of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. Insulspan’s Ready-To-Assemble SIPs are delivered to a construction site pre-cut and, as the name states, ready-to-assemble (RTA) with all edge reliefs done and lumber components installed thus reducing job site waste. In addition, SIPs combine framing and insulating into one step eliminating the waste from these steps.

According to a BASF study, “building with SIPs… reduces waste since they arrive at the job site prefabricated and require less measuring, cutting, and framing. The study noted a 93 percent material utilization rate that sharply reduces the cost of jobsite debris disposal.” This is good news for builders looking to reduce waste, and save time and money. Additionally, “the major components of SIPs, foam and oriented strand board (OSB), take less energy and raw materials to produce than other structural building systems… SIPs drastically reduce the waste generated during construction.” [iii]

Why is There a Movement Towards Green Building Certifications?

“Since its inception,” says the EPA, “LEED® has transformed the high-performance green building industry and market. Today, it is the most well-known and widely used certification program.” Globally recognized, LEED® requires that “at least five materials must be targeted for diversion.” In addition, “[p]oints can be earned through reduction of total construction waste materials generated per square foot of a building’s area or diversion by salvage or recycling. “[i]

Similar to the LEED® certification is the National Green Buildings Standard (NGBS). This is the certification Troy of Urban NW Homes was seeking to earn through his recycling efforts. In the NGBS, ” … requirements related to the quality of construction materials and waste, reused or salvaged materials, recycled-content building materials, recovered construction waste, renewable materials, resource-efficient materials, and local materials” are included [i]

Why are Builders Including Green Building Certifications in Their Workflow?

Builders seek green building certifications for a few different reasons. Firstly, both regional and national governments are pushing for more stringent building codes. Constructing green certified buildings guarantees meeting, and exceeding, building code requirements. In addition, some areas are requiring that all new homes must be net-zero ready. Therefore, builders must look for ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle buildings materials to meet the building code.

Another reason as presented by the EPA is, “[g]reen building is a growing trend due in part to government incentives and tax breaks at local and national levels for builders, developers, and homeowners. Examples of financial incentives for green building include tax credits, fee reductions, and expedited permitting.” [i] Since builders are now incentivized to build green, they are becoming more willing to do so.

How do Insulspan SIPs Contribute to Green Building Certifications?

The unique characteristics of SIPs qualify them to earn points toward green building certifications. For instance, Insulspan SIPs impact energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, quality of materials, reuse, recycling, and resource-efficient and renewable materials. According to the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA), building with SIPs can earn up to 122 points toward the NGBS certification. They also earn points in multiple categories under the LEED® certification. [iii] When builders use SIPs, they can effectively reduce waste while quickly assembling a highly energy efficient structure.

Adding SIP Roof Panels on Timber Frame Home

Because Insulspan SIPs contain high quality expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam insulation, they earn points toward green building certifications. With the cut-to-size and RTA options, each panel fits together perfectly and eliminates thermal breaks. The resulting building envelope is air-tight, improving the indoor air quality. In addition, the SIPs have very high R-values which constitute a major part of the certifications. When the overall energy efficiency of Insulspan SIPs is combined with our services, builders gain both expert support as well as certification points.

In summary, as builders work toward a more sustainable future, they are fighting an uphill battle. Even those who are environmentally conscious still deal with issues of transportation to recycling facilities and labor rates. The best course of action these builders can take is to reduce unnecessary material usage. Insulspan SIPs are precisely the solution they need to reach their recycling goals. And if they do it right, they may be able to earn tax incentives along the way.



[i] Green Building Certifications


[iii] OSB manufacturing

LEED Scoreboard

Want to learn how you can reduce energy costs and gain the structural
strength of the Insulspan SIP system for your residential or commercial project?

Let’s Talk. 800-726-3510 East, Midwest | 866-848-8855 West

Contact Us Request a Quote