The building of a new home, remodeling or knocking down an old structure to remodel will result in construction and debris material, also referred to as C&D. C&D material comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be concrete, asphalt from shingles, wood, drywall gypsum, bricks, glass, plastics, paint, metal, pieces of buildings, fixtures, and even rocks and trees left over from preparing a site to build on.
Reasons for Disposing Materials Properly: Recycling
All of that material needs to be disposed of properly. There are three primary reasons.
The first is sustainable materials management (SMM). A large portion of C&D material can be recycled and repurposed.
Recycling and repurposing have beneficial environmental impacts, such as preserving as many virgin resources as possible and conserving the space dedicated to landfill across the country.
Recycling properly also reduces needed disposal facilities. Why is that a good thing? Well, disposal facilities are associated with environmental challenges, such as the production of methane gas, which is a contributing factor to climate change.
Reduction of Dangerous Materials
The second is the reduction of C&D materials that are dangerous to human health. Asbestos, for example, is used in many construction projects, such as floor tiles, shingles, paint and patching compounds, coatings and fabrics. It is also already in many buildings and can become disturbed by construction activities such as:
Breaking through walls
The disturbance is the dangerous part, because it releases asbestos fibers and particles to float through the air. The fibers and particles are dangerous to human health. They can lead to lung disease, including lung cancer, mesothelioma — a rare cancer of the linings of internal organs — and asbestosis, a lung disease.
Proper Disposal Methods
The third important reason for disposing of materials properly is what happens when they are disposed of improperly. Many municipalities have regulations against illegal dumping because of environmental and health hazards. Toxic materials from C&D, for example, may make their way into waterways and soil, creating environmental challenges.
There are multiple potential effects on human health. Containers that have been illegally dumped can fill with rainwater. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for mosquitos, which can carry disease such as Zika virus. Dumped C&D can also become infested with rodents, who can also carry disease. C&D materials can also contain chemicals that cause allergies or contain rusty nails that puncture anyone who comes into contact with them and cause disease.
The Solution, I: Research Your Contractor
Given both the positive reasons for disposing of C&D materials properly and the negative impacts from disposing of them illegally, it is important to research your contractor. Ask for testimonials and get reviews. You want to know if they can do a good job, of course. But don’t neglect specific information about how and how often they dispose of materials.
When you talk to contractors, get targeted information on how they got rid of their C&D materials in the past. Did they have a specific SMM plan, for example? It’s an excellent idea. Ask for organizations they partner with and specific contact names.
Why? Well, knowing the other side of construction — what happens to materials left over or caused by demolition — is part of being a responsible homeowner. In essence, you are working with the materials, too. You need to know where they go.
The Solution, II: Learn About C&D Disposal
Your contractor is key, but it doesn’t hurt to educate yourself as a homeowner about the disposal of C&D materials. Here are some suggestions:
Local retailers can help by recycling and repurposing their products, such as donating leftover paint to nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. Check into the policies of both suppliers of raw materials, such as wood and concrete, and retailers, such as suppliers of fixtures, doors and windows, and appliances.
A number of companies and organizations are built upon providing and executing SMM plans for contractors. Get to know who they are and what they do. Many have tracking systems so partners can follow up and document the disposal.
Some manage the recycling and repurposing of materials. They recycle paper, plastics and metals, turn wood into mulch or biomass fuel, and provide dirt, rock and sand to landfills as alternative daily cover. Crushed concrete can be repurposed as gravel.
If you make visits to the site, learn to recognize the signs of disturbed and dangerous asbestos. It might show cuts or tears, rubbing or abrasions, or be damaged by water. Damaged materials can cause fibers and particles in the air. If you suspect this, call a professional inspector.
If you’d like to know the companies and organizations in your area, there are a number of trade associations that provide helpful lists, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Be Thorough and Take Action
Proper C&D disposal is necessary for the environment and for human health. The good news is many real estate, construction firms, waste management professionals and local retailers realize this and maintain active plans. Learn to partner with them for good business.