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All About Recycling Demolition Waste

Construction and demolition wastes can be recycled into useful products and materials. This can save money, promote sustainability, and preserve natural resources.

In an ideal scenario, C&D debris could be reused or salvaged on the same project site. Although the hierarchy of waste minimization lists reducing and reusing as higher priorities, recycling is an important way to conserve resources.


Using construction and demolition materials that are no longer needed reduces the amount of new resources that need to be mined, cut down, and transported. This helps to cut down on pollution, resource depletion, and climate change. It also helps to save money for building projects. This type of waste management can be done in a variety of ways including reuse, recycling, or salvaging.

Construction and demolition debris, or C&D waste, is the material generated by undertakings ranging from the construction of residential homes to the deconstruction of international airports. This material makes up a large percentage of the trash that is sent to landfills. Fortunately, most of this material can be reused or recycled. This extends the life of natural resources such as lumber, drywall, metals, and concrete, and it also reduces disposal costs.

Most of the materials can be reused directly on the site, but some may need to be sorted before they can be used again. This can happen either on the site as a form of deconstruction, or it can take place off-site at a sorting location, or at a C&D recycling center. The process of separating these materials into their respective categories also allows for the identification and removal of any hazardous materials. This can help to prevent toxic substances like lead from poisoning water supplies or plasterboard from releasing hydrogen sulfide in landfills.

The best way to reuse C&D waste is to reduce it at its source, through the use of practices like waste minimization, source reduction, and reuse. This is achieved through deconstruction and by implementing other measures such as design for disassembly on building sites, or designing products with a longer lifespan. This will also enable the recycling of these materials once they have reached the end of their usefulness.

Some governments have put into place incentives that promote this kind of waste management. For example, in San Jose, California, developers of new buildings need to pay a fee proportional to their project size, and this can only be refunded if they divert a certain percentage of the debris.


Construction and demolition wastes contain multiple economically valuable materials that could be recycled instead of using new, raw materials. These include reusable aggregates, bitumen, concrete, wood and metals. They can be recycled into a wide range of products, from construction materials to energy production. This is especially important in a time where our global supply of natural resources is rapidly declining and becoming scarce.

However, many C&D materials are not easily recycled due to traditional demolition practices and the way in which these materials are typically handled on a project site. These types of projects frequently generate a blend of mixed rubble that makes it difficult to extract and sort reusable materials. This makes it difficult to meet recycling goals later in the process and can lead to the need for additional costs.

Fortunately, the majority of C&D materials are actually recyclable. Steel is a prime example of this, with about 98 percent of steel structural framing material avoiding landfills through recycling. Other common recycled materials in construction and demolition debris include drywall, carpet, paper and cardboard, wood, and various metals. This means that if we are able to properly sort and store C&D materials on-site, we can achieve a high level of recycling.

In order to recycle C&D materials, they must be separated into distinct categories on-site or at the recycling plant. Having separate boxes for each type of debris is the best method for achieving recycling goals, as it provides instant feedback to employees on-site about their efforts and is the easiest way to monitor diversion rates.

On-site separation also allows for better control over the recycling operation and can reduce the amount of materials that must be transported off-site, reducing transportation and logistics costs. In addition, separating materials on-site can help to foster a positive work culture in which everyone is responsible for the environment and is working to minimize waste.

It is also crucial that contractors follow proper construction procedures when handling C&D materials. This includes ensuring that all workers are wearing the required safety equipment, as well as conducting regular inspections of waste management and disposal practices. This will not only improve a contractor’s environmental image but can also help to reduce their liability risks.


Over 600 million tons of construction and demolition (C&D) waste was generated in the United States in 2018. This figure represents about double that of generated municipal solid waste. While the majority of C&D debris is destined for landfills, many materials can be salvaged and used for other purposes. For example, wood and other lumber products can be repurposed as landscape mulch, shredded and turned into boiler fuel, or chipped into road base for new pavement. Metals, gypsum wallboard and flooring can also be recycled into new products.

Recycling and reuse of building materials not only reduces our reliance on natural resources but also saves money in the form of reduced disposal costs. In addition, repurposed building materials can have a unique look and feel that adds character to a space or project. In fact, using repurposed building materials can be even cheaper than purchasing new materials for the same project.

Repurposing building materials is one of the most effective ways to cut down on demolition waste. A successful repurposed building project requires thorough planning and the help of a knowledgeable team. For instance, a developer can prioritize waste reduction by implementing pre-demo cleanouts and soft stripping of existing structures to identify usable materials. This enables the demolition team to plan accordingly and reduce the volume of material that will need to be hauled away for disposal.

Other effective practices to minimize building-related waste include implementing a source separation strategy on jobsite, utilizing a sortline or pick line to rapidly separate waste and recyclable materials, and incorporating deconstruction into demolition projects to preserve usable components for reuse. Additionally, a company can take advantage of the growing demand for construction and demolition materials by selling their scrap or salvage rights to local recyclers.

To make the most of your demolition project’s potential, consult a waste management expert to learn more about sustainable and innovative practices. You can find experts in the industry through recycling organizations, government agencies and private companies. A good place to start is WM’s LampTracker program, which makes it easy for businesses to recycle bulbs, batteries, electronics, medical waste and mercury-containing items.


When materials are donated to reuse outlets, they may be eligible for a tax deduction. This can help keep demolition waste out of landfills and support the local economy. It’s important to consider this option when planning a project. Some projects are better suited for this approach than others, such as projects with large quantities of gypsum wallboard or ceiling tiles. In these cases, it may be helpful to have a specialized truck dedicated to collecting reusable materials and sitting it at the job site until they can be removed for donation. Identify potential reuse outlets in advance by reaching out to reuse stores.

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