When buildings reach the end of their useful life, they are typically demolished and hauled to landfills. Building implosions or ‘wrecking-ball' style demolitions are relatively inexpensive and offer a quick method of clearing sites for new structures. On the other hand, these methods create substantial amounts of waste.
The demolition and renovation of buildings in the U.S. produces 124,670,000 tons of debris each year, according to the Deconstruction Institute. That's an awful lot when you consider that just one 2,000-square-foot wood-frame home has the potential to yield 6,000-board-feet of reusable lumber or about 85 percent of the wood framing. That house, demolished and sent to a landfill, amounts to about 127 tons of trashed materials or about 10,000 cubic feet of debris. This is equivalent to 33 mature trees, or the yearly output of 10 acres of planted pine (7 football fields). Wood frame houses are good examples, since 95 percent of all houses are built that way.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 270,000 residential units are demolished in the U.S annually. Much of that demolition debris goes into landfills. In this country, according the EPA, building debris (in total, not just from residential units) accounts for one-third of all solid waste, and an estimated 91 percent of that comes from renovation and demolition. We can estimate that for every 3 square feet of deconstruction, enough lumber can be salvaged to build 1 square foot of new construction. At this rate, if deconstruction replaced residential demolition, the US could generate enough recovered wood to construct 120,000 new affordable homes each year.
Some states, including California and Massachusetts, are enacting bans, taking steps to divert up to 60% of the construction waste from landfills. In Chicago, the city has ordinances which require almost half of the construction debris be diverted from landfills. Thanks to some forward-thinking insurance companies who now offer a "green" policy, coverage for recycling and deconstruction costs are now a reality on some insurance policies.
Construction & Debris (C & D) Waste Facts
In 1978, there were approximately 20,000 landfills. By 1988, that number had dropped to 5,499. Currently the figure stands at 3,091. The EPA estimates that as of the 2008, only 1,234 landfills were available.
Only 3 active landfills on Long Island as of 2009.
All landfills will eventually fail and leak leachate into ground and surface water. Plastics are not inert. State-of-the-art plastic (HDPE) landfill liners (1/10 inch or 100 mils thick) and plastic pipes allow chemicals and gases to pass through their membranes, become brittle, swell, and breakdown.
"...82% of surveyed landfill cells had leaks while 41% had a leak area of more than 1 square feet," according to Leak Location Services, Inc. (LLSI) website (March 15, 2000).
All landfills could require remediation, but particularly landfills built in the last 60 years will require a thorough clean-up due to the disposal of highly toxic chemicals manufactured and sold since the 1940's.
The U.S. generated 143.5 million tons of building-related construction and demolition debris in 2008, but only 28% (40.2 million tons) was reused, recycled or sent to waste-to-energy facilities.
Consider that one year's debris is enough to build a wall about 30 feet high and 30 feet thick around the entire coast of the continental United States (4,993 miles).
How much do your building projects impact these numbers? Consider the following:
- The average new construction project yields 3.9 pounds of waste per square foot of building area. Example: A 50,000-square-foot building = 97.5 tons of waste.
- The average building demolition yields 155 pounds of waste per square foot. Example:A 50,000-square-foot building = 3,875 tons of waste.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, a typical 2,200 sq.ft. home requires 13,000 board feet of framing lumber. If laid end to end, that framing lumber would stretch 2.5 miles.
If all the dimensional lumber used to build the 1.2 million new homes constructed in the United State each year were laid end to end, it would extend 3 million miles, the equivalent of going to the moon and back six and a half times.