Keeping Green While Saving the Green

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Many people are conditioned to the routine of recycling their household trash, but recycling construction and demolition wastes is fairly uncommon yet profitable.

June 30, 2001

Many people are conditioned to the routine of recycling their household trash, but recycling construction and demolition wastes is fairly uncommon yet profitable. When James Co., Boulder, Colo., analyzed ways to reduce costs, it found that recycling was cheaper than just throwing away waste.

"Twenty-five percent was saved from recycling our waste," architectural designer Donna Merten says. "We figured every angle was good in trying it. We were just hoping to break even."

William Ferretti, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition, agrees that it is cheaper to recycle. "If you minimize the amount of waste, you are going to lower your costs because that’s less material going to the landfill. A well-designed and well-organized recycling effort will in fact save a builder money."

James Co. started its recycling program in January 2000. Merten says the first project was tough because the mind-set wasn’t there. But the superintendent of the building site was determined to make it work. Handmade signs, written in both English and Spanish, were placed on bins made for wood, cardboard and metal in convenient locations around the site, making it easy for workers to find the appropriate place for each type of trash. Meanwhile, the regular trash was placed in a location less convenient to the site.

After a couple of weeks, the recycling program started to flow more smoothly. "We found it was not a lot of extra work," Merten says. "It takes about 30 minutes a day to sort, and workers are picking up the trash around the site anyway."

James Co. now recycles at all of its seven building sites and has made recycling part of its corporate philosophy, requiring subcontractors to participate. It has recycled 63 tons of construction waste since the program started and expects to have recycled close to 200 tons by the end of this year.

Merten wants other companies to realize that while implementing a companywide recycling program takes work, in time it becomes part of everyday construction standards and can save companies money and reduce landfill waste. "The more builders that get involved, the more recycling costs will go down."

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