Construction Law

How Contractors Can Divert Construction Waste or Demolition Debris on the Project Site featured image

How Contractors Can Divert Construction Waste or Demolition Debris on the Project Site

Diversion is an important principle of project site waste management that helps minimize the amount of waste the construction industry contributes to solid waste disposal facilities (i.e, managed landfills), thereby reducing our ecological footprint and bolstering conservation efforts in accordance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences, defines diversion as, “The practice of diverting waste from disposal in a landfill, by means of eliminating or minimizing waste, or reuse of materials.”

It’s imperative that contractors are cognizant of the various diversion methods available to them to help eliminate construction waste and demolition debris on the project site. Effective waste management is not only potentially lucrative for contractors, but it may also be a necessity depending on the terms of your contract. If the owner vests title to debris and waste materials to you, consult a Nashville construction attorney from Cotney Construction Law to discuss what your waste management responsibilities entail according to federal law. Additionally, our Nashville construction attorneys can review your contract, including the Construction and Demolition (C&D) Waste Management Plan which details the approved diversion rates. Your contract may state that the owner can withhold payment if you fail to meet these terms.

Reduce Packing and Unpacking

Cardboard is a significant contributor to a project’s construction waste stream, accounting for up to 12 percent of waste produced on the project site. One way to mitigate the amount of cardboard making its way to the landfill is to instruct subcontractors and suppliers to reduce unnecessary packing and unpacking. Some other strategies include purchasing materials in bulk, steering clear of individually packaged materials, incorporating returnable containers, reusing non-returnable containers for as long as possible, develop multiple uses for plastic barrels, buckets, and tubs, and donate non-returnable containers to local schools, youth groups, and community service groups.

Utilize Scrap

Many contractors fail to utilize scrap materials effectively. Rather than cutting and fabricating new materials, subcontractors can be directed to repurpose scrap to reduce waste. One example is collecting residual paints and liquids from containers that are almost used up, which also avoids the disposal of hazardous materials.

Avoid Spoilage

Some materials may be subject to spoilage if heated, mixed, or exposed to environmental conditions. When construction or installation involves materials with short expiration times, direct your employees to apply these materials deliberately to avoid spoilage. Volatile materials, such as those that degrade when they are exposed to moisture, cold, or heat, should be stored carefully in the proper conditions.

Recycle or Return

Recycling is integral to a successful waste management plan. Contractors should direct their workforce to recycle damaged products and materials as permitted by law. Sometimes, these items will need to be broken down into their most basic components for proper recycling. Contractors can also divert construction waste or demolition debris by coordinating a return or buy-back arrangement with their suppliers to avoid wasting extraneous materials. Architectural salvage or used material retail outlets will also purchase serviceable materials and products that are either unused or used. Another option available to contractors is to donate materials to a non-profit outlet like Habitat for Humanity. This option is not only a great way to build your firm’s reputation, it is often a tax deductible donation.

Contract with a C&D Recycling Firm

C&D recycling firms can be contracted to handle commingled debris that would be otherwise unsuitable for diversion. Recycling these materials off-site is an effective way to deal with concrete and masonry rubble that needs to be crushed, shredded, or sorted into aggregate products. Since these firms specialize in diversion, they often have a multi-step process for minimizing disposal. In fact, the cost of contracting with a C&D recycling firm can be similar to landfill disposal and has the added bonus of a vastly superior diversion rate.

Contract with Recycling Firms Dealing in Specific Materials

Similar to the last option, contractors can also opt to contract out specific types of waste to various recycling firms. Generally, these specialized firms have the means to achieve high diversion rates on a particular type of construction site waste. However, this does require all parties on the project site to sort waste and deposit it in the appropriate containers to help prevent contamination. If one group of workers ends up commingling different types of waste, it could void the contract with a recycling firm. This can be avoided by placing containers in convenient locations to help encourage workers to dispose of waste in the correct place. You may need to provide additional training in segregation practices and utilize workers in managerial roles as enforcers to prevent contamination. With that being said, the nature of construction makes separation a relatively simple process as long as your team is accountable. By doing so, you can fetch a higher price for the materials or obtain a more affordable hauling rate.

Consider the Type of Construction and Project Schedule

By utilizing the industry-best practices for construction and demolition waste management, contractors can achieve a high diversion rate and avoid potential disputes with owners. Taking a hard-line stance on project site waste management procedures can also help you avoid a potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or even an investigation from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If your firm has received a citation or notice from one of these agencies, consult a Nashville construction litigation attorney from Cotney Construction Law.

Contractors must consider not only the type of construction project they are working on but also the project schedule to ensure that they are abiding by the appropriate waste management principles throughout the project timeline. This includes:

  • Incorporate salvage, reuse, or recycling processes into the project schedule to increase the quality and quantity of salvaged materials.
  • Send a team into the structure to salvage architectural millwork, cabinetry, doors, electrical fixtures, mechanical equipment, plumbing fixtures, windows, and wood flooring before demolition.
  • If your project site has a substantial amount of concrete and masonry, these materials can be recycled into aggregate. Ask yourself the following questions when deciding whether to clear a building before or after demolition:

    • How will the recycled concrete aggregate be utilized?
    • What recycled concrete aggregate products will be the most beneficial?
    • What type of process will get the highest yield from rubble?
  • Shred landscape materials and wood into mulch, compost, or boiler fuel. Keep in mind that materials contaminated with lead-based paint or treated with arsenic-based preservatives cannot be utilized in the same way as non-contaminated materials. You can create and disperse mulch on the project site in some cases.
  • Recycle all structural steel and metals.
  • Old growth timber is one of the most valuable types of waste on the project site. Although it requires a delicate removal process, timber is highly recyclable relatively easy to sell since timber brokers can clean it and resell it for a variety of purposes.
  • Dimensional lumber can also be recycled from a wood frame building if deconstructed. This may elongate the time it takes to complete demolition, but in some cases, the value of these materials may help justify the extra time needed to salvage the lumber.

Partner with a Nashville Construction Law Firm

Waste management is an important part of the construction process, but if you aren’t careful, you may violate Nashville construction law or even federal law. When you partner with an attorney from our Nashville construction law firm, you will have an experienced and knowledgeable legal representative to provide you with an array of legal services including:

  • Contract drafting, negotiation, and review
  • License defense
  • Dispute resolution
  • Bond law
  • OSHA defense
  • Lien law
  • Bid proposal and protest

If you would like to speak with one of our Nashville construction litigation attorneys, please contact us today.


Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.