Construction Waste: Everyone’s Problem Needs a Solution for Everyone

Wednesday’s blog discussed construction site waste management issues — and on the heels of that post comes news of an exemplary program in Canada that unites builders and local government to encourage responsible debris removal.

The need for reducing construction waste is not a new topic — but it’s one cities have faced repeatedly as construction boomed in recent years. Recycling can help. But how does a city encourage the private building sector to put forth the added time and effort to categorize and drop off materials in the midst of construction?

Several Canadian towns have a clever, yet simple idea — make it easy for them.

In 1998, the towns of Banff and Canmore and
the Municpal District of Bighorn formed a regional commission to deal with waste
management issues within the Bow Valley region. It proved to be a match made in recycling heaven.

The Bow Valley Waste Management Commission (BVWMC), governed by a board of directors that includes an elected official from each of the three municipalities, set fairly simple original goals — organizing and expanding regional programs and reducing duplication of services to save costs.

The commission has since been involved in a number of initiatives, including recycling
education, school recycling programs and a demonstration composting program.

But the commission knew public education was only part of solving the problem. In an ambitious move, the committed actually purchased a local 80-acre landfill, which is continues to run. In addition, the committee created a location for collecting dry waste management that includes recycling capabilities for asphalt, concrete, scrap metal, kiln dried lumber and refrigerators.

Through its hands-on efforts, the committee has increased construction recycling from less than 14 percent to whopping more than 60 percent diversion. That’s key for an area in which dry waste accounts for almost half of the total waste stream, the Rocky Mountain Outlook reports.

And the iniative continues. Most recently, the town of Banff’s Banff Housing Corporation, a non-profit housing authority that constructs local properites, has voluntarily signed on for a new recycling program, encouraged by the BVWMC. The Banff Housing Corporation has agreed to initiate the use of large sturdy bags to sort metal,
drywall and lumber scraps at its latest residential
development site in Middle Springs this summer, the Outlook reports.

The bags are part of an ongoing effort in Banff to reduce overall landfill waste produced by new construction; but it is of note that Banff didn’t just slap a must-recycle mandate on the project. Since Banff’s construction sites are typically small, the bags provide a viable sorting solution that will take up less space than bins.

"One of the issues facing them is limited space on construction
sites and the other issue is ease of disposal for small-scale
development projects," Branff town planner Megan Squires told the Outlook. "We will explore opportunities to assist
contractors to overcome barriers to on-site waste separation."

Bravo. Commissions and local authorities working with construction companies to find solutions that help reduce waste without interfering with production is a crucial step in getting builders to buy in to recycling program.

Now, it’s true that this situation is unique in that the builder, Banff Housing Corporation, is connected to the city — it is a non-profit organization and the town is its major shareholder — and therefore more likely to agree with construction suggestions.

However, falling behind schedule is a problem for every construction site, and overtime costs and missed deadlines are something no non-profit wants to (or often can) deal with. The town worked with the builder to create a mutual solution for waste management; city connection aside, that’s a lesson to be learned for all cities concerned with construction waste.

In fact, providing agreeable waste solutions will be even more urgent with private construction companies. With pressing concerns like site safety, keeping on budget and making a project’s deadline, recycling may not be the first thing on a developer’s mind.

But with the massive amount of waste construction sites can create — construction and demolition waste totaled 4.1 million kilograms in 2006 in the Banff region — Banff recognized the need for responsible waste removal, and it was willing to make things as simple as possible for builders in order to set its recycling program in motion. North American cities, take note.