Recycle C&D Debris - C&D Debris Regulations
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C&D Debris Regulations
Federal regulations
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is the primary federal law governing solid waste. Most C&D waste is considered to be solid waste and is regulated under RCRA. The EPA does not generally single out C&D waste for any special regulatory treatment. An exception does exist when C&D waste contains hazardous materials such as lead-based paint, asbestos, or elements such as lead, mercury, cadmium, pcb's and arsenic. In hazardous waste cases, RCRA regulations specify particular disposal methods (Clark et. al., 2004).

Legislation across the United States
Most C&D waste is regulated at the state level, and the requirements for C&D debris disposal facilities vary widely from state to state. Researchers from the University of Florida and the University of Michigan conducted a survey of the fifty states and confirmed, not unsurprisingly, that C&D waste regulations vary from state to state. Interestingly enough, about half (23) of the states have specific C&D regulations while in the remaining states (27), C&D debris is regulated under the requirements for municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills, non-MSW landfills, general inert debris landfills, or general solid waste facilities (Clark, et. al., 2004:8). Of the 50 states, 27 permit the disposal of general C&D waste into unlined landfills; the remaining 23 states have varying requirements for liner systems (Clark, et. al., 2004:8). Groundwater monitoring for landfills is required by 27 states (Clark, et. al., 2004:12).

Because of growing awareness that C&D debris can contain hazardous materials such as lead-based paint, asbestos, or wood coated with CCA (copper chromated arsenate), some states are in the process of revising their C&D debris regulations. These states include California, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington. In the State of Massachusetts, concrete, asphalt, brick, wood, and cardboard were banned from landfills at the end of 2003 although implementation has been delayed (Clark, et. al., 2004:13). California is developing regulations for recycling facilities that would require mixed C&D debris recycling facilities that accept more than 175 tons per day (recycling at least 60% of that) in order to obtain a solid waste permit (Clark, et. al., 2004:14). Increased regulation can cause C&D tipping fees to rise, which can result in increased C&D recycling (Clark, et. al., 2004:13-14).

There are a number of examples of policies that states and cities have instituted to encourage C&D recycling. In San Jose, California, demolition contractors must pay a deposit based on the square footage of their project in order to receive a city building permit. The deposit is refunded if the contractor can demonstrate that the C&D waste was taken to a city-certified recovery facility (FDEP, 2000).

In Portland, Oregon the city requires job-site recycling of rubble (concrete/asphalt), land-clearing debris, corrugated cardboard, metals and wood on all construction and demolition projects with a permit value exceeding $50,000. This is accomplished by requiring a complete site plan prior to permit issuance.

Another example is in Florida, where state solid waste legislation established recycling goals for counties, and a certain amount of C&D waste was allowed to count toward those goals. A cap was placed on the amount of C&D waste that could be counted toward that recycling goal, so that counties would have to recycle other types of waste as well (FDEP, 2000).

In October 2002, Orange County, North Carolina, enacted an ordinance regulating recyclable materials, including C&D waste. The ordinance requires the recycling of specific materials and was coupled with plans for an additional C&D landfill. In addition, people requesting building permits are now also required to apply for a "Recyclable Material Permit" that requires the permit holder to state what types of waste they anticipate generating and how they will manage that C&D waste. This ordinance, while making specific demands on the business community, won broad-based support because of the new C&D landfill commitment. It should be noted that the ordinance has resulted in decreased tipping fee revenues. The reduced revenue has been partially offset by sales of recyclable material, for the Solid Waste Management Department, which operates the Orange County landfill and the county's recycling programs. The important impact on the C&D waste stream was the significant reduction in waste and the increase in the recycling of material, as Table 3 shows (Ghirardelli, 2004).

Table 3: Construction Waste Disposed and Recycled in Orange County, NC 2001-02 vs. 2002-03. Source: Ghirardelli, 2003
  FY 2001 / 2002 FY 2002 / 2003
Disposed (at solid waste facility)27,729 tons19,085 tons
Disposed (elsewhere)7,352 tons7,035 tons
Subtotal35,081 tons26,120 tons (26% reduction)
Recycled (at solid waste facility)1,099 tons3,311 tons
Recycled (elsewhere)0 tons6,653 tons
Subtotal1,099 tons9,964 tons (9-fold increase)

A growing threat to C&D waste recycling is the increase in franchise agreements between demolition contractors and municipalities around the country. These contracts require all solid waste (even that which can be recycled) within a jurisdiction to be sent to one place designated by the local government or hauler, thereby limiting the flow of C&D waste and other debris to waste recyclers. Because even highly recyclable C&D waste such as concrete is designated as solid waste, these franchise demolition contractors are allowed to dump these materials in local landfills. Complicating the situation is the political reality that demolition companies pay a stipend to the local government in order to obtain the franchise agreement. This stipend often serves as an important source of revenue to municipalities' solid waste department (Turley, 2004). In Ohio, a state law prohibits governments from including C&D waste in solid waste franchise agreements (FDEP, 2000).

Best practices
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) offers a list of C&D regulatory best practices, an excerpt of which is included below. The list provides a summary of the different actions that entities at every governmental level can take to encourage C&D recycling (FDEP, 2001:3-4).

Local government can do the following:
  • Fund public education and outreach programs designed to educate the public and to create small business opportunities for the municipality;
  • Implement a mandatory recycling policy of selected materials prior to permit issuance when the dollar value exceeds a specific threshold i.e. $50,000;
  • Implement curbside collection for selected C&D materials;
  • Decriminalize the salvaging of building materials from demolition sites;
  • Implement Green Building programs;
  • Provide tax incentives to businesses that recycle;
  • Maintain an open market for C&D debris collection;
  • Issue permits to roll-off box haulers but not to franchises;
  • Require non-exclusive commercial franchises, and
  • Rebate a portion of the franchise fee if recycling occurs.
State governments can do the following:
  • Fund a public education and outreach effort to educate the public on C&D issues and opportunities;
  • Enact a Green Building bill for all state and local government building and renovation projects with a high recycling of C&D materials goals;
  • Enact a "Recyclable Construction and Demolition Debris" (RCDM) bill;
  • Prohibit solid waste franchises from covering C&D debris with clay based soil and instead require the covering be quality compost (Clay coverings contained in Ohio's RCDM legislation);
  • Make a distinction between material recovery facilities and non-recycling processing facilities;
  • Require C&D debris to be processed before disposal (a Massachusetts law);
  • Require liners for C&D debris disposal facilities;
  • Provide sales tax exemptions for recycling equipment i.e. on-site grinding equipment;
  • Provide sales tax exemptions for recycled construction materials;
  • Provide grants to local governments to improve C&D debris recycling, and
  • Provide low-interest loans to recycling businesses.
Legislation in Texas
There are 45 C&D landfills in Texas (Kaufman et. al., 2004). Of these, 38 are permitted as Type IV facilities, which accept only brush, C&D debris, and other waste that will not putrefy (TCEQ, 2003). However, non-hazardous solid waste, including most C&D waste, can be sent to several types of landfills in addition to the Type IV variety (Clark, et. al., 2004:48).

Type IV facilities are required to have a liner composed of either (1) at least 1.22 m (4 ft) of in-situ soil with permeability no greater than 1*10-7 cm/sec between the deposited waste and groundwater or (2) at least 91 cm (3 ft) of compacted clay between the deposited waste and groundwater. Groundwater monitoring is also required except at arid facilities (Clark, et. al., 2004:48).

A fundamental Texas problem is the manner of enforcement for non-licensed dumpsites. The TCEQ is charged with the enforcement for all regulated facilities regardless of type and do so with dedication and professionalism. Non-licensed dump sites are a legal issue left to municipalities and counties for enforcement. The consequence of this gap in oversight and accountability is so great as to create an economic incentive to operate outside the law and create public nuisances and greater public risk.. It appears that there is an opportunity for better oversight and control of non-licensed dumpsites. The legislature should fulfill its responsibility to the people of Texas and pass enabling legislation to empower the TCEQ to enforce the law and remove the public from risk.

Local practices in Texas
C&D waste comprises about 22% (equaling 6,424,228 tons) of the total Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) stream in the State of Texas (TCEQ, 2003). In the 13 county H-GAC region in the year 2000, 38% of the waste disposed of in MSW landfills was C&D waste. The 13 county area has 11 active Type IV landfills for C&D waste (H-GAC, 2002). We are fortunate to have a lot of land to dedicate to solid waste. As long as the facility is "not in my back yard" (NIMBY) we will most likely not have a shortage of landfill space. Due to this, it remains very inexpensive to own and operate a MSW facility in the State of Texas. It remains true for Texas that a considerable amount of our land is not now being utilized at its highest and best use. Until the time comes when our population density reaches a greater ratio than that which we now have, it is entirely practical in many parts of our state for industry and municipalities to utilize land as a site for solid waste.

Only when land costs are driven completely out of the reach of the general public by the combination of the relentless march of human procreation and the endorsement of sprawl as the method of economic development will we act. Then and only then, will the cost of the waste stream cause any significant alteration in the behavior of the citizens and number of landfills and the resultant acreage devoted to waste handling be addressed.

Further, since there is no current vibrant market for C&D waste products and there are no policy inducements for State and local government to consider C&D products in the procurement cycle it is highly suspect that a market condition is going to dramatically shift the current paradigm. It is highly unlikely that the total amount of landfill capacity will be sufficient to meet the demand placed upon them by a booming population for an extended period of time. Therefore, political action will be necessary in a more rapid timeframe than some of the studies might suggest.

Table 4. Waste Fees for HGAC counties
County Landfill Cost per cubic Yard Permit Number
AustinNo Landfill$12.50-$18.50 
BrazoriaBrazoria County Landfill$7.002235
 Dixie Farm Road Landfill$6.001708
 Seabreeze Environmental Landfill$7.25 (lower if set up an account)1539
ChambersCounty Landfill$0.03 Cents per pound1502
 Baytown Landfill$7.501535
ColoradoClean Harbor/Altair Landfill$9.88203
Fort BendSprint Fort Bend County Landfill$6.501396
 Longpoint Landfill$5.25 for more than 18 cy
$7.25 for less than
 Blue Ridge Landfill$10.101505
GalvestonNorth County landfill$6.101849
 Galveston County Landfill$10.101149
 McCarty Road$10.55261
 CASCO Landfill$7.001403
 Cougar Landfill$6.25 ($3.00 environmental fee)1921
 Greenbelt Landfill$6.051483
 Fairbanks Landfill$7.001565
 Ralston Road Landfill$5.802240
 Greenhouse Road Landfill$7.00 ($25.00 minimum)1599
LibertyNo local landfill  
MatagordaNo local landfill  
 Matagorda County Transfer Station$40.00 per ton40028
MontgomerySecurity Landfill$7.001752
WalkerNo local landfill  
WallerNo local landfill$60.00 per ton 
WhartonNo local landfill$10.00-$30.00  

Figure 6. Harris County landfill rates
Click image above for a hi-res version

The public is generally unaware of the extent of the volume of C&D waste. Wood is by far the largest component of waste material generated at residential C&D sites in the H-GAC region. C&D waste reduction in H-GAC is viewed as an "economics only" issue by the developers and the builders. There are literally thousands of instances of "guys with $900 dump trucks" who are more than willing to haul C&D waste for very little compensation absolving the builder of any responsibility. This practice has lead to a very active underground wood recycling program that is more effective than one would first think. Driven by extraordinarily fierce competition to clean up the production builder's job sites before Saturday morning, these creative, adaptable entrepreneurs are recycling massive amounts of wood in an underground economy designed to feed their families.

At commercial/institutional demolition sites, concrete is generally the top waste material generated. Southern Crushed Concrete is the primary concrete recycler in the H-GAC area and operates eight recycling yards in the region. Cherry Crushed Concrete also operates two processing yards and a mobile processing unit (H-GAC, 2002).

Abundance of Inexpensive Land
One reason as to why C&D waste is handled in the traditional landfilling method in the state of Texas is the relative abundance of cheap land. When compared to a state such as Vermont, Texas has plenty of open land in which to dispose of its solid waste. While tipping fees in the Houston area average $5- $12 per cubic yard, Vermont's fees range from $60-$801. The cost then of land filling waste is relatively inexpensive, providing little incentive for builders to seek alternative waste management methods.

As mentioned above, the traditional way of handling C&D waste is to haul it off to a landfill. As the old adage goes, "if it's not broke, don't fix it". Cost of landfilling waste in the past years has not risen dramatically, giving no reason for builders to change their methods of dealing with C&D waste. As long as their traditional methods of business continue to function in a cost effective manner, there will be no catalyst to change.

Price and Cost Confusion
There is a difference between price and cost of land filling that is not easily seen in a generic cost statement. The inexpensive price of today's landfilling fees does not take into account the opportunity cost of land, the loss of materials for recyclers or environmental damages. While builders gain in lower costs, recyclers lose out due to lack of material.

Lowered quality of our water sources and the cost it will take to make this water suitable for drinking in the future is an example of this environmental damage. Environmental damage also has a human factor. Included is also the cost of the loss of productivity of workers who become ill because of polluted water sources. Bottom line, our resources are exhaustible and landfills deteriorate the quality of the land that we might not need for resources today, but will need in the not so distant future.

Uneducated Tradespeople and Builders
Due to the differences of recycling versus landfilling, there seems to be a perceived complexity in recycling. In reality, recycling is no more difficult than landfilling; it just requires a process that is unfamiliar. The industry sees this change as perceived hassles and is wary of approaching it. There is an overall understanding of the concept of recycling but difficulties arise when the concept is translated into action. There is a large amount of misinformation expressed due to perceived lack of public and private education.

Lack of communication with political representatives
Our elected officials are not mind readers and so can only represent legislation they are aware is supported and popular amongst their constituent base. All constituents, from trades and builders to the general public, need to be educated on the topic of C&D waste. Only when an educated public communicates with elected officials to press the issue, will legislation be developed to address the C&D waste issue. Health and safety of their constituents is a primary concern of elected officials. When educated constituents press an issue from a health and safety viewpoint, elected officials respond. Just as a company pursues profitable endeavors to please their stockholders, elected officials pursue legislation that will please their constituents.

Big powerful lobbies
Coupled with an uninformed public is lobbying from the interested waste stream management industry. The current waste stream management industry's profitability would be affected by disruptive technology. The 'status quo' enables companies to run their business in a cost effective, profitable manner and a change in operations could affect this profit. An educated public could convince elected officials to change policy, enabling current waste management companies to consider change and disruptive technologies without reducing profits.

Few positive public models
The reason for few positive public models ties into the lack of communication with political representatives. If there is no pressure from the public to make a change, there will be no reason to spend time and money pursuing such alternatives. The recent razing of more than 100 single family houses by the City of Houston in which there was no recycling attempted is a nega-example, another is the fact that limited opportunities exist in state and local purchasing procedures for the reuse of C&D recycled materials.

Fewer Positive Private Models
Uncharacteristically protective builders and contractors in the H-GAC area have seen no compelling reason to recycle and there is no regulatory or market based demand thus, until the time that either of these events takes place there is little or no likelihood that large scale change can take place.

Lexicon of confusion
The stock of terms used by professionals focused on sustainability does not always lend itself to understanding by those unfamiliar with the field. Even the definition of sustainability differs within the field creating further confusion and frustration. This creates an unintentional barrier for those who would like to pursue such objectives and are approaching the concepts for the first time.

1 - "Northeast Tipping Fees" Chris Campman Manager Solid Waste Gannett Fleming, Inc., Federation of New York Solid Waste Associations, Spring 2001 Conference May 6-9, 2001 Bolton Landing: New York,, pg3.

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