Sustainable Management of Construction and Demolition Materials

Construction and Demolition (C&D) materials consist of the debris generated during the construction, renovation and demolition of buildings, roads, and bridges. EPA promotes a Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) approach that identifies certain C&D materials as commodities that can be used in new building projects, thus avoiding the need to mine and process virgin materials.

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What Are C&D Materials?

Construction and demolition (C&D) materials are generated when new building and civil-engineering structures are built and when existing buildings and civil-engineering structures are renovated or demolished (including deconstruction activities). Civil-engineering structures include public works projects, such as streets and highways, bridges, utility plants, piers, and dams.

C&D materials often contain bulky, heavy materials such as:

  • Concrete
  • Wood (from buildings)
  • Asphalt (from roads and roofing shingles)
  • Gypsum (the main component of drywall)
  • Metals
  • Bricks
  • Glass
  • Plastics
  • Salvaged building components (doors, windows, and plumbing fixtures)
  • Trees, stumps, earth, and rock from clearing sites

C&D Materials in America

C&D materials constitute a significant waste stream in the United States. These various C&D materials can be diverted from disposal and managed into new productive uses.

  • More Information on C&D Material Generation in America

    EPA’s waste characterization report, Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2014 Fact Sheet, estimates C&D material generation in the United States. C&D materials included in the report are steel, wood products, drywall and plaster, brick and clay tile, asphalt shingles, concrete, and asphalt concrete. These estimates represent C&D material amounts from construction, renovation and demolition activities for buildings, roads, and bridges. The estimates are based on publicly available material consumption data from government and industry organizations.

    The Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2014 Fact Sheet full report shows:

    • 534 million tons of C&D debris were generated in the United States, in 2014—more than twice the amount of generated municipal solid waste.
    • Demolition represents more than 90 percent of total C&D debris generation, while construction represents less than 10 percent.

    Prior to adding C&D materials to the Advancing SMM Report, EPA examined the generation of C&D materials through separate studies. In 1996, EPA estimated that 136 million tons of building-related C&D materials were generated in the United States. By 2003, almost 170 million tons of building-related C&D materials were generated. In 2003, nonresidential sources accounted for 61 percent of that amount. The largest building sector that generated C&D materials was nonresidential demolition followed by the residential renovation

Reducing the amount of C&D materials disposed of in landfills or incinerators can:

  • Lead to fewer disposal facilities, potentially reducing the associated environmental issues, such as methane gas emissions, which contribute to global climate change.
  • Offset the environmental impact associated with the extraction and consumption of virgin resources and production of new materials.
  • Create employment and economic activities in recycling industries and provide increased business opportunities within the local community, especially when deconstruction and selective demolition methods are used.
  • Reduce overall building project expenses through avoided purchase/disposal costs, and the donation of recovered materials to qualified 501(c)(3) charities, which provides a tax benefit. Onsite reuse also reduces transportation costs.
  • Conserve landfill space.

For a national economy-wide strategic view of the environmental impacts of single-family home construction in the United States, including environmental benefits associated with salvaging, recycling, and reusing C&D materials, read our life cycle analysis.

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What You Can Do: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rebuy C&D Materials

Builders, construction teams, and design practitioners can divert C&D materials from disposal by practicing source reduction, salvaging, recycling and reusing existing materials, as well as by buying used and recycled products.

  • Source Reduction

    Source reduction reduces life-cycle material use, energy use and waste generation. EPA gives it the highest priority for addressing solid waste issues. While reuse and recycling are important methods to sustainably manage waste once waste has already been generated, source reduction prevents waste from being generated in the first place.

    Examples of C&D source reduction measures include preserving existing buildings rather than constructing new ones; optimizing the size of new buildings; designing new buildings for adaptability to prolong their useful lives; using construction methods that allow disassembly and facilitate reuse of materials; employing alternative framing techniques; reducing interior finishes; and more.

    In addition to changing the design of buildings, building systems and materials, C&D source reduction efforts incorporate purchasing agreements that prevent excess materials and packaging from arriving to the construction site.

  • Recovering and Reusing C&D Materials

    Demolishing existing buildings and disposing of the debris is not a sustainable practice. Recovering used, but still-valuable C&D materials for further use is an effective way to protect natural resources and save money.

    Deconstruction for Reuse

    Deconstruction is the process of carefully dismantling buildings to salvage components for reuse and recycling. Deconstruction can be applied on a number of levels to salvage usable materials and significantly cut waste.

    What Materials Can Be Reused?

    The major benefit of reusing materials is the resource and energy use that one saves avoided by reducing the production of new materials. Some commonly reused C&D materials and applications include:

    • Easy-to-remove items like doors, hardware, appliances, and fixtures. These can be salvaged for donation or use during the rebuild or on other jobs.
    • Wood cutoffs can be used for cripples, lintels, and blocking to eliminate the need to cut full length lumber. Scrap wood can be chipped on site and used as mulch or groundcover.
    • De-papered and crushed gypsum can be used, in moderate quantities, as a soil amendment.
    • Brick, concrete and masonry can be recycled on site as fill, subbase material or driveway bedding.
    • Excess insulation from exterior walls can be used in interior walls as noise deadening material.
    • Paint can be remixed and used in garage or storage areas, or as primer coat on other jobs.
    • Packaging materials can be returned to suppliers for reuse.
  • Recycling C&D Materials

    Many building components can be recycled where markets exist. Asphalt, concrete, and rubble are often recycled into aggregate or new asphalt and concrete products. Wood can be recycled into engineered-wood products like furniture and plastic-composite decks, as well as mulch, compost, and other products. Metals—including steel, copper, and brass—are also valuable commodities to recycle. Additionally, although cardboard packaging from home-building sites is not classified as a C&D material, it does make its way into the mixed C&D stream, and many markets exist for recycling this material.

    Sometimes, materials sent for recycling end up being poorly managed or mismanaged. Asking your recycler a few questions, such as whether they are in compliance with state and local regulations, state licensing or registration, and/or third-party certification, can ensure the proper and intended management for your materials.

  • Rebuying C&D Materials

    Buying used C&D materials and recycled content products for use in new construction can:

    • Ensure materials collected from reuse and recycling programs will be used again in the manufacture of new products and/or new construction, thereby fully realizing the benefits of reuse and recycling efforts;
    • Boost the local economy as recovered materials are typically locally sourced.
    • Lower construction and renovation costs while maintaining building function and performance.
    • Preserve local architectural character and historic significance (in cases of preserved or restored buildings).

    More information on where to buy recovered materials and products can be found on our best practices web page. You can use EPA’s Recycled Content (ReCon) Tool to estimate your life-cycle GHG emissions and energy benefits of purchasing materials with higher degrees of recycled content!

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