Construction waste reduction: Awareness increases, but so does the amount of waste

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Ottawa Construction News staff writer

The challenge of reducing – even eliminating – destructive construction waste from the ecosystem is a story of progress in recognizing the issue’s importance, but not so much success in actually implementing solutions, says Renee Gratton, president of the Construction Resources Initiatives (CRI) Council.

Speaking at CRI Council’s annual general meeting on June 23 in Ottawa, Gratton says governments and industry are taking notice of the issue. “We know all the provinces are addressing it,” she said.  “It’s part of the Canadian Council of Ministers agenda.  And regional and municipal governments are addressing this everywhere.”

CRI Council has also garnered support and interest from a diversity of construction industry associations and businesses.

“However, we know for sure that ICI waste is increasing at an alarming level and becoming a big illegal trade business,” Gratton said.  “For recycling and reuse, (legitimate) businesses are emerging.  We also know the illegal trade of waste is estimated at $10 to $12 billion annually globally.”

“We know the illegal trade in wood and hazardous materials is increasing. Even though we know we are doing good things with sustainable building development, the aggregate amount of others who aren’t doing the right thing is increasing.”

Panelists at the gathering explored some ideas and options to increase success in construction waste management, including Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and producer-based responsibility systems, where the costs of reusing and recycling the materials are baked in through special fees or levies (as has been applied, for example, for electronics materials recycling.)

CRI Council has set a goal of zero construction and demolition waste by 2030 – and Gratton says the challenge is to turn the vision into more action.

In presentations and a panel discussion, CRI Council executive vice-president John-David Hutchison, with CSV Architects in Ottawa, said North America is behind Europe in implementing effective strategies to reduce construction waste.  He says many of these issues will be addressed in the new LEED certification requirements, but there is also much fear.  “Manufacturers are scared,” he said.  “Municipalities (also) just because they don’t understand it.

There are many challenges.  For example, Hutchison observed that “this guy calls me and says he has green drywall – its 79 per cent from recycled material.”

“Where’s it from?” Hutchison asked.  “China.”

“That’s not good here,” he responded.  “That you will have to sell to the Chinese.”

Meanwhile, Jay Illingworth, director, harmonization for the Electronic Products Recycling Association, described how electronics product manufacturers set out to develop a producer-managed recycling system for their products.

The concept of “extended producer responsibility” — “your responsibility doesn’t end when you sell it to the consumer” is a straightforward concept, but it takes some time to understand the best approach to take.

The manufacturers decided they would best be served by supporting an open recycling initiative, where the system would accept products produced long before the new system came into place.  “There are still products out there 35 to 40 years old,” he said.  “The industry has the responsibility to take these and recycle them.”

“We took a ‘walk before you run’ approach, initially with a limited number of products,” he said.

 

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