No Time to Waste; Waste Diversion in Construction

Managing waste has been a ball and chain on society throughout the years, and we are still in the process of ironing out systems that are efficient and sustainable. According to the EPA’s 2014 study on Waste Management, published in 2016, 258 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) were generated. With a statistic like this, it is clear that changes need to be made in order to mitigate this generation. The construction and demolition (C&D) tier of waste management is often overlooked, however, C&D materials contribute to a significant amount of this waste stream. Focusing on a tier such as this could have a substantial impact on the future of sustainable cities.

C&D materials are generated when new buildings and structures are built and when existing buildings and structures are renovated or demolished. These various materials can be diverted from disposal, separated and managed into new productive uses. C&D sites are multi-faceted with various forms of traffic flowing in and out, daily. It can be hard to enforce and track waste separation on site. Hiring a waste management company makes the process easier. They separate and track waste for you, saving time and increasing project efficiency.

Construction projects may have waste diversion goals or requirements depending on project type. Waste diversion is the process of diverting waste from the landfill. In order to divert waste, all construction materials are separated by type and disposed accordingly. Materials that are recyclable are separated from materials that are not recyclable. Both recycled and non-recycled materials are weighed and a percentage is calculated to determine how much waste overall was diverted from the landfill.

Many responsible building owners and managers are pursuing LEED building certification.  Waste diversion is a part of the requirements for the certification process. Being a prerequisite, a waste management plan is put into place prior to project construction. Implementing and tracking this waste management plan during construction can help earn LEED credits, making the project that much closer to achieving the certification.

Some waste management companies are taking on the challenge of waste diversion and are becoming the leaders in this beneficial process. One of these leaders is Knight Transfer Service: a waste management provider located in Zeeland; servicing West Michigan, Lansing, Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor. Along with their waste management service, Knight designed a program for sorting waste on and off site for construction projects. The program developed over time as they saw a need in the construction industry.

Since 2002, Knight has partnered with 60 project teams to divert waste at over 200 project sites pursuing LEED certification in Michigan.

Business models like Knight’s can help to achieve waste management goals on and off site. If the construction site is large enough, dumpsters are delivered and the waste separation is done on site. If the construction site has limited space, different dumpsters are brought in that host multiple materials per bin and are then separated off site.

The program helps construction projects with waste responsibility; creating more space on site, improving accuracy of sorting materials, and helping projects meet waste goals. It provides companies with peace of mind knowing that the job is getting done in an efficient and sustainable manner.

Waste is inevitable. With the right guidance, information, and leaders driving projects such as these, we can tackle the giant that is waste management.


Written by: Rebecca Holman of the USGBC West MI Chapter

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