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Everything old is new again: Regulatory changes and changes in LEED reinforce waste prevention and source separated recycling as best practice for construction waste management

ElizabethPowers-web This is one of two articles about how regulatory changes and changes in LEED are pushing the construction industry towards old, standard best practices in reducing and recycling construction waste. This article addresses non residential projects and the associated LEED Rating Systems. Stay tuned for another article addressing single and multifamily construction and LEED for Homes.

In the construction, demolition and land clearing (CDL) waste world, there’s a debate about what really constitutes recycling of construction waste and how to regulate construction waste recycling facilities. The USGBC, the USEPA, municipalities and even individual private waste management companies have entered the debate. As a result, the rules for handling construction waste management for LEED are changing and the construction industry may not be ready for it.

FaganHall_December 002 There are three issues commercial contractors building LEED projects should be aware of described below, but the bottom line to draw from this discussion is that contractors should pay more attention to construction methods and materials that reduce overall construction waste, and optimize the use of source separated recycling to maximize recycling rates. Some of O’Brien & Company’s earliest work in the mid-1990’s was educating contractors about waste prevention and how do to source separated recycling – long before commingled recycling was a widespread option. Waste prevention and source separation were best practice then, and remain so, but now you have more incentive.

First issue: In the brave new world of the much ballyhooed “certification bodies” introduced with LEED 2009, a detailed requirement for documentation of the facility recycling rate for facilities that take and separate commingled construction waste has come to light and is being more strictly enforced. This is tripping up contractors who had gotten used to routine acceptance by the USGBC and GBCI reviewers of facility recycling rate information provided in the Letter Template.

The letter of the requirement is outlined in a LEED-NC v 2.1 Credit Interpretation Ruling (CIR) dated 12/5/2005 and included in the LEED 2009 credit form:

For commingled waste provide documentation verifying the diversion rate of the waste. Documentation can be either a project specific diversion rate provided by the sorting facility or the average annual recycling rate for the sorting facility provided by the regulating local or state government authority.

 Technically this means not only should you collect weight receipts and diversion reports as back up documentation but, for commingled loads, you will need to upload clear documentation supporting the percentage of diversion claimed for that load. In some areas of the country, some commingled recycling facilities will directly sort individual loads and give you reports. In other situations, the facility provides a facility wide recycling rate on an annual or monthly basis that can be applied to your project’s loads. In the latter case, you need to provide information that some regulating authority is overseeing those facilities and the validity of the diversion rates. This kind of regulatory supervision and verification may not be available in your area, which means commingled recycling, even if the facilities exist, will not count as waste diverted from the landfill for the LEED Construction Waste Management credit. Therefore, source separated recycling is your best option for earning the credit. Regardless of the regulatory situation, separating major waste streams for direct recycling will help any project reduce LEED documentation and increase recycling rates.

Second Issue: A debate about the value of a key byproduct of commingled recycling called Alternative Daily Cover (ADC) has resulted in changes to the Construction Waste Management credits in the draft of LEED 2012. Landfills are required to cover the active face of their solid waste at the end of each day. This cover acts like a lid to control disease, odors and scavenging and has typically been an earthen material (wood chips, soil etc). The practice of adding a daily dose of good soil to the waste stream just doesn’t seem like the best use of a valuable organic resource with much greater potential so the industry found an alternative, ADC. ADC is now a primary market for the small particles and scraps (called fines or residuals) left over from the process of sorting commingled recycling in to higher value materials. These fines can make up a large portion (over 25%) of the output of commingled facilities. ADC has been considered a beneficial use of this waste stream and been allowed to count as recycling by many regulatory bodies and by the USGBC for LEED through 2009.

In the LEED 2012 draft, ADC is explicitly excluded from calculations for the construction waste management credit. The USGBC is leading changes being considered by multiple state and local regulatory bodies that say, although good practice, using fines or residuals as ADC does not meet the intent of redirecting recovered resources back into the manufacturing process. For contractors trying to achieve MR Credit 2, you will need to understand what your local regulations allow to be counted as recycling and therefore what is included in diversion rates from commingled recycling facilities. In areas where a portion, or all, of the ADC generated at a facility is considered recycling, the facility will need to provide separate reports excluding ADC as documentation for your LEED project.

FaganHall_December 004 Excluding ADC from the construction waste management calculation will likely significantly reduce the facility recycling rate, making commingled a less appealing option for achieving high levels of recycling and earn the maximum points for diverting construction waste. Consequently, source separated recycling becomes a key tool again in increasing recycling rates. Commingled recycling is still an important tool as a space, and possibly cost, saver, but you need to understand your recycling facilities’ practices and what counts as recycling for LEED to decide how to incorporate commingled recycling into your plans.

Third issue: Preventing waste in the first place. Taking a cue from LEED for Homes, the draft of the non-residential LEED 2012 rating systems offers a new compliance path for not producing more than 1.5 lbs of waste per square foot. This is an aggressive standard that allows project teams that use panelized or modular construction, pre-cast materials, and other methods that reduce the amount of waste generated in the first place to receive recognition in MR Credit 2.

This is a long overdue addition to this credit that O’Brien & Company applauds. The construction and solid waste industries have done a good job at increasing recycling of construction waste, but we aren’t really solving the problem if we don’t first reduce waste.

In conclusion, changes in the way we regulate construction waste management, changes in the way LEED enforces requirements, and upcoming changes to the LEED construction waste management credit reinforce the idea that waste prevention and source separation for recycling have always been best practice and are still best practice. The options available for source separated recycling, the type of commingled recycling facilities available and the regulatory oversight of those facilities vary around the country and contractors will need to understand the local conditions to determine the best path for earning LEED points in construction waste management. You’ll need to contact your local solid waste authority for specific regulatory oversight and reporting requirements for commingled recycling facilities in your area but there are many good resources on waste prevention practices and planning for construction waste recycling available through our local King County Green Tools Program.

Although authored by Elizabeth Powers, CSBA, LEED AP BD+C and ID+C and Principal of O’Brien & Company, this Building Capacity Blog article has been a collaborative project for many of O’Brien & Company’s staff as we sort out these issues for our clients. Special recognition goes to James Jenkins, a long-term member of the O’Brien & Company team, who is now working for BNBuilders, helping their company tackle construction waste management and many other green building issues

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