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Green Demolition

10/17/2007 by Alexis Karolides

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Demolition should be carefully planned to reduce or eliminate waste. Typically, demolition and construction debris account for 15%–20% (in some places, up to 40%) of municipal solid waste that goes to landfills, while estimates are that potentially 90% of this “waste” could be reusable or recyclable.

Designing for Deconstruction

Ideally, planning for waste reduction begins not when a building is about to be demolished, but with initial building design.

Buildings can be designed for flexibility to accommodate changing uses over time, for ease of alteration, and for deconstructability should the building no longer be suited for any use. Planning for deconstruction involves using durable materials and designing building assemblies so that materials can be easily separated when removed. For example, rather than adhering rigid foam roof insulation to the roof surface, installing a sheathing layer in between allows the insulation to be reused. Window assemblies can also be designed for easy replacement, which is not unlikely during a building’s life.

Considerations During Demolition

Reusing and recycling construction and demolition waste is the “environmentally friendly” thing to do, and could also result in cost savings while promoting local entrepreneurial activities. A waste reduction plan, clearly outlined in the project’s specifications, would require the following:

  • Specification of waste-reducing construction practices.
  • Vigilance about reducing hazardous waste, beginning by substituting nontoxic materials for toxic ones, where possible.
  • Reuse of construction waste (or demolition) material on the construction site (for instance, concrete can be ground up to use for road aggregate).
  • Salvage of construction and demolition waste for resale or donation.
  • Return of unused construction material to vendors for credit.
  • Delivery of waste materials to recycling sites for remanufacture into new products.
  • Tracking and reporting all of this activity.

It is critical to note that reusing, salvaging, and/or recycling materials requires additional up-front planning. The contractor must have staging/storage locations and must allot additional time for sorting materials, finding buyers or recycling centers, and delivering the materials to various locations.

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