Gypsum drywall recycling is a venture worth considering for contractors and C&D recyclers interested in going the extra mile.
On any given construction project, an estimated 20 percent of drywall ends up as scrap. Apartment buildings, dormitories and hotels are just a few examples of the types of jobs that use a lot of drywall, and as construction activity begins to pick up, drywall is making its way into mixed C&D recycling facilities more and more. Understanding what to do with this material either on a job site or at a C&D recycling operation can help to increase diversion rates with added benefits of cost savings, extra credits toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and new product manufacturing.
USA Gypsum in Reinholds, Pa., has been making products out of recycled gypsum drywall generated from construction sites and C&D recyclers for more than a decade. The company is in the process of a facility expansion that will help it capitalize on current markets for this material as well as scaling up developing markets that can use drywall. USA Gypsum President Terry Weaver spoke with Construction & Demolition Recycling Managing Editor Kristin Smith about how the gypsum drywall industry continues to develop.
Construction & Demolition Recycling (C&DR): What are the benefits of recycling gypsum drywall?
Terry Weaver (TW): The first thing is that most landfills would prefer not to have gypsum because of potential H2S (hydrogen sulfide) problems, so it is an advantage to the landfill owners. In most cases there is a cost savings to diversion of drywall to us versus the landfill. Drywall doesn’t burn and increases ash and sulfide emissions at waste-to-energy plants. A third benefit is we are able to produce quality agricultural products from a waste stream with a 100 percent recycling rate. We don’t have any losses when we get a piece of drywall. We reclaim it and all of the material is reused.
C&DR: How are you able to achieve 100 percent recycling of the drywall scrap you process?
TW: We separate the paper facing from the core. The paper facing is good quality fiber. The core of the drywall made up of mineral gypsum, which is a pretty basic mineral. We market most of the products we make into the animal bedding market, mostly for dairy cattle. The unique characteristic of gypsum reclaimed from drywall would be that it is dry. It has been ground very fine, so it has some inherent physical difference from the mined gypsum that farmers might buy or utilize.
C&DR: How has interest in recycling gypsum drywall grown over the years, and to what do you attribute the growth?
TW: I think the growth for us since about 2006 has been driven mostly by C&D processing. We went from one C&D processor sending us some trial loads in 2006 to more than two dozen regular processors sending us drywall that they separate out. Nearly 80 percent of our volume comes from C&D processors. I think LEED and the whole green movement is what pushed them in that direction early on. That was maybe what got the movement started. I think now it may be more driven just by economics.
C&DR: What should a C&D processor know before it begins recycling gypsum drywall from its incoming material stream?
TW: First and foremost we do not recycle drywall that is painted or from demolition. We take new drywall trimming scrap. Secondly, most people sort the drywall from the other foreign material in loads on the tipping floor and not on their pick lines. The reason for that is by the time you dump it, handle it with a grapple and move it across a couple of screens, there is not enough identifiable pieces to make recovering it worthwhile. That is probably our biggest challenge with the C&D processors is it needs to be done on the tip floor. Drywall is probably the most difficult material to sort from the waste stream.
C&DR: Why don’t you accept demolition drywall in your processes?
TW: It is both for regulatory reasons and end markets. As soon as you look at demolition material, someone wants to know has there been lead abatement, etc. Even if I could do it from a regulatory standpoint, I don’t think the end markets would accept it. We are working on some new markets that I think would be appropriate uses, and so far we’ve been encouraged by responses by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In reality though, there is not much drywall coming out of demolition that can be separated.
C&DR: What types of projects are good candidates for gypsum drywall recycling?
TW: With 80 percent coming from C&D recycling centers, whatever they care to separate out for us we are happy to have. If someone is going to try source separating at a construction site, then there is a multitude of pros and cons. You have to consider extra containers, how many hours you can work, how many elevators you have to take materials down. Close to here we do have a few of our own containers. We also work with haulers and pick up at residential new construction projects within 50 miles of here. We love retirement apartment complexes, hotels and dormitories because they generally have lots of walls and openings and they generate a lot of material.
C&DR: How does recycling gypsum drywall help earn points toward LEED certification?
TW: You can earn an extra point if you recycle 75 percent of waste generated from a job site as compared to 50 percent. Many types of buildings like dormitories and hotels will not reach a 75 percent recycling rate without recycling the drywall scraps. Some contractors also have claimed the Innovation in Design credit of the LEED Scorecard for recycling drywall.
C&DR: How would a contractor determine whether to source separate material or have it separated at a C&D recycling facility?
TW: Source-separated jobs are governed by geography and distance to our plant. Only about three plants on the East Coast recycle drywall. You just can’t efficiently source separate and haul small containers long distances. You can recover a higher percentage source separating, but to be cost-effective and be truly green you can’t be hauling one Dumpster load a at time 100 miles away. Source separating can be an efficient method of collection, but it is really limited in terms of how far you can travel cost effectively.
In a traditional construction schedule, a large amount of drywall scraps will be generated in a short amount of time. Many of the C&D processors that I work with eyeball those loads. If it only contains a couple of pieces of drywall, they won’t mess with it. But when they see that load come in that is mostly drywall and associated scraps, they will dump that load off to the side, hand sort out the metal and the rest comes to us.
There is an opportunity for C&D processes to accept source-separated drywall and simply transfer it to our tractor trailers for efficient transportation. This solves the problem of difficulty in separating drywall from the waste stream.
C&DR: What types of drywall are accepted into your process?
TW: Our permit says that anything with a standard core and paper facing on it can be recycled. We cannot accept drywall that is painted or from demolition. We don’t accept exterior types of drywall with fiberglass sheeting over the outside and in some cases with additional fiberglass enmeshed into the core. There are a handful of specialty boards that we don’t take, for example high-impact resistant drywall used in gymnasiums and prisons contains a vinyl mesh embedded in the core. About 88 percent of all wallboard manufactured and shipped is either regular or Type X, and that is what we are permitted for.
C&DR: How does USA Gypsum process drywall scraps?
TW: A good way to describe our process that it is a series of size reduction, pulverizing, screening, air and rollers, and we have different sizes of equipment for the different products we make. We have developed the processes we use over a long period of time. The new 33,000-square-foot facility we are building is expected to double our square footage and is designed to triple our current throughput capacity.
C&DR: What end products do you produce with the recycled gypsum and what are the potential markets?
TW: We are about 90-plus percent agricultural products that are either directly land applied or used as animal bedding which then becomes land applied at some point. There are other agricultural uses, but eventually it ends up becoming a soil amendment. We have other markets but they are not the volume of our business. We supply Mannington Flooring with gypsum and it is incorporated into new commercial vinyl floors.
C&DR: What kind of a demand is there for the products you make with recycled gypsum?
TW: We have plenty of room for growth in the agricultural markets. We came at this from the agricultural angle and I think that is somewhat unique. It is a niche for us that I think is difficult for others to break into. We are going to stay somewhat focused on that.
I think utilizing all types of wallboard including demolition and going into the ready-mix concrete industry ties into the EPA’s new ruling. Gypsum is a freight-sensitive product. It is not a very high-priced commodity. If we can perfect using it in ready-mix then I think it is something that could be scaled up. Anywhere that drywall is being installed, ready-mix is being made. The next thing after our expansion is to come up with something that can be scaled up and I believe this is it. This is not just a pipe dream. We just did a 1 million-square-foot project for Dollar General. We’re doing it. We are perfecting it, and we are continuing to research it.
Terry Weaver is president, USA Gypsum, Reinholds, Pa. He can be contacted at Terry@USAgypsum.com.