Southeast C&D Debris Recycling Conference: Opportunity Knocks

Waste Management executive discusses opportunities in C&D recycling.

December 16, 2011
CDR Staff
Forecasts & Statistics

Tom Sheehy, director of Construction Solutions for Houston-based Waste Management (WM), said that his company does not view the construction and demolition material it receives as waste. As a speaker during the opening session of the Southeast C&D Debris Recycling Conference held in early December in Columbia, S.C., he told attendees that extracting more value from the waste stream involves cooperation between building owners, contractors, processors, government agencies, educational instructions and others.

In his presentation, Sheehy noted that WM CEO David Steiner told attendees of the AGC (Association of General Contractors) conference in Las Vegas in 2010 that someday he envisions WM “paying our contractors for their waste.”

By making operations more sustainable, more value can be extracted from the waste stream. “It allows you to make more money. It allows shareholders to be happy, and it is good for the environment, so it is a win-win-win,” said Sheehy, adding, “It is how Waste Management, from the senior level on down, views waste.”

“Our tag line, ‘Think green think Waste Management’ is not just a marketing slogan,” Sheehy said, “But in fact a reality.”

WM operates 18 C&D recycling facilities in the United States. The challenge, according to Sheehy, is that those facilities are only recycling about 500,000 tons of C&D materials out of an estimated 165 million tons of C&D debris that is landfilled.

“So we are only capturing a small part of the opportunity that is out there,” remarked Sheehy.

He identifies what he said are the top six challenges facing C&D recycling:

1.    Industry resistance to change. Owners and project managers can be more receptive than supervisors.
2.    Local recycling market conditions. Markets for commodities and sorting technology vary widely by location.
3.    Market awareness. This is why Sheehy said he appreciates the opportunity to participate in the conference and why WM has more than 200 employees dedicated to construction services sales.
4.    Perceived to be too costly. There is an opportunity to better understand and quantify the value of commodities extracted from construction and demolition material.
5.    Usually requires more space at a site. Sheehy encourages a waste management construction plan and partner involvement from design through occupancy.
6.    Industry guidelines. “Every recycling processor needs to be held to the same standard.”

He told attendees Waste Management Sustainability Services consultants can assist design teams in identifying and integrating viable sustainable design strategies into new construction and existing buildings for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification.

In addition, WM recently launched a tool to help measure diversion rates on job sites. Krystal Brown, account manager for WM Construction Solutions, demonstrated how the online DART (Diversion and Recycling Tracking) tool works.

The service operates online and is accessible 24-hours a day to monitor construction and demolition recycling, tabulate total diversion rates and provide documentation to support LEED Certification.

Also as part of the session, Abby Goldsmith, assistant vice president, SAIC Energy, Environment, and Infrastructure, LLC, McLean, Va. shared an overview of construction and demolition recycling in the Southeast.

Goldsmith said there were several challenges to recovering C & D material in the Southeast, including low tipping fees such as in Georgia where she said the average tipping fee at C&D landfills are $23.72. Another challenge to the industry is keeping materials separate on site, especially at demolition sites. Other challenges were limited space for on-site storage, training personnel with high turnover and in multiple languages; and markets and values for many materials remaining marginal in Southeast.

The Southeast C&D Debris Recycling Conference was held Dec. 6-8, 2011 in Columbia, S.C.