Waste Reduction & Management

In a sustainable economy, there is no such thing as waste.

In nature, decomposition and decay constantly recycle organic matter through a whole chain of organisms. In the construction industry, similar processes are possible. Choosing an alternative to sending construction debris to a landfill can recover the value of the solid components of old buildings, actually increasing the economic viability of many projects.

1 Reuse a building
2 Deconstruct old buildings
3 Recycle C&D debris
4 Design for durability
4 Design for recycling

Goal: Reduce, reuse, recycle

Current best practices can keep over 90% of construction debris on most jobs from being treated as waste. The best way to avoid waste is to not generate it in the first place – why demolish a building if you can use it? Salvaging building parts uses the same principle on a piece-by-piece basis. Leftover materials and debris can often be recycled either by separating them onsite or taking them to a mixed construction and demolition sorting facility. As we become more familiar with these reuse and recycling operations, we can plan ahead for them, maintaining the future value of the pieces of a building for the long term.

area one

Reuse a building (renovate) instead of tearing down and rebuilding

What is this?

Existing buildings have value that is preserved if the buildings are renovated or reused instead of demolished and rebuilt.

Why do it?

Renovating a building is so common that it is rarely recognized as a green building strategy, but it is a very important measure. Renovation extends the service life of many building components, whereas demolition would send them straight to a landfill.

How to do this?

Look for promising older buildings that might meet your program needs, or think creatively about older buildings already in your possession that are good candidates for "adaptive reuse."

Who does this?

Architects, contractors (for small projects).


area one

Deconstruct old buildings for materials reuse (salvage)

What is this?

Most buildings are simply demolished when something new is planned on their site; deconstruction (or "soft demolition") is a more careful process that disassembles a building so that the vast majority of material in it can be reused in buildings or other applications.

Why do it?

Deconstruction produces salvage material for sale (wood, stone, brick, metals, used equipment) and preserves landfill space while conserving our natural resources.

How to do this?

Require deconstruction from your general contractor, include it in written specifications, and discuss it in advance so it is a clear requirement for the job. San Mateo County and surrounding areas have a number of specialized deconstruction companies.

Who does this?

Architects, specifications writers, general contractors, specialized subcontractors.


area one

Recycle construction & demolition waste

What is this?

Construction and demolition waste (C&D) includes everything from concrete to carpet, and most of it can be recycled.

Why do it?

Waste from construction jobsites is the single largest component of material sent to our landfills. Reducing waste not only saves landfill space and creates recycled alternatives to virgin materials, but also saves money on the disposal "tipping" fees charged at the landfill. Many San Mateo County jurisdictions require C&D recycling – but going beyond the required minimum can save you more. Some local projects have achieved recycling rates of 90% or more.

How to do this?

Make sure your contractor plans ahead for C&D recycling and write it into your contract and specifications. Provide jobsite space for separating recyclables such as wood, metals, and sheetrock, or haul waste to materials sorting facility. Use industry take–back programs such as the one for carpet.

Who does this?

Contractors, specification writers.


area one

Design for durability and eventual reuse

What is this?

Durable buildings contain materials that can withstand the wear and tear of time, and also have floor plans that allow for various uses over time. Planning for reuse allows building uses and building systems to be updated or changed without requiring full demolition of the building.

Why do it?

Durable buildings are inherently more valuable. A modest increase in a construction budget can often double the life span of a building, leading to vast cost savings. Additional future savings can be obtained if the design allows orderly reclamation of valuable building components such as structural steel or expensive finishes.

How to do this?

Choose long–lived building materials, such as brick and stone, over short–lived products, such as printed vinyl flooring. Design buildings so that systems such as the structural frame, mechanical system, electrical, plumbing, and finishes can be maintained and replaced independently of each other. Use mechanical fasteners, such as nuts, bolts and clips, instead of adhesives.

Who does this?

Architects, engineers.


area one

Provide adequate space for storing and handling recyclables

What is this?

Individual bins for holding paper, bottles and cans, cardboard, food waste, and other recyclable materials take up space; make sure room is available so recycling can be done conveniently.

Why do it?

Recycling will save virgin natural resources, reduce environmental impacts from production processes, and reduce landfill volumes.

How to do this?

Estimate the amount of recyclables on a per–occupant basis — the more people, the more space you'll need. Put recycling space in convenient locations for occupants, custodial staff, and recycling haulers.

Who does this?

Architects, space planners.


More Information

RecycleWorks has free Construction and Demolition Debris Recycling Guides and posters available to make it easier for contractors to salvage and recycle materials from their projects.

You can ask for a guide at your city's permitting counter or order one on our publications page.

RecycleWorks C&D section