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Deconstruction and Reusing

by Kim Kinrade

demolition man, salvage partsA study by sponsored by Massachusetts architects, contractors and the state's Department of Environment Protection concluded that, "There is hardly a single waste material from a job site that cannot be recycled." It also went on the say that 40% of all raw materials consumed in the U.S. goes into construction and 130 million tons, or 25%, of all solid waste is from construction sites. As well, the cost of recycling is lower than the cost of throwing the materials away. So as landfills reach their limits, tipping fees become exorbitant and fuel for trucks becomes more expensive more and more job sites are looking toward more efficient ways to recycle and reuse discarded building materials and demolition waste.

The End of a Building's Life

All buildings have a shelf life, a point at which it is either structurally unsound or that it is economically unfeasible to maintain. Another reason to taking down a building may have nothing to do with these points. Instead, the reason may be that the building is in an area where land prices have made it financially sound for a comapny to build a bigger building on the same spot.

Construction and demolition (C&D) materials are the debris generated during all aspects of the construction, renovation, and demolition of buildings and other structures including roads and bridges. So whatever the reason for tearing down a building it's demolition generates a large amount of good material that can be either reused or recycled into other products. :These materials include:

  • concrete
  • wood
  • asphalt (both from roads and roofing shingles)
  • gypsum (from drywall)
  • metals (all metals)
  • bricks
  • plastics
  • salvaged building components (doors, windows, and plumbing fixtures)
  • trees, stumps, earth, and rock from clearing sites
  • glass

Therefore choosing to recycle materials

  1. Has a direct effect on landfills
  2. Reduces the environmental impact of having to produce new materials
  3. Creates jobs
  4. Reduces building expenses.

So more and more demolition crews are more like "deconstruction crews." Deconstruction is defined as the the "orderly dismantling of building components for reuse or recycling." This is contrast to the old scene of a wrecking ball smashing through a wall and the rubble shoveled up and trucked to a barge for dumping in the ocean.

Deconstruction is a careful taking apart of portions of the building where removing specific contents is the primary function. This includes the stripping out cabinets, fixtures, flooring and windows. In other cases it could be a crew manually taking apart an entire building frame.

Recycling Toxic Materials

Asbestos: Asbestos is usually thought of as the most dangerous of all materials to remove. So whether or not a contractor decides to recycle building materials the law will force the careful removal of asbestos before any building comes down. Asbestos is then sealed in containers for transport to a facility that deals with the substance. Almost every state requires licencing for this work and it is carefully regulated.

Mercury: One of the most pressing concerns after asbestos is the disposal of over quarter-billion (250,000,000) fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (H.I.D.) lamps every year. A fluorescent lamp is a glass tube filled with a mix of argon and mercury vapor. This is done by adding a drop of liquid mercury to each lamp during manufacturing process. Inside the glass tube is a coating of phosphor which gives off light.

The scientific explanation for this: ultraviolet radiation is emitted when the two outermost electrons of the mercury atom return to a ground state after being raised to a higher level under the influence of a strong electric field. When in contact with phosphor, light is generated.

To dispose of these lamps requires that the mercury be taken out. Some deconstruction crews now take out each bulb and crush it in a sealed area whereby the minute pieces are then sealed in steel drums for transport. The trouble with this method is that the mercuric gas lingers and leechess into the ground water.

Lamp Disposal Companies: There are companies which now provide a pick-up service for these bulbs. The crews carefully pack the bulbs and they are picked up and taken to a depot. Here each lamp is separated into the individual components. Mercury is removed from the tube and stored. Vapor analyzers monitor for mercury vapor concentrations to ensure a safe environment. In addition workers wear proper respiratory and protective equipment. With the price of metal going up the metal parts are separated and sold to salvage companies.

State Requirements for C & D

Now, some states require that at least 50% of the waste materials generated by a construction or demolition project be diverted from the landfill. In addition these states further require that at least 75% of all inert debris generated by a construction or demolition project – brick, glass, wood, concrete - be diverted from the landfill.


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