Trimming The Waste

February 11, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Bragging and brainstorming are the purposes behind the meeting that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will hold in Grand Rapids this week.

The bragging won’t come from the DEQ, as the state agency is hoping that contractors will sing their own praises about how they have recycled construction waste. But the DEQ will participate in the brainstorming portion of the session by sharing what it has learned on its four-city tour of how others in the state have recycled waste, and will listen to any ideas that local builders have about furthering the green-building effort.

“We have a Web site that promotes green construction, and a major part of that is the construction waste. We want to share with folks what we have available right now, and part of that is some limited listings of Michigan companies that are doing the recycling of waste,” said Maggie Smith, a DEQ pollution prevention field rep.

The site’s address is Michigan.gov/deqconstruction. It contains information on green building and offers a listing of companies in the state that recycle building materials. The site also has links to other sites that have more information.

“Secondly, we want to find out what resources are out there that we can provide the folks when they do contact us that we aren’t aware of. As part of that, we feel that is also helping to promote local Michigan businesses, in addition to keeping materials out of the landfills,” added Smith.

The brainstorming session will be held Wednesday at the Home and Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids, 1633 East Beltline Ave. NE, from 9 a.m. until about noon. But DEQ officials are willing to stay until 4 p.m. in order to answer questions.

The session isn’t limited to those in the commercial field. Residential builders and renovators are also invited to participate, as they often have a lot of material waste left after finishing a remodeling or deconstructing job. Smith said the session will also discuss what shouldn’t be thrown into a waste pile, because some materials may have historic value.

“When someone is remodeling or doing reconstruction, we’re trying to salvage that architectural history so we don’t lose it, and then make those materials available when they are taken out, so it encourages a more economical redevelopment at a local level,” she said.

Smith said the DEQ isn’t making the tour because Michigan has a big problem with waste. Rather, the agency has hit the road to promote green building and to talk about the benefits associated with recycling.

Still there are some materials that are a cause for concern. Drywall and roofing shingles top the list, with pallets not too far behind. Shingles might seem like an unlikely problem, as these could be recycled and then mixed with asphalt for use in paving roads.

“But the state doesn’t allow that. They’re concerned about quality control,” said Smith.

“Shingles have a real BTU content as well as a valuable petroleum source. So why are we putting that back into the landfill? Isn’t there something we can do with that?”

Drywall doesn’t have the value potential in the recycling market that shingles do. But like shingles, there isn’t a whole lot that can be done to re-use drywall — at least not here in the metro area.

“Drywall has a huge volume from residential deconstruction and remodeling, and sometimes from new construction. There hasn’t been a good recycling option for that since Grand Rapids lost Georgia Pacific years ago. They were manufacturing in Grand Rapids and they would use it in their manufacturing process,” said Smith.

The U.S. Green Building Council reported construction in the United States uses 40 percent of the world’s raw building materials each year, or 3 billion tons annually, and the industry creates 136 million tons of construction and demolition waste each year.

The DEQ stop here this week is the fourth in a four-city tour that began nearly a month ago in Kalamazoo. The agency also visited Warren and Ann Arbor. Smith said they’ve picked up a few interesting things from builders at the earlier stops they’ll share here on Wednesday.

“For example, the home I live in has old plastered walls, and I learned that a lot of those have asbestos in them. So we want to make sure we can get that kind of information out there so folks that are doing remodeling or deconstruction are aware of the hazard and of the need to protect themselves,” said Smith.

“We learned there is a company that takes single-paned glass windows and recycles them. They’re not in Michigan, but it’s a resource we weren’t aware of.”

Smith said the DEQ was aware that Wednesday’s session falls on Valentine’s Day.

“We’re going to try to remind the guys to pick something up before they step out of the office,” she said with a smile.

But for their own good, it probably shouldn’t be something that has been recycled. 

By The Numbers

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, the construction and operation of homes and commercial buildings significantly contribute to how a community uses its land and how much energy it uses.

Buildings in the United States are responsible for:

  • 65 percent of total energy consumption
  • 30 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions
  • 136 million tons of construction and demolition waste
  • 12 percent of potable water
  • 40 percent of raw materials used globally (3 billion tons annually).

Source: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, February 2006    

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