My first exposure to waste diversion on a jobsite was a response to LEED requirements. Of all the standards we had to meet, practices we had to modify, and requirements we had to satisfy waste diversion presented the most tangible upside – across the board. It’s obvious, too. Once you have modified your waste handling practices, you realize a few things: first, it is just like recycling at your own house, so it’s something we’re all use to by now; and second, by the time the first loads of cardboard, plastics, and clean lumber cut-offs have been hauled away you can see the enormous quantities of material that you have diverted from the landfill.

The process is really simple. You can create a segregated waste area with separate space for wood, cardboard, plastics, and garbage that fits the space you have on the jobsite whether small or large. If the jobsite is spacious and you can fit a few containers, your local waste handler can often provide separate bins. Otherwise, simple plywood boxes work fine. Most local dumps have recycling centers, which makes dropping the material off very easy. There is generally a significant cost savings when leaving clean material at the dump rather than “construction debris.” On the LEED project referenced above, we saw a 40% reduction in our typical waste handling costs.

Carpenters and tradespeople are generally resourceful, so we’ve found this effort integrated into the jobsite operations smoothly. With our own crews we found that with our new practices of segregating and diverting clean material from the dump, there have been trickle-down benefits. For example, instead of cutting up new lumber for structural blocking, our crew is salvaging from the clean waste lumber pile first.

As a builder, one of the most astonishing things we see is how much material goes into even the most sustainable homes. And often there is a lot of waste produced in an effort to build such homes. By segregating the waste material we calculated that 85% or more of the material could be diverted from the landfill. It’s clear that changing this one practice can make the process of constructing a green home much more sustainable.img_0153

Brendan Connolly manages projects and is COO for Groza Construction in Monterey, CA.