Category Archives: Waste

There’s gold in your gray water

An inside look at the rainwater capture system's holding tank

An inside look at the rainwater capture system’s holding tank

Along with a new age of sustainability comes new interest in gray water recycling and rainwater capture systems.  These systems capture water from your house’s bathroom sinks, showers and rainfall then reuse it to irrigate the lawn and flush the toilets.

The engineering behind the effort can be tricky, but in the simplest terms it goes like this: water from the “gray water sources” gravity-flows into a collection basin. A pump in the basin then pushes the water through a filter and disinfection array and into a storage tank.  The water in the storage tank is periodically circulated to keep it clear and bacteria-free. Finally, a pressure controlled pump automatically delivers recycled water to your irrigation system when your irrigation timer activates. It’s simplistically complex.

Whether on a household level or a commercial level, many have decided to invest in the water conservation effort.  Gray water recycling and rainwater capture systems can save 50 to 70 percent of a family’s monthly water usage. You’ll save that same 50 to 70 percent on your water bill.

How much does it cost to install? Do-it-yourself systems start at $3,500.  Systems for average sized homes start at $11,000.

To learn more, visit

A small, home-installed system

A small, home-installed system



A 10,000 gallon holding tank for a rainwater capture system being buried underground at the Santa Monica Library


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Light recycler helps businesses dispose of fluorescent lights

The following post is by DJC staff:

People and businesses in Washington are now required to recycle fluorescent light bulbs and tubes. The new law covers residences as well as government, commercial, industrial, office and retail facilities.

Fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) save energy but each light contains a small amount of mercury that can be harmful to humans and wildlife if it is not disposed of correctly. The mercury content in fluorescent tubes ranges from 3.5 milligrams to 8 milligrams or more for older lamps.

You can't throw these away now.

The most common types of lights that must be recycled include CFLs, fluorescent tubes and HID (high-intensity discharge) lights, such as mercury vapor, sodium vapor and metal halide lamps. It is now illegal to knowingly place mercury-containing lights in waste bins or landfills. All mercury-containing lights must be placed in a recycling container specifically designed to prevent the release of mercury. Mercury inside a light does not pose a concern while the light is in use and unbroken, but during disposal and waste handling, lamps are broken, releasing mercury vapor and potentially exposing waste handlers or others to mercury.

Mercury in the atmosphere is ultimately deposited back to the earth, rivers and lakes, where it can enter the food chain and accumulate in fish, which humans and other animals eat.

EcoLights was created in 1996 to recycle mercury-containing lights and both PCB and non-PCB ballasts. The company said it is a licensed “final destination” light recycler in Washington state.

Ecolights said almost every component of a fluorescent lamp can be recycled, including metal end caps, glass and the mercury phosphor powder. When lamps are recycled properly, they are crushed and the materials are separated under a continuous vacuum filtration process.

Glass, aluminum and phosphor powder are captured and recycled. Mercury phosphor powder is sent to a mercury retort for recovery of the mercury and rare earth metals in the powder.

EcoLights sells a pre-paid box for recycling. The company ships the box, protective inner bag, and instructions to users, who fill the box with lamps, and return it to EcoLights for recycling. EcoLights then e-mails a certificate of recycling to the user. The company said currently there are no fines or other legal consequences associated with non-compliance.

“EcoLights is committed to being a resource for helping businesses throughout the region understand and comply with the new law,” says Craig Lorch, EcoLights founder. “We want to make sure everyone is prepared for the transition.”

Information about the new law is available on the state Legislature website or at

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Scrap metal demolition is green, but not always easy

The following post is from Elder Demolition:

About 40 percent of the solid waste produced in the U.S. comes from construction and demolition debris. In 1996, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that the debris generated from construction and demolition projects totaled 136 million tons. Since then, this figure has increased by 25 percent. Building demolitions are responsible for about 48 percent of this waste, while renovations contribute about 44 percent. Since steel is one of the most popular materials used in construction, green scrap metal demolition is getting a second look.

Scrap metal recycling can reduce disposal fees and demand for raw materials.

Builders are diverting metals harvested during demolitions from landfills for reuse in new projects. Instead of tearing down a building as fast as possible, builders deconstruct them in order to salvage parts they can reuse, recycle or sell. Scrap metal recycling isn’t a new concept in the metal industry. Here’s why:

It reduces demand. Steel and other metals have valuable minerals in them, such as nickel and chromium. By choosing to recycle scrap metal waste, you can help reduce the demand for raw materials and the energy required to refine them.

It saves money. Often you can reuse the metal salvaged during a green demolition, thus reducing disposal fees. If there’s metal that you can’t repurpose, there’s the option of selling it or making a tax-deductible contribution to a non-profit building supply company.

You can earn green points. A green demolition may qualify your project for LEED points or a related certification. Builders can also earn points by planning new construction with a future green deconstruction in mind.

Salvaging scrap metal is a time- and work-intensive process. When dismantling an aluminum plant, for example, our company harvested 35,000 tons of structural steel. This involved using steel shears to cut the larger scraps into smaller pieces for transporting. Then the smaller pieces must be gathered and separated from the rest of the construction debris — in many cases, this requires a crew to comb through the site and separate the materials by hand, which is dangerous as well as time-consuming. We’ve found the use of magnets to be the safest and most efficient way to extract scrap metal from a site.

One rookie error demolition companies commonly make is not properly sorting the different types of metal. It’s usually fairly obvious that any copper, aluminum or other precious metals should be separated. However, once these materials have been removed, many crews will simply gather the remaining metals into one load. That means heavy structural steel often gets mixed together with ductwork, metal wall studs, light fixtures and other less valuable metals. At the scrap yard, just a few pieces of these undesirable materials can diminish the value of the heavy steel as much as 20 percent — that’s $25-50 per ton. When you’re hauling 10-12 tons of scrap metal for resale, this can be a costly mistake.

For more information about scrap metal demolition, and site management, stormwater management and eco-friendly opportunities in the area, the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center and the EPA provide a list of green building resources and certification programs available in Oregon and Washington.

Portland-based Elder Demolition has experience with scrap metal demolition, scrap metal recycling and LEED-certified green demolitions.


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What would you do with the old floating bridge?

Sara Strouse, an architecture grad student in the WSU School of Design and Construction, has organized a design competition — there’s no contract at the end but the winner gets a $3,000 prize — to find creative ways to reuse waste material when the old SR 520 floating bridge comes down in 2014.

Photo by WSDOT

A press release from WSU about the competition said replacing the bridge is expected to create enough waste material to fill 67 Boeing 747s.

Strouse said as her final design project for school she wants to see if having a competition will get more people thinking about adaptive reuse — and get a little more attention for her thesis. She hopes to get between 50 and 100 ideas from design teams and individuals.

Submissions are due Aug. 15.

Strouse said she initially thought she would come up with ideas for reusing the bridge materials but she wanted to reach a broader audience and get an up-close look at how design competitions work so she decided to launch the contest. It has been a struggle to get sponsors and design the website herself, but it is giving her an opportunity to network with people and companies in the Seattle design community, where she eventually hopes to land a job.  She graduates in December.

Her father is a local architect, William Strouse of KSI Architecture and Planning.

The contest sponsors are NBBJ, KSI Architecture and Planning, WSU School of Design and Construction, and Kiewit/General/Manson, which is the bridge project contractor.

The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2014. After that, the old bridge will be removed.

Paul Hirzel of the School of Design and Construction said, “Infrastructure is of big interest in the U.S. right now, and encouraging the reuse of an existing structure versus demolition contributes to sustainability measures that are becoming more and more critical.”

The jury includes WSU graduate and architect Robert Hull.

For more information on the competition, see Winners will be announced by Peter Steinbrueck at the Seattle Design Festival Sept. 21. Winning entries will be displayed at the AIA Seattle Gallery from Sept. 18 through Oct. 26.


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Roof going on at Bullitt Center

The following post is by Brad Kahn, president of Groundwork Strategies. He manages communications for the Bullitt Center project.

The roof of the Bullitt Center on East Madison Street is under construction now and all the structural elements are in place.

Skylights are being framed into the roof to maximize daylight and reduce the need for lighting.

Photo by Sky-Pix

Today President Rosen Plevneliev from Bulgaria, who is a former real estate developer, will tour the Bullitt Center as part of a trade mission to Seattle.

After campaigning for president on a platform that included energy efficiency in buildings, Plevneliev will be in Seattle today before heading to the NATO summit in Chicago next week. His visit to Seattle is focused on international trade and economic development. In particular, he is interested in learning about green building and clean energy technology, which is why he is touring Bullitt Center, the world’s greenest office building.

In the next few weeks, we will begin outreach to brokers to begin marketing office space inside the Bullitt Center. It will be marketed at rates comparable to new class-A space in downtown.

Photo by John Stamets

The HVAC system is going into the building, including the six-story composting toilet system.

McGivra Place, the park next door, now has a final design direction and the process is moving forward, with re-development expected later this summer or early fall. The park project is the first to pursue the Living Building Challenge for landscapes.



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