DJC Green Building Blog

Scrap metal demolition is green, but not always easy

Posted on December 20, 2012

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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