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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Out of work? The building deconstruction industry is hiring!

Posted on February 3, 2009

This is a guest post by Dave Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting. 

This last week has been full of bad news relating to major corporations cutting jobs.  These job cuts are nothing compared to the amount of jobs that have been shipped overseas in the past decades.  Did you know that the City of Buffalo used to have

Image courtesy Dave Bennink
600,000 people in it and now it only has about 290,000?  First the jobs left and then the people followed.  This has left Buffalo wondering what to do with tens of thousands of abandoned homes. 

So where are we heading?  Jobs disappearing, economic slowdowns and global warming are just the start of our problems.  Fortunately, there is some good news to share:  The building deconstruction industry is creating thousands of green collar jobs, and these jobs cannot be shipped overseas! 

For years, building deconstruction has been much slower and more expensive than demolition.  Building deconstruction is the systematic disassembly of a structure to maximize reuse and recycling.  In recent years, hybrid deconstruction has allowed deconstruction and adaptive reuse companies to take down buildings faster and cheaper, completing 2,000-square-foot homes in 3 to 4 days as one example.  Even with these improvements, building deconstruction still creates 10 to 20 times more jobs than demolition while hoping to achieve an on-site landfill diversion rate of 70 percent or more (before comingled recycling options). 

These are all local jobs that cannot be shipped overseas and we are working to make them living wage jobs requiring different levels of experience and potentially launching workers into other related careers.

One thing that is clear to me is that building owners don't want their structures demolished, they just want them removed.  Almost everyone I have talked to would rather see the their building moved intact, deconstructed, or at least salvaged or even preserved in place through adaptive reuse as long as it doesn't take much more time and it doesn't cost more money.  That helps the building deconstruction contractors by basing their efforts on a solid foundation. 

People realize that deconstruction creates more jobs, helps the environment, preserves local architectural elements, and assists lower-income home owners to maintain their homes.  It is also a sustainable effort, unlike some green solutions that just slow down the problems.  Deconstruction is not just saving energy and resources compared to producing all of those materials new again, but reversing problems like global warming and natural resource depletion. 

In Buffalo, we have begun to think of the streets full of abandoned homes as an asset to the community instead of a liability.  If it is decided that they must be taken down, then by deconstructing them, some of the value they hold is returned to the community, and I can tell you after 16 years in this field, it's a great feeling knowing that you are making a difference. 

I am excited about efforts by the city of Seattle and King County, among others, to promote building deconstruction. 

The Building Materials Reuse Association is leading the way, holding a conference on the subject in Chicago in April 2009 (www.bmra.org).  Cities and groups across the Country are starting job training programs by forming deconstruction crews.  Demolition contractors are converting to deconstruction companies by performing deconstruction when their clients ask for it or it makes economic sense.  General contractors hoping to keep their crews from quiting in slow times, are beginning to offer deconstruction to their clients, knowing that they may be able to provide work to their laid-off crews.  Some schools are considering classes on deconstruction and some businesses are forming around the sales of the salvaged materials or the manufacturing of products (like tables, chairs, etc.) made from reclaimed materials. 

So if you are tired of this economic slow down and want to make a difference, join us by considering building deconstruction and considering buying reclaimed materials.  It's  'buying local' and 'employing local' all at the same time while heading toward our goal of zero waste.

- Dave Bennink, RE-USE Consulting

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