DJC Green Building Blog Covering green building issues in Seattle and around the Pacific Northwest

Light recycler helps businesses dispose of fluorescent lights

Posted on January 7, 2013

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

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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Area’s first commercial building made of cargo containers up for sale

Posted on December 16, 2011

In February of 2010, I wrote this story about an office building in Georgetown that was constructed of reclaimed cargo containers. The owner, Jay Stark, said it was the first project of its kind in the country.  I also produced this video-tour of the space at the time. Here is our story from Dec. 16 about the sale.

Now,  nearly two years later, the space is for sale for $1.5 million. Sadly, it was a foreclosure. I

haven't spoken to the owners so I don't know what happened but it's too bad things likely didn't turn out as planned.

The slight upside is that it will be really interesting to see who buys the site when it sells. I recently spoke to Evan Lugar of Kidder Mathews, who is representing First Savings Bank Northwest on the sale. He said the bank has owned the property since August. He also said it's a tricky space to sell because it isn't typical retail or commercial and is unique. He's targeting creative businesses.

The building is made of 80 percent recycled materials by weight. The complex has two buildings, which are each made of six cargo containers that came from the Port of Seattle. They have halogen and fluorescent lighting, an efficient reverse-cycle chiller HVAC system, and windows with argon gas sandwiched between the panes for increased insulation. There is a rooftop deck with views of downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier.

Typically - the super green, innovative projects that have been built have been created with the intent of the owner using it for many years. (Houses don't count). The greenest commercial projects I've profiled over the years have been built or are being built by the Bullitt Foundation, the U.S. General Services Administration, a consortium involving the city of Portland, universities or by firms that intend to stay in a space for a long time.

My point is: they don't turn hands. Because of that, there isn't much information about the resale value and market for super green projects in the U.S. created for a specific client. People hypothesize uber-green buildings hold their value better and that there's more demand, but it's hard to prove - without proof. No matter what, this is just one building. But the more sales we see, the more accurately we'll be able to guage the true value of innovative sustainable buildings and whether it's the LEED credential or a building's inherent sustainability that translates as value.

As a sidenote, this is the second time spaces made of cargo containers or using "cargotecture" has been in the news in a week. Earlier this week, the DJC covered a new pilot project Starbucks drive though in Tukwila made of cargo containers. Here's our story and here's the story the AP ran based on our story.

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Recycle your bike tubes this weekend and next

Posted on September 14, 2010

Performance Bicycle, a specialty bike retailer, is sponsoring a bike tube recycling drive to coincide with a Seattle expansion, a new store in Tukwila and a new look in the Lynnwood location. The drive runs the weekends of September 17-19th and September 24th-26th.

You know you have some old bike tubes laying around...
During that time, the Tukwila and Lynnwood stores will host the Bike Tube Blow-Out, during which people can bring used or blown-out inner tubes to the store and receive up to three $5 gift cards for the tubes they recycle. The event is sponsored by Performance and Liberty Tire, which will turn the tubes into mulch for playgrounds, athletic fields, railroad ties and highway asphalt. Press materials for Performance say Liberty collects and recycles nearly one-third of the nation's annual scrap tire material.

The Lynnwood location is at 3225 Alderwood Boulevard. The Tukwila location is at 351 Strander Boulevard in the South Center Plaza.

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Zero waste: betraying our mission?

Posted on August 14, 2009

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

I recently was asked to speak at the California Resource Recovery Association Conference in Palm Springs.  I know, Palm Springs, it sounds like a vacation, but the high for each day was 112 degrees.  Anyway, this year's theme was 'zero-waste'.  The CRRA had asked me to discuss building deconstruction in the context of it helping to achieve zero waste goals in many California cities.  It caused me to pause and think about what zero waste means and how to achieve it.  I came up with a couple of interesting points.

Betraying the mission:

Some of the projects that I have been involved with or have read about that have strived for zero-waste or very high diversion rates may have succeeded in doing so, but at what cost?  It may have taken weeks to accomplish and cost much more than demolition.  Therefore, even though the project stands as an example of what is possible, the general public may see this as confirming their belief that building deconstruction (and perhaps other green building methods) cost too much and take too long

Looking at this another way, we see that the single project may divert 70 tons from the landfill during

Is this going to a site or from one?
its 3.6 week schedule.  A less agressive approach that we frequently follow would divert 60 tons in 1.2 weeks or 180 tons during the same 3.6 week schedule.  So, in the end, who is closer to zero-waste? 

There are different ways to achieve zero-waste, by achieving zero-waste on one project and building off of that and using it as a bar that others can reach, or to achieve high-diversion on 10 projects at a cost-competitive price and time-sensitive schedule.  In the end, we really do need the zero-waste projects to push us forward, we just need them to admit that we still have a ways to go before achieving zero-waste on a regular basis. 

Designing for disassembly:

When planning our presentation, we reviewed past projects that we had completed and sent the materials in three directions: reuse, recycling and disposal.  Our focus was on how we could have eliminated the disposal category on projects performed in the 'real world'.  Our conclusion was that if we design waste into a structure, it is not surprising that we get waste out of projects. 

Designing for disassembly is a movement in architecture to admit that their structures will likely not live out their entire lifespan and that when the building is removed someday in the future, the materials that make up that structure will be worth harvesting and that the design should favor this disassembly.  The more fasteners, ADHESIVES, and other waste producing or labor consuming building systems that are battled when the building is taken apart, the more unlikely that deconstruction will be a viable choice for building removal. 

Having deconstructed 500 structures in the last 16 years, RE-USE Consulting has gained a unique perspective on this problem and is moving ahead with its own solutions to be applied to today's buildings.  We hope that tomorrow's buildings will be made of reusable panels that can be reused and are perhaps constructed on multiples of 16" or 24", floating floor panels, paneling set in channels with fewer fasteners, and well thought out use of adhesives.  

I have seen what zero waste looks like.  It is an amazing thing.  Imagine a job site where the building was removed and the stacks of materials sitting on the ground confuse the passer-by.  Is a building about to be built, or did it just come down? 

Should we focus first on zero-waste, or should we focus on increasing the percentage of materials that are diverted for reuse?  In the end, the reuse of materials can be many times better than simply recycling them due to the preservation of energy, job creation associated with it, and from resource conservation.

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Portland nonprofit needs your extra office supplies

Posted on April 7, 2009

When I was a kid, I remember buying stacks of colorful paper for projects. Despite my best intentions, I'd use a few sheets and the rest would - I'm guessing - end up in the recycling bin.

A Portland nonprofit knows this phenomenon and is targeting those stacks of paper

Courtesy of SCRAP
- or your extra office supplies - and turning it into a community benefit.

SCRAP, or the School & Community Reuse Action Project, was founded in 1998 by teachers who didn't want to throw extra classroom material away. The organization takes donations of office supplies (for which you receive a tax write-off) and then sells the material to crafty people or to schools. It diverts 65,000 pounds of material each year from landfills, and also provides art and environmental activity outreach.

With the recent recession, more and more people have been looking for cheaper forms of entertainment and SCRAP has seen more business. But an e-mail I received last week says it has been so busy that it is running out of supplies.

If you have been looking for a way to get rid of old calculators or letterhead from 1980, this might be a good tip for you.

A number of items are flying off SCRAP's shelves. They include out-of-date letterhead, unique paper stock and interesting fabric and yarn. Recent popular items have been X-ray images from head scans and old fencing masks.

Other items on the organization's wish list include: mannequin parts, calculators, staplers, hole punches, paper cutters, spools of wire, PVC pieces, certain promotional items, small discontinued accent items, coasters, jewelry and bead bits and "shiny, sparkly stuff."

For more information, visit SCRAP's Web site at

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Why local metal recycling matters

Posted on December 23, 2008

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

When I started deconstructing buildings in 1993, we certainly made efforts to recycle metals we found at our jobsites (as well as other recyclable materials). The money we made was used for important purposes like company gumball machines or a used jobsite radio to replace the one that was driven over by the forklift (with my Abba cassette tape in it).

Frankly, the $123.45 we collected didn't compare to the $1,234.56 we received from flooring sales but we did it anyway.

Then China started buying up recycling commodities and the price went through the

Metal recycling pile
roof.  All of the sudden everyone was recycling. They recycled their cans and pie tins, their flashing and pipe, and unfortunately their neighborhood street signs and electrical substation equipment. We had never had so much interest in our jobsites (I mean after we had left for the day). We were even getting ripped off by grannies in electric wheelchairs towing 3 cubic yard metal recycling bins.

When demand increased the scrap prices, supplies steadily rose with it. Local recycling companies bought up scrap and laid out thousands to do so. When the demand for steel suddenly fell so did the price paid, and that amount actually dropped from $300/ton to $20/ton. Our local recyclers were stuck with metal that they couldn't sell for as much as they bought it for and the lack of demand meant some had months worth of stock on hand. This series of events led to some metal recyclers cutting back and others closing up shop altogether. 

I had a chat with Dave Whitley of Nuprecon and found out that this has also affected contractors.  He said that they were giving building owners a break by lowering their bid price after factoring in the value of the metals found within the building.  When prices suddenly dropped, demolition companies were left ‘out in the cold’.  Whitley also informed me that other markets including even cardboard had experienced similar drops and that it was all caused by our current complex financial problems and demand issues overseas.

What can we do to help?  In many ways the Northwest is a national leader in green building and materials recycling.  When prices were high, we were all benefiting.  So when prices dropped, we shouldn’t allow anyone to be left out in the cold.  They say that for one of us to prosper, we all must prosper.  The recycled commodities market is beginning to recover, and I suggest we look to groups like the Northwest Chapter of the Construction Materials Recycling Association to tell us how we can help and how to avoid problems in the future. 

We have worked hard to make recycling a common practice here in the Northwest, and we can’t allow temporary drops in the price to change that.  So support your local reuse and recycling companies.  They are working everyday to create jobs, preserve natural resources, and save precious energy and they are counting on you to help.

Dave Bennink, Reuse Consulting

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