Eight thousand pounds of waste per average home construction. If that much recyclable material went into your home trash bin, you’d be up in arms, but after a long day, can you really be expected to care if a few leftover boards don’t find their way to the recycling center? After all, you’ve already helped an anxious homeowner choose between ivory and cream, driven to the hardware store (and then back again to get the correct size bits), and hauled half a ton of tile up two flights of stairs. Must you be responsible for the Earth’s fate too?
While exhaustion makes a pretty strong case here, the truth is that construction waste doesn’t just add up in terms of sheer volume. For businesses, reducing waste material isn’t a mere environmental issue—3M was able to save an estimated $500 million by implementing its reduction plan. With landfilling costs rising, your castoff pieces represent financial loss as well. You may not be a large manufacturer, but you can still benefit in a smaller way by using these tips to squeeze the most out of your materials.
Design Using Advanced Framing Techniques
You can’t throw away materials you never bought in the first place! Green Building Advisor suggests that remodelers plan rooms, ceiling heights, and roof sizes in two-foot increments in order to avoid odd-sized pieces and castoffs, and plan using standard lengths for ducts, pipes, wiring and siding as well. While that’s more easily done in a brand new space, advanced framing techniques, such as wall studs, floor joists, and roof rafters spaced up to 24 inches on-center, will also make more efficient use of your materials.
Creatively Reuse Materials
But if you do happen to overbuy, take a tip from the folks over at Repurposed Materials, a Chicago-based reuse seller that bills itself as an “industrial thrift store.” They salvage items and appropriate them into places no one else would have dreamed of: vinyl sheeting repurposed as pond liners, rubber tubing for boat bumpers. Of course, repurposing doesn’t have to mean finding an oddball use for your leftovers. You can still cut back on waste by reusing materials where a project allows—drywall pieces for small patches and holes, for instance, or cutting scrap wood down for shims or as drywall backing.
Use a C&D Debris Recycling Service
C&D recycling services say they rescue hundreds of tons of construction waste each year, so you can see how that can add up. Some companies may even provide sorting receptacles for you to use onsite, and will often offer free hauling for larger items. Meanwhile, reuse stores, such as those operated by Habitat for Humanity, will gladly accept donations of older whole pieces, such as counters, sinks, cabinets—even ceiling fans and plumbing fixtures can find a home there. Using these services will often give you points toward your LEED certification, as well.
Sort Salvage Materials Onsite
To save your hauling service time, they’ll usually ask that, at a bare minimum, you sort your debris into wood-only and metal-only piles before they come to pick it up, meaning that you’ll need to designate a location on the premises for this job. If you don’t happen to have a couple of metal bins handy though, think about investing in some sturdy bag Dumpsters instead. To really make a commitment to sorting, you’ll also want to build extra work hours into your project timeline before you even begin.
Properly Store and Return Unused Supplies
Hardware stores and some vendors are usually willing to work with you if your leftovers are still in good shape. After all, if the lumber or materials can be resold, then they’ll make a profit, and keep a customer happy to boot. The key here is the condition—nobody wants to take back drywall that looks like it survived a tropical storm—so you’ll need to find a weather-proof area to store unused materials between the jobsite and the returns desk.
Do As You Say, and As You Do
The bigger your business gets, the more your work becomes about your leadership and negotiation skills, rather than your technical expertise. If you have laborers working under you, they’ll need to be instructed to save usable materials and sort waste every day on the job. This means extra work for them, and if they’re not used to doing it, a change in behavior too, which can be difficult. Nobody likes being asked to do more. But you can cut back on resistance if you lead by example. Make sure you’re practicing what you preach when it comes to reducing waste—in the long run, your commitment will make the biggest difference in your use-to-waste ratio.