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Sustainable Construction Methods: Waste Management and Recycling

Responsible management of waste is an essential aspect of sustainable building. Managing waste means eliminating waste where feasible, minimizing waste wherever possible, and reusing materials that would otherwise become waste. Solid waste management practices typically include the reduction, recycling, and reuse of waste as essential areas to be considered for sustainable management of resources. In recent years, the construction industry’s awareness of disposal and reuse issues has increased, which has resulted in reduced volumes of construction and demolition waste disposed of in landfills.

Eliminating Waste

Some of the waste generated during the construction can be eliminated. For example, durable modular metal form systems used in concrete construction may be selected for being readily demountable and reusable on other projects. This eliminates wood waste associated with formwork fabricated of plywood and dimensional lumber. The elimination of waste is beneficial to reducing negative impacts on human health and the environment.

Minimizing Waste

Some building-related waste that cannot be completely eliminated can at least be minimized. For example, construction products can be selected, designed, and manufactured to be shipped with minimal packaging. The selection and use of recyclable materials and products also offers the potential to minimize waste by reducing the number of single-use products that would end up going to landfills.

Reusing Materials

Some materials do not need to be eliminated or minimized because they can be reused. For example, doors and windows in good, resalable condition might be a substitute for new products. If they cannot be used on the current project, they can be donated or sold for use on another project – a form of beneficial reuse.

Materials and products that cannot efficiently and effectively be eliminated, minimized, or reused are collected, and unless otherwise managed, will likely be disposed of at the lowest cost. In many areas of the country, disposal fees at solid waste landfills are substantially higher than the cost of separation and recovery. This cost encourages sustainable waste management on construction projects.


The most important step in the recycling of construction waste is on-site separation. Specific areas should be provided on the construction site for collection and separation of recyclable and non-recyclable materials. Containers for material recycling should be set up on-site and clearly labeled. It is important that construction personnel be trained in the material sorting policy, and bins should be monitored periodically to prevent waste mixing as a result of separation mistakes or non-construction personnel using the bins. Some materials will require special bins or storage that provide protection from rain and weather. Other bins may need to be locked to prevent tampering.

Management of Common Materials

To achieve the greatest degree of sustainability, it is ideal that the project design be based on standard sizes and that necessary materials are ordered accurately. Additionally, high quality materials such as engineered products should be used when possible. The following are some examples of how to effectively manage specific materials:


  • Design building dimensions to correspond to standard lumber dimensions.

  • Develop detailed framing layouts that will be communicated to appropriate subcontractors to avoid waste.

  • Store lumber on level blocking to minimize warping, twisting, and waste.

  • Set aside lumber and plywood/OSB cut-offs that can be used later as fire blocking, spacers in header construction, or other areas.

  • Reuse or donate larger pieces of leftover lumber (6' or more in length).


  • Design building dimensions to correspond to standard drywall dimensions.

  • Order drywall in optimal dimensions to minimize cut-off waste.

  • Set aside large drywall scraps during hanging for later use as filler pieces in areas such as closets.


  • Collect, stack, and cover leftover masonry materials such as usable bricks, blocks, slate shingles, and tile from remodeling and construction. These can be stored for future jobs or diverted to salvage operations.

Metals and Appliances

  • Separate leftover metals for recycling, including copper piping, wire, and flashing; aluminum siding, flashing, and guttering; iron and steel banding from bundles; nails and fasteners; galvanized flashing and roofing; rebar; and lead chimney flashing.

Cardboard and Paper

  • Avoid excessively packaged materials and supplies when possible. However, ensure packaging is still adequate to prevent damage and waste.

  • Separate, bundle, and store cardboard waste in a dry place until it can be recycled through the local landfill recycling program.


  • Install left-over insulation in interior wall cavities or on top of installed attic insulation if it cannot be used on another job.

Plastic and Vinyl

  • Minimize waste of vinyl siding, flooring, and countertop materials by ordering only the quantity that is needed.

Paints, Stains, Solvents, and Sealants

  • Donate unused portions for use on other projects.

  • Save unused portions for the next job.

  • Take other unused materials to a hazardous waste collection facility.


  • Dispose of old nickel cadmium batteries from portable power tools at a hazardous waste collection facility.

  • Donate cabinets, light fixtures, bathtubs, sinks, mortar mix, hardware, nails, screws, and plumbing fittings to local donation sites.

The benefits of proper waste management and recycling extend to employment and economic activities in the recycling industry, reduction in project expenses through avoiding unnecessary purchases and disposal costs, and an overall decrease in the use of resources. Ross Group views these practices as an important part of the construction process on all our projects, and particularly on projects with enhanced sustainability requirements.



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