Recycled building materials trim waste and are cheaper, too
Centers for salvaged and donated building material sprout nationwide.
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Most construction-supply recycling organizations work on a relatively simple model, pioneered in part by the Re-Use Center. Supplies ranging from one-foot squares of glass to entire kitchen interiors are donated by private contractors or local residents. (Tax-deductibility varies by state.) Some programs, such as the Queens-based Build It Green! NYC, also employ a team of deconstruction experts who can strip and haul away reusable material from homes under renovation and demolition sites. The material is then displayed in a warehouse or storefront setting for contractors, consumers, or landlords to haul away.Skip to next paragraph
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“Think about it from a resource conservation perspective: You don’t need to be manufacturing that glass or mining that ore to make the doorknob,” explains Stephen Hammer, director of the Urban Energy Project at Columbia University’s Center for Energy, Marine Transportation, and Public Policy. “Less energy is used over the lifetime of that object.” It’s called “embodied energy,” Dr. Hammer adds, referring to the amount of energy expended on the creation of a product. “And it’s absolutely critical to the business sector.”
In 10 years, Heipel, of the Re-Use Center, estimates his program has kept close to 41,000 tons of waste out of local landfills. Justin Green, the program director of Build It Green!, says that reuse organizations also help cut down on the byproducts of traditional landfill use.
“Let’s say you have some debris that’s getting hauled out of a demolition site in New York,” Mr. Green says. “That material is going to get ground up in New Jersey, and then shipped out to Pennsylvania or Ohio, where the dumping fees are cheaper. Think about the amount of energy that’s expended there.”
Oscar Michel, the office manager at Urban Ore in Berkeley, Calif., says Americans have become “pretty hip” to the idea of large-scale construction recycling. “They’ll come in and say, ‘I don’t care about these windows either way, so I think I’ll give them to you first,’ ” says Mr. Michel. “And there’s some great stuff here. The bad economy has sort of helped us – in some cases, our numbers are better than they ever were before.”
But Urban Ore, unlike the Re-Use Center and Build It Green!, is a for-profit enterprise. They pay low-income Berkeley residents for scrap metal and plumbing and other building innards. “A lot of people survive on us,” Michel says, and since scrap metal prices are holding, it’s unlikely that the supply stream will dry up anytime soon.
For Gable of Construction Junction, it remains a pressing concern. “We’ve been kind of watching to see if people are going to not only stop buying homes but stop renovating,” he says. “Put off replacing their old kitchen with a new kitchen. Could the supply side of our organization slow down? Well, we haven’t seen it yet.”
• For a list of similar programs near you, go to the sustainable building page on EcoBusinessLinks.