February 1, 2000

10 Min Read
C&D Debris Recycling in the Prairie State

Betsy Harter

While there isn't much incentive for builders to recycle construction and demolition (C&D) debris in Illinois, state officials are taking a proactive approach to develop a C&D industry.

According to state officials, Illinois has been battling C&D recycling obstacles for years. This is because land is plentiful, there are few markets for recycled materials due to abundant natural resources and a booming economy has left builders little spare time to recycle. Additionally, Illinois tipping fees are low, ranging from $30 to $35 per ton compared to approximately $100 per ton in the Northeast.

"You need tipping fees around $50 per ton to have the economic shift where a private entity would set up a C&D recovery facility, charge enough for material coming in the door and be profitable," says Mark Loughmiller, Lake County, Ill., recycling coordinator. "Right now, the economics are not there to do private consulting without some major subsidy."

Ample landfill space in the Midwest works against recycling C&D, says Angie Adkins-Embrey, a project manager in the recycling division of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA) Technologies and Practices Demonstration Program. "In the coastal areas, [people] are conscious about recycling, but there is more space and lower fees inland," she says. Eventually the Midwest will be forced to recycle C&D waste, according to Adkins-Embrey, who says the state has been trying to "make some headway" in encouraging C&D recycling since the early 1990s.

To date, the DCCA has awarded several grants for C&D recycling projects. In 1997, a DCCA grant also funded the publication of two brochures: "Illinois Construction and Demolition Site Recycling Guidebook" and "Chicagoland Construction and Demolition Site Recycling Directory." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 also funded the booklets.

The guidebook, which the DuPage County, Ill., Solid Waste Department oversaw, offers tips on establishing and maintaining waste-reduction and recycling programs. The directory lists collection services and recyclers of mixed material, asphalt/concrete/brick, old, corrugated cardboard (OCC), wood and other materials such as carpet padding and used electrical equipment. Designed as a reference, the directory includes recyclers' names, addresses and phone numbers. The DCCA hopes to update both publications this year.

"We created them knowing that one day they would need to be updated," Adkins-Embrey says. "We did the directory for the Chicago area, but now we want to expand it to the state."

The No-Market Myth While the guidebook and directory can be helpful, Loughmiller says builders view C&D recycling as a large undertaking. Some companies have complained that it was difficult to find recycling companies. Consequently, Loughmiller is trying to get builders to focus on one material that has a statewide market.

"Depending on where you are in Illinois, you may or may not have a market for wood, gypsum or steel," he says. "Unless you are near a large metropolitan area, the marketability for all your materials is probably next to nothing."

But cardboard can be marketed anywhere in the state, he says. Consequently, Loughmiller suggests the state develop a campaign that targets separating OCC from the construction waste stream.

Recycling C&D debris is similar to curbside recycling programs, he says. In the beginning, people just recycled newspaper, glass and cans because those materials had markets and were readily accessible in every state.

"That was the only way to sell the program to politicians and legislatures in individual communities," he says. "I am going back to that same tactic, trying to do this with cardboard. Then, no one will be able to say they don't have a market, and haulers that collect from construction sites won't be able to say they are not set up to handle it because most haulers already collect corrugated for recycling from community businesses."

Loughmiller believes that once builders begin recycling cardboard and realize how much money they can save, the C&D recycling market will go through the same progression that curbside programs did.

Cost Incentives In the meantime, he also is evaluating grinding dry wall to bury around new houses to improve the heavy soil. This idea is generally accepted at first, but once houses are up in a neighborhood, residents don't like the noise and dust that grinding dry wall produces, he says. "We are trying to figure out how to get around it, such as setting up a central site where dry wall companies can dump their material, grind it and haul it back out, but that is triple-handling it."

In general, extra costs and the booming economy have prevented builders from taking extra time to recycle, Loughmiller says. But because cost incentives are not high enough to encourage Illinois builders to recycle C&D materials, the DCCA, as well as individual counties, are awarding grants to help builders see the economic value in C&D debris recycling.

"In Lake County, the average home costs $200,000," Loughmiller says. "When you eliminate one box of debris at $300 a pull, it is not a big deal because the cost is passed to the homeowner anyway." That $300 is low compared to what developers view as the time required for builders and subcontractors to separate materials. Throwing cardboard into a dumpster takes one second, but developers say it takes longer to train subcontractors - who are constantly rotating jobs - to put materials into new locations.

"When the economy slows down, people will look for ways to cut costs," says Dean Olson, waste services director for Will County.

But in the meantime, Adkins-Embrey says the DCCA's Technologies and Practices Demonstration Program awards grants to companies that can demonstrate innovative technologies to reduce landfilled waste.

In 1991, the Recycling Division surveyed C&D businesses in the Chicago, Rockford and East Saint Louis, Ill., areas. From the survey, the DCCA created a request for proposals (RFP) for companies willing use C&D debris recycling as an alternative to landfilling. While response was low, Adkins-Embrey says Twin City Wood Recyclers, Bloomington, Ill., was funded.

CornerStone Materials Recovery, a waste hauler that wanted to start recycling, also received $110,000 in DCCA grant funding in 1992. With the money, CornerStone Materials Recovery designed a mobile baler.

"The baler gives us the ability to pull clean cardboard out of building sites before it gets commingled," says Steve Clements, CornerStone Material Recovery vice president. "The grant made it possible. It was a prototype, and there was no real guarantee that the economics were there. We were trying to reduce landfill fees and transportation costs, but we had some handling and labor. They were unknown costs."

Recently, the DCCA awarded CornerStone additional money to help the company develop a sort trailer to extract commingled materials at sites.

"We want to do more work in other materials [mixed paper, brick masonry, plastics and metal] because landfills are getting sparse, and we are trying to handle waste economically without doubling prices," Clements says. "The sort trailer enables us to get more of the materials out of the waste stream."

To supplement the DCCA's work, county grant programs also are helping C&D debris recycling get noticed. Last year, Loughmiller says, Lake County funded three projects for the recovery of C&D materials. RFPs were solicited from the county's 36 member municipalities, asking them to identify developers that would recover C&D materials. Eventually, three entities were awarded $25,000 each: the town of Ft. Sheridan, Ill., an army base that is being redeveloped along the lakeshore; Cedar Crossing, a development in Lake Villa, Ill.; and Insignia Green, a development in Long Grove, Ill.

The Ft. Sheridan project combines demolition, deconstruction and reconstruction. Brick from demolished buildings is used in reconstructed buildings, which are being saved because the site is historic. Thanks to the grant, the project managers hired someone to separate demolition material during the rehabilitation.

So far, one to two boxes of C&D material have been eliminated from each of the two housing-development projects in Ft. Sheridan. In the projects' first quarter, more than 50 percent of the waste material was diverted: 21 percent OCC, 32 percent wood and 48 percent refuse.

Loughmiller hopes to fund similar projects this year, but he wants to make changes to the grant program.

"I am struggling with the fact that we spent $75,000 and reached three projects," he says. "The exposure to developers was minimal."

Thus, Loughmiller wants to pool the same amount of money and allow participating communities' builders reductions in permit fees if they agree to recycle at least one material. The county would reimburse municipalities for the reductions, he explains. The problem is that some permit fees can total more than $10,000 per home.

"How much money do you have to put out there to get a developer to be willing to recover C&D?" he asks. "How much of an incentive is a $100 reduction against $10,000 to $20,000 per house in fees?"

But at the Cedar Crossing and Insignia Green developments, a $25,000 grant resulted in less than $100 per home. That being his dilemma, Loughmiller says he will keep the funding for 2000 at $75,000 and offer it to a few select projects. Because "when you start talking about $25,000, developers pay attention," he says.

In the meantime, another county is offering a program similar to the one Loughmiller eventually hopes to develop. According to Olson, Will County offers reductions in permit fees to builders that recycle C&D materials. If a builder recycles one item, it gets 50 percent of the permit fee back; two items recycled yield 75 percent. And if the builder recycles three or more items, it receives 100 percent of the permit fee back, with a maximum of $5,000 in permit fees refunded through the program.

"We really don't care if it is a large or small builder, but I would like to get a builder as opposed to someone who is building his own house," Olson says. "The goal is to get haulers and builders to be interested."

Last year, Will County worked only with its own building department in the grant program. This year the program is expanding to municipalities.

"Hopefully we will get some bites," Olson says. "We have some really fast-growing municipalities that would want to take advantage of this."

More C&D Recycling Efforts In addition to grants and brochures, Illinois recently passed Public Act 90-475, which established guidelines for C&D debris recyclers who want to be considered recycling facilities instead of garbage-transfer stations. Until this legislation was adopted, some C&D debris recyclers were viewed as garbage-transfer stations and had to go through a siting process, says Kevin Dixon, director of DuPage County's solid waste division. Some enterprises were shut down because they had not gone through the siting process. Now, specific guidelines exist so companies that show they are recyclers will not be considered illegally operating garbage-transfer stations.

Beyond large projects, each Illinois county is promoting C&D debris recycling. DuPage County, for example, performed a C&D waste survey and education program in which it worked with 10 different companies that were building, remodeling or tearing down structures. The county had companies implement waste reduction and recycling strategies to quantify their economic effects.

"We published the results in a booklet, which we distributed to as many contractors and demolition companies in the Chicagoland region that we could," Dixon says.

Will County also has held regional market-development workshops for haulers and recyclers. For instance, one segment in its last workshop covered regulation, while another discussed the recycling relationship between haulers and builders.

With this type of statewide support, Illinois continues on its path to develop the state's C&D recycling businesses. In fact, one Toronto-based recycling company is considering building a wood-recycling facility in Chicago. "That could drive the incentive to recycle," Olson says.

But in the meantime, the DCCA and Illinois counties will continue taking one step at a time toward building a C&D debris recycling industry.

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