What Happens to Used Building Materials

Not all that long ago I started hauling stuff for work to the dump. Before that we contracted someone else to do it. The first thing I learned is that it isn’t your city’s landfill it actually goes to a whole separate place, the construction and demolition place (C&D). The second thing I learned is that you shouldn’t call it a dump it’s a recycling facility and they don’t like it when you call it a dump. That was pretty much all the learning I did for a while. While maybe except that all they guys that work there treat me really well and with respect even though I’ve only ever seen one other lady hauling stuff there out of several hundred people so that totally rocks. Truthfully I actually really like going there, it’s kinda fun! Other than that I didn’t really think about it.

Recently I was talking to our excavator guy and he knew what some of the stuff got turned into and that got me thinking I really want to look into this. So this post shot to the top of the list. If I’m curious maybe you are too. We’ll also go over some key points you might want to know if you decide to dispose oof your DIY leftovers responsibly. At least 75% off this stuff gets reused or more depending on where you live isn’t that cool? So here goes let’s learn together!

Shingles

Most shingles are made of asphalt in the first place. Its a cheap, fire resistant and durable material for your roof. Modern basic shingles can now withstand winds a bit above 200 km an hour and are easy to install properly. A typical roof weighs 3 to 4 tons and once dropped off powerful magnets separate the nails. They are ground up and added to asphalt for paving and actually improve the quality of the pavement they are reborn into! isn’t that cool? Less common uses are new shingles and interlocking pavers.

Concrete

Concrete can be re-used on site as clean fill (we recently built a driveway out of used concrete). After leaving site it is crushed and used most commonly as gravel would be or as a sub-base for roads. It’s also commonly packed into wire cages to build fast and large retaining walls. If it’s crushed finely enough it can be used as aggregate (little rocks) in new concrete instead of natural material that must be mined. But it can’t make up the whole of the mixture. That’s because as concrete sets it undergoes an irreversible chemical reaction.

Insulation

Insulation recycling is somewhat problematic depending on your location. The C&D facility will accept it but it may or may not be recycled. Because of this you should take great care not to make wasteful cuts, plus it’s pretty expensive!Fiberglass insulation can be made into a composite wood type material but not a lot of companies do it. If you are close enough to one your old fiberglass insulation may end up there. This sort of product is often made into decks or patio furniture. Rock wool insulation generally gets recycled into ceiling tiles. Who knew?

Drywall

Drywall is a major item at construction and demolition facilities. It’s made of a natural rock product called gypsum and pressed between layers of paper. It is easy and cheap to install and acts as a natural fire barrier in your home. It get’s crushed up and made into new drywall and used the same way over and over again forever.

Brush

Brush which is basically little tree limb ends and it is the cheapest product to get rid of. That’s because it’s light and doesn’t need to be sorted. It does take up a lot of space and I regularly drive the 26 foot uHaul around full of it on big tree jobs. It’s often shredded or chipped, colored and turned into mulch. The other stuff like leaves are composted. Some cities even make that mulch available free of charge at certain places or it is used as general fill.

Bricks

Bricks are actually made of kiln dried (sometimes colored) clay. Once they are removed they are crushed up into chips which can be used directly in landscaping applications much the same way pea gravel or mulch is. They can even find their way into new bricks or used again just as they are.

Clean wood

Clean wood is that which really hasn’t been used before or isn’t treated or coated. It has a variety of uses by can be made into much or chipped for particle board. It’s also made into things like fuel for stoves including pellet stoves. It can also be burned directly for heat. Most of the structure of homes falls into the category of clean wood.

Dirty wood

Dirty wood is that that has been painted or pressure treated or abused and adulterated in some way. Unfortunately because of the contaminants it can’t be recycled and is landfilled instead. One of the main reasons is that the paint may contain lead.

Metal

Metal can be turned in at construction and demolition facilities or it can be brought into a separate facility and ‘turned in for scrap.’ If you bring it there you will actually get paid for your efforts! Each metal commands a different rate and that fluctuates with market conditions. Some people make a living just by collecting scrap metal! We don’t usually collect it but if there is a lot of copper on a job we will bring it in. Sometimes to the tune of several hundred dollars but we pass it on to the customer. Usually though for other metals its not really worth the time for us even though the scrap metal place is across the street from the C&D facility. 

Other

Plastics and cardboard gets diverted into regular recycling channels just like your blue bin stuff. What can’t be recycled is landfilled and the C&D facility may even pay tipping fees there.

Other stuff you should know

  • Any vehicle can go to the C&D facility from half ton, to dump truck to smart car.

–  You’re charged tipping fees based on weight and category. So you, your vehicle and your junk get weighed on the way in and out. Fees vary by what you are dumping, brush is usually the cheapest and a mixed load is the most expensive.

  • It’s actually really cheap despite what you’ve heard. Based on the stuff people say and the amount of illegal dumping I assumed it was crazy expensive to bring it to the right place. It’s not though! A mixed ton is about $55 and the cost to properly dispose of a typical roof is about $120!

– C&D facilities are often private businesses and not municipal services. These companies collect, sort, store and ship the material and sell it to downstream recyclers where they are paid per ton. They often store a material until the price goes up if they have the space. If you have enough of something you can do it too. For example if you have a tractor trailer load of cardboard on hand you could get paid for it! On this scale it is a really lucrative business too!

  • There are separate piles at the C&D place and you are expected to drop your stuff in the right one. If you have two things you can go to two separate piles if they let you. It’s always cheaper to pay for any one thing than a mixed load. So if you have lots of trips to make you might want to bring one type of material at a time. Mixed loads are the most expensive to dispose of per ton.
  • It’s always cheaper to bring your stuff to the C&D facility than landfilling. For household waste (think a hoarding situation) we have to truck the stuff to the actual landfill. They charge a flat rate per ton which is a tad higher than a mixed load elsewhere. That said it’s just barely more expensive and you should bring your stuff in rather than illegally dumping it because the fines if you get caught are STEAP! Plus with motion activated trail cameras now you never know when you’re on camera.
  • Don’t be intimidated the (mostly) guys that work there are super nice and helpful they understand that it might be your first time. But… usually they aren’t allowed to help you unload because they might damage your vehicle. One day when I was unloading waterlogged, marine pressure treated 8×8’s and struggling they told me that they really wanted to help but they weren’t allowed and you could tell it was eating them up inside.

Have you ever been to a C&D facility? Isn’t it neat? Do you turn your scrap metal into cash? What recycling fact surprised you the most?

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