On Monday, December 10, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance taking the next step towards zero waste in the construction/demolition arena.  The ordinance prohibits recyclable material from being disposed of in construction and demolition garbage containers, railhead intermodal containers, and the City’s transfer stations.  It also creates a construction waste recycling facility certification program to ensure that there will be recycling facilities available, and requires construction and demolition waste generators to submit reports that document how they dispose of their waste.

Construction and demolition waste is one of the two major categories of materials that are frequently thrown away but have great potential for recycling (the other is food waste).  These two waste streams have been the major focus of City actions since the Zero Waste Strategy was adopted in 2007.  The City now has universal collection of food waste from single family residences, is phasing this in for multi-family, and has successfully worked with businesses and commercial waste collectors to ensure that compostable materials are collected in the commercial sector.

Most construction and demolition (C&D) debris is delivered to private transfer stations and recycling facilities that are not under City service contracts.  While there is a fair amount of recycling at these facilities, the City’s Solid Waste Plan calls for a 70% recycling goal as part of the Zero Waste Strategy.  In 2007, some 52% of the C&D was recycled, and by 2011 the recycling rate reached 63%.

The Council approved legislation that prohibited disposing of asphalt paving and brick and concrete by 2012, and adopted Building Code amendments to require a waste diversion plan and salvage assessment for construction sites in 2013.   Between 2010 and 2012, Seattle Public Utilities worked with stakeholders in the construction and waste processing sectors to develop a feasible plan to recycle all major components of the C&D waste stream. 

The legislation approved on December 10 will prohibit disposal of metal, cardboard, carpet, plastic film wrap, and new gypsum scrap by January of 2015, and clean wood and asphalt roofing by January of 2016.  Making this effective requires that facilities cooperate, that markets are available, and that we collect data on what construction projects are actually doing with their waste.  All of these components are built into the program, with provisions for administrative flexibility if there are problems with market development.

The materials that will be included in recycling requirements by 2016 represent more than 80% of the tonnage of waste generated in the construction sector.  Since SPU has forged a cooperative agreement with the businesses involved to make this program work, it is likely that we will be able to attain these goals, reducing the waste sent to landfills by 50,000 to 100,000 tons annually.