The Many Faces of Solid Waste Diversion

The Many Faces of Solid Waste DiversionThe largest component of municipal solid waste in the U.S. is construction and demolition debris (C&D)—from 25 to 50 percent on average. Because of this, C&D ranks fairly high on the priority lists of policymakers and industry professionals seeking to maximize waste diversion.

But what exactly qualifies as diversion? Many contractors and recyclers have tended to obfuscate the term, while others simply think that by now everyone should know what it means. For the record, solid-waste diversion is the channeling of discarded materials away from landfills using environmentally-responsible means. Diversion includes both recycling and reuse, which have noteworthy differences.

Recycling is the process by which something is re-manufactured into a new product. For example, an aluminum window frame can be melted down and re-manufactured into a can, or clean wood can be ground up, processed and used as either fuel or groundcover. In contrast, when something is reused, its form does not change, so no additional energy is expended in giving it new life. For example, a door removed from one house becomes a door in another house, or a 2x4 removed from one wall is reused in a different wall. The embodied energy that went into making the door and the 2x4 is saved. New energy does not have to be expended, yet each serves the exact same purpose as a newly manufactured item.

recycling chartSolid waste diversion is important to the building-materials industry for two basic reasons:

  1. Diversion increases the life of landfills, keeping disposal fees to a minimum.
  2. Diversion creates a less expensive supply of materials (used and recycled).

Some of the players in the field of waste diversion are:

  • Demolition and deconstruction contractors
  • Waste haulers
  • Some, but not all, landfills
  • Some, but not all, transfer stations
  • Materials-recovery facilities (MRFs)
  • Incinerators
  • Biomass and cogeneration plants
  • Architectural salvage companies
  • Reuse facilities
  • Recyclers of various materials (metals, wood, glass, etc.)
  • Stores handling high, middle and low-end salvaged building materials

So, how do all these fit into the diversion equation?

Waste DiversionDemolition contractors, waste haulers, landfills and transfer stations separate materials into recycling components such as metals and clean wood. Demolition contractors and waste haulers take them to landfills, MRFs and recyclers, who either reprocess them on site or send the materials to incinerators, cogeneration plants and other recyclers. MRFs, with their sophisticated handling and sorting systems, further separate recycled materials; their specialized processes and markets allow them to achieve better than 85 percent diversion.

Architectural salvage companies reclaim architecturally significant materials – e.g., claw foot bath tubs and stained glass windows. Deconstruction contractors salvage entire buildings, including lumber, and reuse facilities make all of these items available to the public, often at significant savings over new.

As you can see, many organizations can claim to divert building materials. However, landfills, transfer stations, MRFs, incinerators and biomass/cogeneration facilities use a substantial quantity of energy to produce their products and services. Whereas deconstruction, reuse facilities like TRP, and architectural salvage businesses do not. Additional benefits that make reuse a more responsible option are:

  • Energy savings. Embodied energy is saved, and fewer new products need to be manufactured.
  • Reduced pollution. Materials salvaged for reuse are exempt from processes that produce pollutants, such as incineration and biomass/cogeneration production.

TRP does not shun recyclers and MRFs. We use them -- as do our certified deconstruction contractors -- but only after the maximum amount of materials has been salvaged for reuse. Recyclable materials go to appropriate facilities and the rest of the debris goes to a MRF, if one is available locally. Every inventory produced by TRP separately details the weight of fixtures (doors, windows, cabinets, etc.), lumber, bricks and masonry, metal recycling, other recycled materials, and, finally, the debris that goes to the landfill.

So, the next time your contractor or hauler states that they will divert most of your C&D debris, please ask them to define their terms and tell you exactly where the materials will be taken.

2011 Reuse Contest
Due to the possible expansion of the 2011 Reuse Contest, entry rules and prizes for next year's contest will not be announced until early 2011. That doesn't mean you should sit on your hands until the new year. Get started on your project now and check back after January 1 for more information.

End of Year Holiday Schedules: Our Oakland and Pacoima stores will be closed on Thursday and Friday, December 25 & 26.

New Inventory


The Oakland warehouse has received shipments of beautiful 3/4-inch oak flooring. Ready to upgrade to hardwood? Check our inventory first!


The Los Angeles (Pacoima) warehouse received several interior raised panel doors, with brass or glass knobs, and three beautiful exterior French doors. Great buys all!


Specials of the Month

At the Oakland warehouse we are featuring cabinets. Receive 25% off the purchase of any cabinet through December 31. We are also featuring holiday gift cards. Purchase a gift card in any amount and receive an automatic 10% store credit on the face value of the card (e.g. $100 card = $110 credit).

At the Los Angeles (Pacoima) warehouse we are featuring our extensive inventory of windows, with many types and sizes to choose from. Receive 50% off any window purchase through December 31.

Specials at our partnering warehouses:

  • Habitat for Humanity,Orange County: 25% off vanities and 50% off towel bars through December 31.
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