Material waste is one of the most difficult factors to control in construction projects of all sizes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that total waste from construction-related projects was double that of municipal waste from households and businesses in 2018—and the United States already produces the most household waste by volume of any country.
Although there isn’t a universal solution to solving the construction waste problem, many construction firms are finding innovative ways to reduce their contribution to the pileup. Methodologies like lean construction and value engineering aim to decrease waste in the planning stages, while post-planning construction services provide waste removal and disposal solutions.
Are we in too deep to dig ourselves out of this landfill? Many experts say no, but they still stress that the problem is worsening by the day. We’ve compiled a list of construction waste statistics not to smear dirt on the problem, but to highlight opportunities for the construction industry to improve. Read on to delve into the complexity of construction waste, or jump to our visual to get a quick rundown of some sustainable solutions.
Construction Waste and the Waste Stream
Construction and demolition, or C&D, debris is estimated to be nearly one-quarter of the national waste stream, which is the total waste generated in the United States in one year. Waste streams are used to monitor debris output by type. For example, the C&D waste stream measures concrete, asphalt, wood and other building wastes individually.
Not all countries approach their waste management efforts in the same way. In fact, some countries trade waste products like commodities, since the recycling and recovery process can generate thousands of local jobs. For example, the United Kingdom exports several thousand tons of waste every year, but the country recycles approximately 90% of C&D waste.
Researchers use waste streams to forecast debris management strategies and shape trade regulations. China, a leading importer of foreign waste and recyclables, recently heavily limited the types of waste it will accept and the kinds of local businesses allowed to import that waste, causing headaches for countries that count on cash from waste exports.
Construction Waste Statistics: How Bad is It?
Imports contribute to the national waste stream, but the problem is still homegrown. The U.S. produces too much trash overall, and the construction industry is a huge contributor. Waste generation is on the rise and expected to skyrocket in the near future. Here are some statistics on construction waste that might cause you to do a double-take the next time you see a landfill:
- Annual construction waste is expected to reach 2.2 billion tons globally by 2025. (Transparency Market Research)
- 23% of the national waste stream is estimated to be C&D waste. (BTS)
- The U.S. generated over 600 million tons of construction-related waste in 2018. (EPA)
- C&D waste generation in the U.S. increased by 342% from 1990 to 2018. (EPA)
- Between 2005 and 2018, C&D waste levels grew more than 10x faster than from 1990 to 2005. (EPA)
Construction Waste Disposal Statistics
The C&D waste stream records waste from concrete, asphalt concrete, wood, brick and clay tiles, gypsum drywall, asphalt shingles and metal. Some of these materials, like concrete and metal, are relatively cost-effective to recycle or repurpose. However, brick and clay tiles and gypsum drywall are much less reusable, therefore ending up in landfills in much higher quantities.
Check out these construction waste disposal statistics:
- As much as 30% of all building materials delivered to a typical construction site can end up as waste. (ScienceDirect)
- Construction and demolition projects filled U.S. landfills with almost 145 million tons of waste in 2018. (EPA)
- More than 75% of all construction waste from wood, drywall, asphalt shingles, bricks and clay tiles ends up in landfills. (EPA)
- Concrete and asphalt concrete made up 85% of all U.S. C&D waste in 2018. (EPA)
- C&D waste and municipal solid waste (MSW) went to landfills in nearly equal amounts in 2018, despite total C&D waste outnumbering MSW levels 2-to-1. (EPA)
Building Demolition Statistics
The science behind building demolition is complicated and fascinating. Generally, demolition projects contribute significantly more waste than new construction projects. Buildings can be demolished in several ways, but some ways are more prone to material recycling than others. These building demolition statistics show just how explosive the process can be:
- In 2018 alone, demolitions added 567 million tons of debris to the national waste stream. (EPA)
- Demolition of roads and bridges accounted for 43% more debris than building demolition in 2015. (EPA)
- A 2016 study found that among more than 50,000 analyzed demolitions, 47% were to make way for new construction. (Tampere University of Technology)
- Concrete has one of the longest useful lives among building materials, but concrete structures account for the most demolition projects by far. (Tampere University of Technology)
- Adaptive reuse projects result in more positive environmental, social and governance metrics (like energy usage and social justice) than building demolitions. (Tampere University of Technology)
Recycled Construction Materials Statistics
There is a lot of treasure to behold among all the trash and debris. Sustainable efforts help the construction industry recover the majority of its waste—over three-quarters of it, in fact—for reuse. Recycling is responsible for more than 85% of waste management jobs despite the fact that the U.S. recycles only a third of its total waste output.
Reduce your waste-related stress with these recycled construction materials statistics:
- New construction contributed just 5.5% of all U.S. C&D waste in 2018. (EPA)
- In 2018, 76% of all C&D waste in the U.S. was recovered or recycled. (EPA)
- Over 95% of concrete and asphalt concrete waste, the largest contributors to total C&D waste, was recovered in 2018. (EPA)
- A 2016 study showed that in one year alone, C&D recycling opportunities led to the creation of 175,000 U.S. jobs. (EPA)
- Over 650 million tons of steel are recycled each year across the globe. (WSA)
- 98% of steel in construction and demolition projects is recycled to new uses. (AISC)
- Jobs created by recycling and reuse outnumber traditional waste disposal jobs 9-to-1. (NRDC)
- Recycling efforts can reduce U.S. landfill expansion by 1,000 acres for every 135 million tons of C&D waste recovered. (CDRA)
How to Make a Construction Waste Management Plan
Waste management is a key focus for companies planning new offices as they look to build healthy buildings that benefit their occupants. Tools like blockchain technology and Building Information Modeling (BIM) software allow companies to monitor supply chains and make recovery and recycling plans for assets nearing the end of their useful life.
Waste management not only involves installing efficient waste treatment facilities and recycling destinations but also monitoring construction waste during the building process. California, home to more landfills than any other state, uses a comprehensive strategy called CalRecycle to aid its efforts to lead the nation in waste recovery and recycling-related job creation.
Sustainable initiatives encourage new uses for recyclable materials in construction. After all, reducing, reusing and recycling are not just fun activities for kids to encourage recycling. Reduced material waste, adaptive reuse projects and recycled building materials are powerful allies in chipping away at the long-term goal of zero-waste construction.
1. Don’t Start from Scratch
Adaptive reuse is a booming construction industry trend that transforms structures no longer in use into something new. From a building perspective, adaptive reuse can be a cost-effective option because the development of a new construction site isn’t necessary. From a recycling standpoint, adaptive reuse projects minimize demolition and therefore contribute less waste than other projects.
2. Use Recycled (and Recyclable) Materials
Most construction projects already heavily use recycled materials, even by accident. Steel, one of the most common building materials in the world, is made of 93% recycled steel scrap, while asphalt concrete is now nearly 100% recyclable. “Material banks” that store recycled building materials for later use are making it even easier to access sustainable supplies.
3. Reduce Supplies Altogether
BIM allows designers to create a virtual model of a building that acts as a digital record of materials down to the number of doorknobs used and how they were installed. This information helps plan how to salvage materials when their useful life ends, as well as forecast exact amounts needed to eliminate excess supply waste.
A Clean Future With Reduced Waste
Construction waste won’t be an easy mess to clean up. Unfortunately, avoidable waste is often caused by inaccurate estimates in orders or incorrect material cuts that result in unusable scraps. Demolition waste accounts for almost 95% of C&D waste, much of which is unavoidable considering destructive demolition methods like explosives.
Although the construction industry contributes a quarter of the country’s annual waste generation, the industry is already doing an incredible job of recovering building materials. By using recycled materials and smart asset management systems, and by avoiding demolition projects via adaptive reuse, construction companies are paving the way for a zero-waste future.