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24 Construction Waste Statistics & Tips to Reduce Landfill Debris

24 Construction Waste Statistics & Tips to Reduce Landfill Debris

Material waste is one of the most difficult factors to control in construction projects, and over 75% of construction waste holds untapped value and isn’t currently being repurposed or recycled. 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.

While there isn’t a universal solution for the construction waste problem, the C&D waste management market is set to grow to $271.68 billion in 2028 as regulatory agencies and construction firms alike find 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 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. Researchers also use waste streams to forecast debris management strategies and shape trade regulations.

Not all countries approach their waste management efforts in the same way. 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?

Annual construction waste is expected to reach 2.2 billion tons globally by 2025.

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 make you do a double-take the next time you see a landfill:

  1. Annual construction waste is expected to reach 2.2 billion tons globally by 2025. (Transparency Market Research)
  2. 23% of the national waste stream is estimated to be C&D waste. (BTS)
  3. The U.S. generated over 600 million tons of construction-related waste in 2018. (EPA)
  4. C&D waste generation in the U.S. increased by 342% from 1990 to 2018. (EPA)
  5. Between 2005 and 2018, C&D waste levels grew more than 10x faster than from 1990 to 2005. (EPA)

Construction Waste Disposal Statistics

30% of building materials delivered to a construction site can end up as waste.

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:

  1. C&D waste accounted for 30–40% of the total solid waste stream globally in 2022. (Science Direct)
  2. As much as 30% of all building materials delivered to a typical construction site can end up as waste. (ScienceDirect)
  3. Construction and demolition projects filled U.S. landfills with almost 145 million tons of waste in 2018. (EPA)
  4. More than 75% of all construction waste from wood, drywall, asphalt shingles, bricks and clay tiles ends up in landfills. (EPA)
  5. Concrete and asphalt concrete made up 85% of all U.S. C&D waste in 2018. (EPA)
  6. 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

Demolition of roads and bridges generated 43% more waste than building demolition.

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:

  1. In 2018 alone, demolitions added 567 million tons of debris to the national waste stream. (EPA)
  2. Within C&D waste, demolition wastes make up 90%. (Science Direct)
  3. A 2016 study found that among more than 50,000 analyzed demolitions, 47% were to make way for new construction. (Tampere University of Technology)
  4. 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)
  5. 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

An illustrated construction worker wearing a vet and hard hat accompanies a statistic about the amount of steel that's recycled each year globally.

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 even though the U.S. recycles only a third of its total waste output. Reduce your waste-related stress with these recycled construction materials statistics:

  1. New construction contributed just 5.5% of all U.S. C&D waste in 2018. (EPA)
  2. In 2018, 76% of all C&D waste in the U.S. was recovered or recycled. (EPA)
  3. Over 95% of concrete and asphalt concrete waste, the largest contributors to total C&D waste, was recovered in 2018. (EPA)
  4. A 2016 study showed that in one year alone, C&D recycling opportunities led to the creation of 175,000 U.S. jobs. (EPA)
  5. There are 1,085 million tons of steel recycled each year across the globe. (The World Counts)
  6. 98% of steel in construction and demolition projects is recycled to new uses. (AISC)
  7. Recycling and reusing construction materials can lower the need to import those materials by 32%. (NIH)
  8. Recycling steel prevents the release of nearly 950 million tons of CO2, saves about 1 billion tons of iron ore and conserves energy equal to burning roughly 280 million tons of coal. (The World Counts)

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

An illustrated construction crane is shown with a "no" symbol on top of it.

Adaptive reuse is a booming construction industry trendthat transforms unused structures into something new. Adaptive reuse can be a cost-effective option because it doesn’t require the development of a new construction site. From a recycling standpoint, it minimizes demolition and contributes less waste than other projects.

2. Use Recycled (and Recyclable) Materials

An illustrated building is shown next to an arrow pointing to a building made of recycled building materials sitting next to it.

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

An illustrated iPad is shown with the phrase BIM on the screen.

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, smart asset management systems, and avoiding demolition projects via adaptive reuse, construction companies are paving the way for a zero-waste future.

An illustrated six-wheeler transporting construction equipment accompanies a call-to-action button to rent BigRentz equipment online.

Infographic with stats about construction waste

Additional Sources: Architectural Digest | Natural Building Blog | Treehugger 1, 2 | Materials Performance

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