The End of Everything

Construction & Demolition (C&D) related waste is a growing challenge — and a growing opportunity.


MY SON HAS GIVEN ME A FEW INTERESTING BOOKS in recent years. A couple years ago, The Trillion Dollar Coach was a great read about legendary Silicon Valley coach and business executive Bill Campbell, mentor of some well-known and highly successful entrepreneurs who collectively created over a trillion dollars in market value. More recent was The End of Everything, in which theoretical astrophysicist Dr. Katie Mack explores the science behind five possible ends to the cosmos. (Spoiler alert: the one labeled “Heat Death” seems like the most likely candidate.) Fortunately, these five scenarios are all billions of years in the future, other than “Vacuum Decay” which could happen at any moment. Fortunately again, that one was particularly hard for my non-astrophysicist mind to understand!

But if the Vacuum Decay did strike by surprise, at least I wouldn’t feel so bad about the construction waste from my recent office-in-the-garage project that went into the dumpster. While it wasn’t that much, it was much more than I’d envisioned. This was just one room, but the remnant ends of 2 x 4s, drywall, carpet, baseboards, window trim, window and door packaging added up. And about halfway through the project we decided to put the home on the market, so the timely clean-up became just as important as the build-out. We managed to give some of it away, including the larger pieces of drywall, but too much ended up in the dumpster.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. generated over 600 million tons of Construction & Demolition (C&D) related waste in 2018. C&D waste generation in the U.S. increased by 342% from 1990 to 2018, and the growth was more than 10 times faster between 2005 and 2018 than from 1990 to 2005. While this total comprised residential, commercial and public construction (including roads and bridges), it points to a growing challenge.

And a growing opportunity.

Recycling or reusing C&D waste is a substantial market, particularly in the Demolition side of the business. And like my office project, it adds up quickly. That 3,500 square foot Platinum LEED Certified home on a water-conserving quarter acre? If the project started with demolition of a 1,400 square foot 1920 Craftsman with an asphalt shingle roof, then the project’s footprint is more than just rated by its effective management of energy and resources. It has an added waste component to measure.

The same EPA study from three years ago estimated that of the 600 million tons of C&D waste, a little over 455 million tons were recycled to another use with the remaining 145 million tons being sent to landfills. An article posted by Rubicon, a leading provider of cloud-based waste and recycling solutions for businesses, governments and organizations worldwide, cited the resulting C&D waste going to landfill as enough to cover 4,300 acres at a depth of 50 feet. I couldn’t get a good feel for 4,300 acres but ran the math to see this equaled covering all of San Francisco at a depth of 7 feet or all of New York’s Central Park as high as a 25-story building.

In the Fall 2021 issue of Technology Designer Magazine, we’ll explore different opportunities — large and small — to reduce waste and add to a sustainable future.

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