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A green experiment: Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico, puts construction materials recycling to the test.

Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico (SNL/NM) has joined the U.S. EPA Waste Wise Building Challenge Program. Although it did not participate in the grant program, SNL/ NM has provided a case study examining how C&D diversion and sustainable procurement can be coordinated within an organization, and its activities closely reflect the goals of the grant program and its intended outcome.

Construction and demolition debris comprises approximately 80 percent of the SNL/NM solid waste stream, which provides a significant opportunity to reduce its overall solid waste stream. Although New Mexico does not have the availability of recycling facilities and vendors that other more populated, industry-oriented areas of the country may have, recycling options were identified for the four primary construction materials: concrete, metal, wood and wallboard. In addition, the ongoing SNL/NM white paper and cardboard recycling program was expanded to include these materials generated from construction.


Sandia has both large and small construction projects. For example, large construction projects include the construction of a building while small construction projects might be a sidewalk repair or the remodeling a conference room. Two different approaches to recycling were evaluated and implemented based on construction project size.

Large construction projects are conducive to implementing recycling on the project site because sufficient quantities of materials can be accumulated on the site. After a sufficient quantity is accumulated it is cost-efficient to transport the material directly to a recycling facility rather than to a landfill.

Four factors lead to the success of recycling for large construction projects. These factors included revising construction contractual requirements, requiring project waste management plans, coordinating with recyclers and tracking/reporting recycling performance.

To ensure contractors would recycle applicable materials, the SNL/NM P2 staff developed a standard construction specification, Section 01505, Construction Waste Management. Because this specification is now included in the project construction procurement documents, recycling applicable materials is a contractual requirement. Additionally, the specification requires the contractors to develop a management plan and to track and report waste generation and recycling.

A waste management plan has become the primary planning tool for waste management activities conducted at a construction project. The plan requires the construction contractor to establish diversion goals, analyze material quantities and types, identify applicable recycling options and disposal methods, describe material handling procedures and to communicate the contents of the plan to site workers and subcontractors.

Coordination of recycling between the SNL/NM construction contractors and recycling facilities was an essential first step in implementing large project construction material recycling programs. SNL/NM construction contractors had not recycled construction debris as standard practice and did not know where to send material for recycling. To address this, SNL/NM P2 staff identified recyclers to accept materials and coordinated the collection, transportation and delivery for the contractors.

Metal recycling was coordinated through a local metal recycling vendor who was already under contract to SNL/ NM for other metal recycling services. Concrete reuse was coordinated with the Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) landfill to use clean, non-reinforced concrete for erosion control. SNLINM P2 staff developed pilot programs to recycle wood and wallboard. American Gypsum, which operates a wallboard manufacturing plant just outside Albuquerque, N.M., agreed to take clean, cut-off wallboard scraps for grinding and re-introduction into the raw gypsum feed stock. A local landscape material supplier agreed to take scrap wood for subsequent grinding to produce a mulch product for sale to the general public. As mentioned previously, cardboard and white paper were sent to SNL/NM's existing recycling program.

SNL/NM has begun implementing the requirements for large construction projects to segregate and recycle the six materials described above. Recycling of these materials during construction of the Joint Computational Engineering Laboratory (JCEL), a 64,500-square-foot building, resulted in 85 percent by weight (807 tons) of all construction debris being diverted from direct landfill disposal.

Although the JCEL construction contractor was initially skeptical of the program, this contractor now embraces the program as straightforward to implement with the added benefits of increased levels of site safety and housekeeping. The contractor further indicated that such procedures will be implemented on all future projects, regardless of government or commercial application.

Due to the recycling success of the JCEL project, a 377,000-square-foot-building complex implemented this recycling program. It is now standard practice at SNL/NM to recycle the six major construction material streams on large construction projects.

The benefits of this program include increased solid waste recycling rates for SNL/NM, recycling business development within the local community, increased recycling awareness of construction contractors and accurate reporting. The significance of this program is that large construction projects previously had not been recycling any material, but now can divert more than 80 percent.


Each small construction project generates relatively small quantities of recyclable materials. These small quantities represent a unique challenge to implementing recycling. Without a common staging area to collect small quantities of construction materials the debris needs to be removed in a short timeframe. It is cost prohibitive to make individual trips to recycling facilities for small quantities. Although each project generates small quantities, it is estimated that 15,000 cubic yards of scrap materials from small construction projects were disposed of in the KAFB Landfill in 2003.

The SNL/NM P2 staff determined the most effective way to capture and manage recyclable materials generated from small construction projects was to develop a single collection area. A construction debris recycling center has now been built at the SNL/NM Solid Waste Transfer Facility. This new feature will provide collection and storage capabilities for recycling small quantities of construction debris.

This new recycling program will be implemented first by providing training to the SNL/NM facilities staff responsible for small construction projects and the pre-qualified contractors. The training will be conducted at the Solid Waste Transfer Facility to allow individuals to observe the location of storage areas and will provide clear criteria for acceptable materials. All individuals who generate scrap from small construction projects will be required to take their materials to the transfer facility and to segregate recyclables from materials for disposal.

In addition to construction debris, SNL/NM has building demolition debris and routinly works to process solid waste such as white paper or cardboard. A recycling opportunity assessment was completed to determine the feasibility and priority of including several additional materials for recycling. Materials were evaluated by identifying the current disposal practice, quantity generated, availability of recycling resources/options and potential for recycling implementation.

Several materials present in the solid waste stream that are known to be recyclable were evaluated. The items from routine work processes include alkaline batteries, electronic media, glass, mixed paper including strip-shredded and pulverized paper, plastic, Styrofoam, transparencies, Tyvek and yard debris. Construction materials were evaluated and have been implemented as described previously. Concrete from demolition was evaluated separately from construction concrete because it is heavily reinforced.

Heavily reinforced concrete and mixed paper were identified as the highest priority items for immediately developing implementation strategies. In past years concrete from demolition activities was accepted for erosion control purposes and was not disposed of in the landfill. However, reinforced concrete was determined to be unacceptable for this purpose. Because demolition concrete is now being disposed of in the landfill, SNL/NM recycle quantities by weight reported to Waste Wise decreased from 2002 to 2003. Concrete from demolition is being evaluated to determine whether it is feasible and cost effective to establish a staging area to collect concrete for eventual crushing into recycled aggregate base course.

A new administrator of SNL/NM Grounds and Road Services has implemented three practices to divert material from the landfill, save resources and incur cost savings. First, trees that need to be removed for new construction projects are no longer automatically sent to the landfill, but relocated if possible. Secondly, in the past Grounds and Road Services would remove and dispose of perimeter fencing when onsite fencing locations would change. The new practice is to carefully remove, store and reuse the materials when they are needed in another location. Finally, when gravel landscaping gets filled with windblown dirt, the gravel was removed and disposed at the landfill. Now the gravel is removed, cleaned and reused.

In conclusion, the efforts of SNL/NM have been diverse but focused on diverting as much C&D materials as possible. Some of the efforts completed this year have resulted in changes to SNL/NM's standard practices. Other efforts will hopefully result in changes for the future.

Editor's note: The following is a continuation of the green building update that appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine. Part I of this two-part story discussed C&D recycling on several of the EPA's Waste Wise Building Challenge Program projects. Part II is a case study of C&D diversion at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.


Learn how SNL/NM purchased green construction products in an online sidebar at www.CDRecycler. com

The author is principal of KMI Building Associates, Glendale, Calif., and can be contacted at or (818) 548-8996.
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Author:Ingalls, Kelly
Publication:Construction & Demolition Recycling
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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