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News > Climate Action and Leadership > Commingled Construction Waste Pt 1

Commingled Construction Waste Pt 1

An Honest Conversation Between Construction Manager & Recycling Facilities

Transcript summarized by Kaetlin McGee

Responsible disposal of cardboard on project sites doesn't have to be costly or time consuming. Learn from experienced industry professionals as they talk through common issues with cardboard recycling on small-scale projects.  

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This article is sponsored by the efforts of AIA Philadelphia's Committee on the Environment's Zero Waste Subcommittee. Some portions of the original meeting transcript have been edited and organized for length and clarity. Please see the end of the article for Panelist and Moderator profiles. 

 

Mary Ann: 

We're here to talk about cardboard at construction sites. Recently at the end of last year 2023, we began a discussion around construction cardboard and the EPA specifications that determine how this material is recycled. In 2007, Philadelphia moved to single stream. Valuable discards became commingled. Cardboard, glass, metal, and plastics are now going to material recovery facilities where they're supposed to be sorted and sold to viable businesses where they will be recycled, repurposed, and sold. But because they're commingled, they're basically material mush and they end up being sent to the landfill or to the Covanta incinerator in Chester, PA where they are burned, polluting the landscape, and making people very sick.  

In terms of construction debris, well-meaning architects, sustainability leaders and project managers hire leaders like Stan Weglarz with Wolfe Scott. He's a principal in charge of project management, who's with us today to support sustainable deconstruction and accountability specifications in order to ensure that deconstruction can happen properly, and valuable materials can be saved for use in recycling. He's interested in engaging with the idea of clean cardboard, getting it into the direct hands of the buyer/recycler. Peter Clark is an Account Executive for United States Recycling, Inc on Tacony St. United States Recycling is the official recycling arm of Newman & Company, the oldest paperboard mill in Philadelphia. Newman uses recoverable fiber to produce 100% recycled, high quality paperboard. 

The hope for this meeting is just to have a conversation and to let the leaders chat and we take notes and ask questions. Stan, if you want to start that would be great.  

Stan:  

I'm the director of project management for Wolfe Scott. A little history of the company: we've been in business since 1968. I've been with the company for 23 years and am one of the owners of Wolfe Scott. We do a mix of projects which includes renovations and buildings from the ground up. Our annual revenue is about 30 to 40 million dollars a year. We don't build Comcast towers, but we do a great mix of projects, and we have a mix of clients in and around the Philadelphia area - the University of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Schools, and actually with a lot of private schools recently. We do healthcare work and institutional and museums. When I first started chatting with Mary Ann we really touched on the cardboard aspect [specifically], and how much is thrown into dumpsters on projects and how much packaging actually comes. When you really step back and think about it, it's really shocking how much material we received that's packaged in such a way and disposed of quickly without even batting an eye. I think one of the challenges of the goal here (which is to capture these materials and keep them separate and to not pollute them) is when you work on these sites, the limited area that we have for dumpsters and containers. As we all know from working in this industry, people don't want to see one dumpster, let alone multiple, no matter what goes in them. So, just talking about things that we need to overcome, that is definitely one of them. How do we really strive to show how important this is? While also making it so that there is space allowed on sites and in these areas? I know there were discussions about daily pickups, but we also want to be practical, right? Because time is money for everyone, and we want to be realistic about what can and can't happen.  

I also think it's important to understand what the goal is of the recycling and redistribution of this material and its reuse. [The goal is] the education of not just our group, because we're the team that's here putting together a specification, but really stressing the importance [externally]. We're not the people that are on site. We're not the workers and the talented staff that are working on the construction sites that have to make this happen. So, how do we find a good way to educate our field teams to show them why this is important and really highlight what the benefits are to their communities for doing this and how it's important for everyone? The challenge again, when we're in a construction management position or a competitive bid situation, is you say to someone “oh, well, now you have to take this material that's trash and put it over here in this separate container while all your other debris goes here.” The instant reaction is, “Oh well, that's just going to cost more money”, right? I take it into [account for] LEED certified buildings that are done. Is there a cost of doing a LEED certified building? In some cases, yes, because there is some additional time involved. But the materials, especially now as our industry has evolved, are already using recycled content. They're already starting to do this as a standard so now it's just documenting that.  

I really look at it from the perspective of fixing this, I don't want to say negativity, but the pushback that could come as we try and initiate this more and more into the industry. I think that's the challenge, because I'm sorry to say that I've never had a project with unlimited budget and unlimited time and just 'do whatever you need to do'. If someone knows one of them, we're happy to help you work on that. 

Mary Ann

Stan, have you ever been on a job where materials were in an organized fashion? Not commingled in a dumpster. How does it look? 

Stan: 

It's rare, but it happens. More during the demolition phase itself. When we have our demolition companies who recycle steel, they have a dumpster full of steel that they kind of stockpile everything and then haul that away. Or masonry, because of the weight of it, one dumpster is really only going to be masonry. Certain pieces like that or even things like light bulbs that can't go into certain cans or disposal methods. It does happen. It's just making sure that is clear from the start of the project.  

Is it significantly more cost and time to separate cardboard in this case? The reality is probably not, but we have to display that and show that that's the case, right? There's a game that if you are separating cardboard and not putting it into a dumpster, you're saving on dumpster cost if that's being taken at no cost to the contractor or to the owner. I think it's important to have an owner buy in on this agenda as well because we want to highlight the community aspect, the environmental aspect. These are all marketing pieces that clients can use to show that they're being conscious of community and environment.  

Mary Ann: 

I wonder if Peter has any thoughts on that in terms of if he has any experience with this. 

Peter: 

Everything Stan said is what I run into all the time. The biggest problem on our end is contamination. If a generator has cardboard, it is important to keep that material separate and clean from other materials.  

Stan: 

Peter, if I may ask, is this something where your initiative would be supplying a container to a job site? Or would I as a contractor be supplying my own container that you would come and empty? What would your approach be to this goal? 

Peter:  

USRI could supply a container to be used for material collection. Though there would not be any disposal cost, there would likely be some type of transportation cost.  

The other way to structure this, is if the construction firm itself had a way to deliver the cardboard to our facility [with their own container]. There are two things that I think are important in that. For one, you'd be able to keep the material a lot cleaner that way because you'd be in control of it. And two, you wouldn't incur the transportation costs that we would impose. If you brought the material to us that way, we could pay you a couple bucks a ton for it. 

Stan: 

That's something that we would have to do an analysis on to see what it would cost us from a transport standpoint. I hate to say this, but the typical project right now, for example, uses BURNS (local waste and recycling facility) dumpsters 80% of the time. With BURNS dumpsters, everything goes in the same container. They take it back to their shop and their yard. In theory, they're supposed to dump it out, sort it, and recycle certain things. Certain things go to landfill and provide reports on that if the job requires that.  

So Peter, you're talking about the pushback you get is “well, why would I have our team deliver stuff to your yard versus just throwing it in a dumpster that I'm already paying for?”, right? So that's what we have to resolve and unfortunately it comes down to costs in many cases. 

Peter: 

Right. Well, the way I look at it and the way I talk to people about things like this is cost avoidance. Most C&D facilities charge a per ton fee which covers the expense to handle and separate materials for recycling. As a true recycler, USRI's model encourages suppliers to keep materials clean and separate by commodity type. We then make sure these materials are recycled appropriately to ensure the continuity of the recycled commodity's lifespan. To circle back and answer your question, if you were to do a job in Center City, Philadelphia and it takes you 45 minutes at the end of the day to take the cardboard to our facility in Tacony, you're not charged any disposal fees and you're getting a per ton rebate for the value of the material. It may be more cost effective for you to handle material this way. 

Stan: 

100% agree. That's something we would really have to look at and do a study on a project and see what the differential is. I don't disagree with you because we're also putting less debris in our dumpster. There's an offset; how many dumpsters we would be using, there's an add for the time that would be used and for the transportation that we would be doing. But there's also a give back from your side per ton, you're going to be returning dollars. I just don't know what that calculation is that offsets that [cost]. 

Peter: 

At another time, you and I could talk, and we could put together a scenario that says, “ok, I'm doing a job on Such-and-such Street in Philadelphia. Let's say we generate this much material” … we could come to an estimated cost and value to see if it would be worth moving forward. 

Stan: 

Yeah. We have a client, a school client that we work with right now in Philadelphia who has a summer project coming up, who would probably love to explore this. We're working throughout the school year on what that project is going to be this summer. But it's something that with this team's permission, we could even explore on that project when school [lets] out. 

Peter: 

Right. And I don't want to say that that's the only way we could help you. I mean if there was a way to drop a container on your site, and for your sake to have it all only be clean cardboard we could entertain that also. 

Stan:  

And Peter, just so I'm 100% clear – you then take the clean cardboard, and your recycling process creates that into a new use, correct? 

Peter: 

USRI is an affiliate of Newman & Company. Newman manufactures a paper commodity called chipboard. Our product is used in various applications including rigid set-up boxes, gameboards, book covers, tablets, and more. Newman uses various grades of recycled paper to produce its chipboard. Additionally, USRI supplies several other domestic and international mills with cardboard and other grades of recycled materials. 

Stan: 

And they're using it for their manufacturing processes in some way shape or form?

Peter: 

Yes, these other mills also use recycled fiber as feedstock in their manufacturing process. 

Stan: 

No, that's great. Yeah. I mean, that's a great selling point for a client to show that, especially for schools in and around the Philadelphia area. 

Mary Ann:  

When you talk about costs, where do those numbers come from? Is there a spec sheet or something like that?  

Peter: 

There is a RISI Fastmarkets PPI Pulp and Paper Week index that is released monthly. This index provides pricing indications and market insight for our industry, predicated on both geographic location and grade of paper. When a supplier brings in material into our facility we factor in market conditions, transportation and material handling costs to then be able to provide a competitive rebate to suppliers. 

Mary Ann: 

If you were delivering a dumpster, can you give us a sense of what [costs] that would be? 

Peter: 

Costs really depend on distance traveled to drop and swap a container. 

Stan: 

If you assume Center City, what would that be? 

Peter: 

I would think it would be anywhere between $275 and $325 to drop a container. That includes the drop off and removal. 

Stan: 

How big is the container? 

Peter: 

30-yards. 

Mary Ann: 

So there's like a 40-yard…. 

Peter: 

Yes, that is also an option, although the walls are a lot higher, and may be a bit more difficult to load. You could open the door in the back and load it that way, but either container would be the same price to drop-in Center City. 

Mary Ann: 

So then Stan (the construction manager) would have to figure out what the difference is, right? Between that and the other costs.

Stan: 

Peter, I get that it's the same cost to deliver a pickup. It's the 30-yard container where we get into that spatial issue on certain sites - not all sites - but certain sites. We do work at the University of Pennsylvania, and we have to shut down a portion of the street for a dumpster in many cases. We're not going to have a 30-yard dumpster sit on the street for that duration. Especially because we're only trying to fill with cardboard and the people in and around certain areas of the city are kind enough to fill dumpsters for us. So, we have to be careful with that.  

Peter: 

That was the initial point I mentioned, we must keep the material clean. It's hard to do on a construction site. We can also offer toters and hampers to handle smaller volumes of collection if there isn't enough space to drop a 30-yard dumpster. 

Stan: 

It is, it is, yeah. 

Mary Ann: 

How much can be delivered? When can it be delivered for small projects?

Peter: 

There's no minimum or maximum. You bring in what you bring in. We have people that bring in a pick-up truck load of cardboard and we have people that bring in tractor trailers full of cardboard, so no minimum or maximum. We're open from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Those are the hours you can deliver.  

Stan: 

From a scale standpoint and to Mary Ann's question, in some cases it would just be pickup trucks. It's really going to depend on the size of the project. To drop a 30-yard can, it's going to depend on the site and what you can accommodate.  

Peter, especially on your point, if we know we have a furniture delivery coming in or certain material coming in a decent size delivery that we know is going to be all packed in cardboard, that might be where we bring a can in specifically for that. If we know it's just continuous deliveries throughout the job - light fixtures, millwork - everything that generally comes in a cardboard box - that would be where we're trying to stockpile and then try and deliver on our own at some point. 

Peter:  

Stan, we might be able to accommodate this type of service request. We could drop a can at, I don't know, 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning and come back at 4:00 and pick it up. 

Stan: 

Yeah, that would probably be the best approach for something like that.  

Peter: 

And that's twofold. Number one, it doesn't sit overnight for anybody to dump into. Number two, while it's there from 9:00am to 4:00pm, you don't have to post somebody, because you have people that keep their eyes out that say, “hey, don't put anything else in there”. 

Mary Ann: 

I want to ask Peter just a couple more questions. I think Peter said [USRI] takes the cardboard with everything on it, right? It can be wet as I think you told me before, but it can't be commingled. It can have tape on it and inks on it, is that right?  

Peter: 

We can accept cardboard so long as it is clean without contamination.  

Mary Ann: 

And how do you have to receive it? if a small-scale project brings it over in a sort of sloppy way in a truck… do they drop it into a dumpster there? 

Peter:  

Once material arrives at our facility, it is dumped on an area where the material is collected and sorted to either then be baled or directed into our mill's pulper.  

Mary Ann: 

Directly into the pulper? 

Peter: 

Yes, the pulper. Collected fiber is broken down through a pulping process. Once fiber is separated and free of contaminants, recycled paperboard is formed. 

Mary Ann: 

And the pulper takes all of the extraneous stuff as well? And then spits it out somewhere? 

Peter: 

Contaminants are extracted from the clean fiber and disposed of. [The tape, staples, etc. that is removed from cardboard and combined for disposal] 

 

Part 2 of this conversation deals with the topics of policy and advocacy in the recycling, demolition, and deconstruction 

space.

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Panelist Profiles: 

● Stan Weglarz, Director of Project Management at Wolfe Scott Associates 

● Peter Clark, Account Executive at United States Recycling, Inc. 

Moderator Profile: 

Mary Ann Duffy, AIA COTE Zero Waste subcommittee co-chair & Architect 

 

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