By Fiona Wagner
While the three R's, reduce, reuse, recycle, are commonplace in the lexicon of most Canadian households and small businesses, the diversion of construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) waste from landfill is still gaining industry momentum. As much as one-third of the 20 million tonnes of solid municipal waste that goes to landfill can be traced back to CRD .
The good news is there's a small but growing movement that sees recycling and increased waste efficiency as an opportunity. While the benefits to the environment are clear, effective waste diversion can also save money through reduced tipping fees and materials purchased, and provide an opportunity for business owners to distinguish themselves from competitors while enhancing their corporate image.
"The Canadian home building industry has gone a long way in increasing the energy efficiency of homes, better insulation, better quality windows, more efficient appliances and fixtures," says Deep Shergill, president of the Canadian Home Builders Association – Alberta. "The next major hurdle to cross is really reducing, reusing and recycling."
That can mean anything from reducing the amount of waste generated on the job site by using efficient framing techniques, reusing wood or metal off-cuts in applications where smaller pieces are required and recycling all materials from asphalt shingles to concrete.
While it's one thing to recognize the value of reducing waste, it's another to implement environmental practices into your business. Despite today's emphasis on sustainability, builders still face challenges when implementing practices relating to the 3Rs. Some are concerned with the increased labour costs associated with recycling and reusing while others are reluctant to further complicate their business process.
"Throwing everything into a bin and carting it away is certainly easier but it doesn't necessarily cost less," says Christopher Phillips, owner of Toronto-based Greening Homes Ltd. "Sorting [drywall, metal, wood, stone and non-recyclables such as some plastics] does take a bit of additional labour, but it's the responsible thing to do. And if you sort it properly, you can decrease the cost of the material going into landfill."
With some products, Phillips practices a closed-loop purchasing and recycling system. For example, while he can't reuse drywall, he can recycle it and then only specs eco-logo certified drywall (99% recycled content) in his projects.
"That's just one example of a particular building material that's easy to find, easily obtainable and it's got very high recycled content," he says.
Done well, recycling and salvaging materials can generate opportunities to create one-of-a-kind projects for clients.
"We had a client who wanted to create an open concept environment in a century home," says Phillips. "We took down the original stud walls, which had perfect 100-year-old actual 2 by 4's, de-nailed the wood and then reused the lumber to create beautiful built-ins in the same room."
It also gives you bragging rights as an eco-conscious builder. In today's tight economy, greening your corporate image and distinguishing yourself from the competition can help attract new clients looking to put their environmental principles into practice, allowing you to capitalize on this current and popular trend.
"The renovation and building industry has been very wasteful by nature," says Phillips. Offering services that are different and unique appeals to potential customers interested in minimizing their environmental impact, he says.
Despite the benefits, there are some logistical challenges of salvaging and recycling. "Larger projects might be able to accommodate sorting on site but smaller ones have a tougher time," Shergill says. "The main logistics issue is the presence of recyclers in the market place. There is a will out there to recycle provided there are facilities that can handle the waste; therefore, we have to progress slowly so that both the supply of waste available for recycling is matched with the capacity of recyclers to consume it."
While the challenges and opportunities for reusing and diverting waste will differ by builder and project, Phillips suggests the following tips to start managing your projects , and your clients, more greenly:
"You'd be hard pressed to find a client that says, 'This whole recycling idea is a sham,' but there is always a concern about cost," says Phillips. "I tell them it doesn't have to cost much more at all…it could possibly even save them money. You can get a beautiful, durable project and reduce your environmental impact."
For more information, visit the Public Works and Government Services Canada (//www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca) for the "Environmentally Responsible Construction and Renovation Handbook."