In 2003, building-related construction and demolition (C&D) debris totaled more than 164 million tons a year, up from 136 million tons a year in 1993.1 The largest share of this debris comes from building demolitions (53%), followed by building remodeling and renovation (38%) and finally construction (9%).2 Together, it comprises nearly 40 percent of the combined C&D and municipal solid waste stream.3 Landfilling this material incurs a significant economic cost. In 2004, the national average landfill tipping fee was $35 per ton,4 putting the national bill for landfilling construction and demolition debris at something on the order of $5.7 billion.
Moreover, landfilling this debris also generates a considerable environmental cost. Landfill space is used up and fossil fuels are expended to transport and store debris; fossil fuels are used, natural resources depleted, and toxins generated in the production and transport of replacement materials. An environmental cost calculator prepared by the Deconstruction Institute and the University of Florida provides some examples:5
Some 33 million tons of wood-related construction and demolition debris are buried each year in the US, releasing about 5 million tons of carbon equivalent in the form of methane gas. These greenhouse gas emissions are equivalent to the annual emissions of 3.7 million cars.
The average (2,000 square foot) American home, if demolished, would produce 10,000 cubic feet of debris. Recycling the steel and plastics in it would save almost 3,000 pounds of CO2 emissions. Salvaging the wood could yield 6,000 board feet of reusable lumber - equivalent to saving 33 mature trees.
The building materials in the average American home contain about 892 million Btu of embodied energy -- the total amount of energy used to produce, transport and assemble the materials into a home. This amount is equivalent to 7,826 gallons of gasoline. Reusing or recycling these materials would recapture much of this embodied energy rather than wasting it.
One year of construction and demolition debris is enough to build a wall 30 feet high and 30 feet thick around the entire coast of the continental United States (4,993 miles long).
Lastly, landfilling this debris represents an opportunity cost for the many people and organizations that could have used the materials if they had been salvaged.