Reusing Building Materials Offers Builder Solutions

Free service involving reusing building materials helps save money, give back to the community and tread lighter on the planet

By KYLE SHEPHERD

The cost of disposing building materials is high, both from a monetary and environmental perspective. Concrete and other masonry, wood, metal and porcelain are heavy materials that have to be loaded in certain containers and trucked to disposal facilities. There, builders have to pay a fee
to rid themselves of these waste products — products that consumed a tremendous volume of the earth’s resources to create.

A lifecycle analysis for building materials conducted in Europe found that building supplies make up 24% of all raw materials extracted from the earth. Add the amount of energy and water it takes to process these resources into goods people can actually use, and it’s not hard to see why these materials take a heavy toll on the planet.

BRING reusing building materials
Courtesy of BRING

Recycling building materials is a good idea, but it’s best to reuse them if possible. Reuse conserves the embodied energy in products, which lowers not only raw material needs but the energy and other inputs required to return recycled products back to a useable form. However, builders often struggle with how to put good-quality building materials back to use.

The Construction Materials Recovery and Reuse program (CMRR) in Oregon, is one program that’s changing that. CMRR, which is a partnership between Lane County, the City of Eugene and a nonprofit called BRING, works with contractors and active construction sites to divert reusable materials slated for the landfill, educate contactors on best practices for sustainable material management, and ease the financial burden of large-scale disposal costs.

Here’s how it works: A CMRR representative walks through a builder’s sites with them and helps them identify what materials can be reused. The contractor deconstructs those portions of the building and sets the materials aside for BRING, which recovers and sells them at a fraction of the new cost in its retail thrift store. Items that are commonly reusable include wood, hardware, windows and doors, electrical and plumbing fixtures, fencing materials, and intact masonry.

Reuse conserves the embodied energy in products, which lowers not only raw material needs but the energy and other inputs required to return recycled products back to a useable form.

BRING completes a thorough inventory of donated materials and presents that to the company at the end of each project. Staff can complete carbon equivalency estimates for firms engaged in programs such as LEED or net zero, or ones that are doing carbon footprint tracking.

If the company wants to incorporate second-hand materials into remodeling or new construction projects, CMRR staff can educate them on which items are most commonly available at the BRING retail store so project managers can determine the best ways to work in materials. Bridge timbers, cabinets, framing lumber and vintage fixtures are among the top items builders source from the store.

BRING has also developed a comprehensive toolkit that allows firms to dive deeper into topics such as source separation, how to correctly recycle building materials and how to create a waste reduction and reuse plan for construction sites. The 20-page guide is a part of an effort to provide long- term guidance on ways to perform smarter materials management and bolster reuse at local building firms.

These services are provided at no cost to builders, and there is no doubt the program is saving them money. Since the CMRR program began in 2018, local contractors have diverted at least 516,000 pounds of material and avoided paying $21,857 in tonnage fees at the local transfer station. That number does not take into account the amount saved in truck rental, transportation and tip fees, which can be significant. On one large hotel remodeling project, the builder saved $4,000 in tonnage fees and $2,000 in delivery and roll off costs. In addition, every reusable board, beam and bolt a company donates to BRING may be eligible for a charitable donation tax deduction.

BRING reusing building materials
Courtesy of BRING

The genesis of the CMRR program was an increase in the fees companies paid to dispose of construction and demolition waste, and a policy that banned loads containing recyclable material from Lane County’s transfer stations. When that policy went into place, the county and city funded the program to help ease the burden of cost on contractors. But the service has grown into a treasured community resource. Builders feel good because they can make better use of valuable resources, give back to the community, and better serve clients committed to green building. Local residents get good-quality building materials at affordable prices. And everyone treads a little lighter on the planet as a result.

Kyle Shepherd manages the Construction Materials Recovery and Reuse program for BRING in Eugene, Ore.