Residential Construction Waste Management Roundtable


The Department of Natural Resources’ Pollution Prevention Assistance Division (P2AD) contracted with the National Association of Home Builders’ Research Center (NAHB) to perform a windshield assessment of Metro Atlanta residential construction waste management practices and to co-sponsor a roundtable discussion of residential construction waste management practices in the region. An assessment of waste management practices was conducted at four residential construction sites on September 8-9, 1998. In cooperation with the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association (GAHBA), NAHB and P2AD invited a group of stakeholders to participate in a roundtable discussion on October 1, 1998.


The objectives of the Roundtable as introduced by Stephanie Siniard, Pollution Prevention Assistance Division and Eric Lund, National Association of Home Builders’ Research Center, were:

  • To initiate a dialogue among homebuilders and those involved with the recovery and marketing of materials typically discarded during residential construction.
  • To provide participants with a better understanding of the current waste management practices of homebuilders in the Atlanta area.
  • To identify opportunities for reducing the quantity of materials discarded and for ways to encourage voluntary, cost-effective recycling of these materials, when applicable.
  • To identify challenges and barriers to the diversion of this material from disposal, including identifying ways that the sponsoring organizations (Pollution Prevention Assistance Division, Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association, and National Association of Home Builders’ Research Center) can provide assistance and encouragement.

Participants were also provided with a resource manual and given an overview of the material included in the manual. Material from the manual was subsequently referred to during the Roundtable discussions.


Representatives from all of the key industries were present, leading to very balanced discussion among the participants (the number of attendees from each industry is listed in the table below). Government agencies attending included the Department of Natural Resources’ Pollution Prevention Assistance and Environmental Protection Divisions and the Department of Community Affairs. The hauling industry was represented by two hauler/landfill operators and a framer/hauler; the building industry was represented by both large and small builders.


No. of Attendees



Waste Haulers


Waste Processors




Other — Consultants, Non-Profits, etc.(includes NAHB & GAHBA)




Waste Assessment Results

The Roundtable began with an overview of the waste assessment conducted by Eric Lund and Stephanie Siniard at four Atlanta metropolitan area job sites on September 8-9. The assessment included homes being built by both small and large production builders. The average size of the homes visited was 3,200 square feet, which is significantly higher than the national average of 2,050 square feet. The homes sites visited were in north Fulton and Forsyth Counties. Two builders participating in the Roundtable were not a part of the recent assessment and were able to offer additional builder perspectives (both build less than 30 homes per year) to the findings of the assessment.

The key assessment results were:

  • Components of the waste stream. One of the key points of the assessment results was that wood, drywall, and cardboard make up 75 percent of the residential construction waste stream, which is consistent with the national average. Wood appears to represent approximately 50-60 percent by volume of the total waste stream in Atlanta, which is higher than the national average of approximately 30-40 percent. Although the Atlanta waste assessment did not quantify the percentage of wood that was an engineered product, i.e., plywood, OSB, etc., previous waste assessments conducted by the NAHB Research Center indicate that 50 percent is a reasonable estimate. The ratio of wood to cardboard was higher in the homes visited during the site assessments. This may be due to the fact that most of the fixtures/cabinets in the homes were custom built and were delivered directly to the site. This, however, may not be indicative of the metro Atlanta region as a whole. A small builder, participating in the Roundtable, stated he generates “truck loads” of cardboard.
  • Builders’ current job-site waste management practices. The assessment indicated the predominant method of waste removal was through the use of “cleanup services”, i.e., construction scraps are manually loaded into trucks by a cleanup crew and hauled off from the job site. One builder stated that he also uses a cleanup service and does some self-hauling, while another builder stated that he uses a partner’s roll-off dumpster to haul his construction debris. The reason the builders gave for not using dumpsters included a decrease in “curb” appeal of the home, topography, and contamination problems, including illegal dumping. Some of the reasons given for using a cleanup service with dump truck versus dumpsters or roll off containers included the ability to load vehicles more efficiently, as well as the ability to overcome terrain problems and gain better access to the construction site. Since two of the builders attending the Roundtable use dumpsters, additional investigation into the extent that clean-up services are used in Atlanta (versus the use of roll-off containers) may be warranted to validate the finding of the assessment.
  • The cost of waste management services. The assessment results indicated the total cost of hauling construction debris from job sites ranged from $900-1300 per house. This figure is approximately twice the national average. One builder supported these cost figures, while another builder was uncertain of his total cost per house. Reasons for this high cost may include:
    • the large house size (the houses observed during the assessments were all approximately 3,000 square feet, or 50% larger than the national average);
    • the type of specialized service offered by a clean-up service, i.e., typically involving sweeps around the house in addition to the hauling;
    • the perception that disposal and labor costs are low and thus are not closely monitored by the builder.


Mr. Lund noted the waste management costs from a typical residential construction unit represented approximately 1% of the total construction costs. This same cost, however, may represent up to 5% of a builder’s profit margin.

Key Roundtable Discussion Points

Components of the Waste Stream

All participants agreed that the materials which offer the greatest potential for waste reduction and recycling are wood, drywall, and cardboard. Participants were also generally aware of the methods available to divert these materials from disposal, including practices such as grinding of drywall. It was further noted that waste assessments conducted by the NAHB Research Center indicated that a 2,000 square foot house will generate approximately 60 cubic yards of construction debris. By comparison, cleanup service representatives indicated that they typically remove 4 dump truck loads of material from a residential construction site: 2 loads of wood; one load of drywall; and one load of cardboard.

Eric Lund made the observation that some houses were built with significantly more structural sheathing on the walls than others were. The builders explained that the amount of sheathing required depends on the county’s interpretation of the code, and varies from county to county. It was further noted by one of the builders that this practice would not add to the waste stream in that full sheets of sheathing are used for structural bracing. However, the builder did note that plywood was the most significant component of the wood waste stream and attributed the generation of plywood scrap to roofing designs.

Steel framing was identified as an option to promote waste reduction. One attendee noted that the cost of wood is approximately twenty percent (20%) less than the cost of steel. In addition, several builders raised a concern about the higher labor costs associated with steel frame construction.

After a brief explanation of the classification of “conditionally exempt small quantity generators” (CESQG), and the types of construction materials which could be considered “hazardous”, the group briefly discussed the state regulations affecting this RCRA classification. Most builders were not familiar with this regulation. A summary of the new rule was included in the participants’ resource manual. The EPD representative indicated that EPD had notified landfill owners and operators of this requirement and has no reason to believe that there is a compliance issue at this time.

Conditions Affecting Waste Management Decisions

Harold Gillespie of the Georgia EPD stated that numerous landfills in the area accept construction and demolition debris and these landfills have plenty of capacity. The C&D landfill operator and the hauler present at the Roundtable indicated Atlanta area tipping fees at landfills that only accept C&D materials are approximately $12 per ton. In a 1996 report, the Atlanta Regional Commission reported the average tipping fee at C&D landfills in the Atlanta region was approximately $21 per ton. By comparison, the Department of Community Affairs has estimated tipping fees at municipal solid waste landfills are approximately $26 per ton. Roundtable participants agreed there are few apparent pressures (such as limited remaining capacity) which would cause tipping fees to increase.

The builders present indicated the fees they pay for hauling and disposal in some cases are based on volume, while in others they are based on an established per house fee. The C&D landfill operator participating at the Roundtable indicated that his facility, and most other C&D landfills base their fees on volume. One builder present has begun to track hauling and disposal costs by home.

It was pointed out by the builders that the cost of hauling land-clearing debris can be as high as the cost of hauling construction debris. Open burning of land clearing debris is prohibited by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) in counties with populations in excess of 65,000 people, thus eliminating the use of this practice for management of land clearing debris in most metro Atlanta counties. During winter months, with required approvals, an air curtain burner may be used for land clearing debris. However, due to air emission issues in the Atlanta metropolitan area, EPD has imposed a ban on opening burning of land clearing debris between May 1 and September 30 in the thirteen county ozone non-attainment area. In response to the ban, one builder present had established a mulching subsidiary.

Outlets for recovered materials

The Department of Community Affairs maintains a directory of recycling markets in Georgia. This directory is organized by material and county. A copy of the known Atlanta area markets for materials typically recovered from home construction sites was included in the resource packet distributed to each participant. More than one of the builders participating in the Roundtable voiced frustration about the effort involved in finding markets for materials that could be recovered. When the issue was raised as to where to find information on the current value of materials, one participant stated that Waste News was a good source for monitoring the value of materials. It was also suggested that it might be helpful for someone to monitor this information and periodically distribute it to the builders.

On-site reuse of processed material

  • Wood – Mark Risse, of the University of Georgia’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, is responsible for the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division’s agricultural pollution prevention program. Mark has conducted demonstration projects examining the potential value of processed gypsum, as well as other waste materials, as a soil amendment. Mark explained several of the issues surrounding the on-site application of processed wood. He further explained that one of the primary concerns with using processed wood (particularly land clearing debris) on-site is the low level of nitrogen available in processed wood mulch as well as the resulting difficulty in trying to establish vegetation cover in a nitrogen poor soil. This was confirmed by a builder that operates a mulching subsidiary for land clearing debris. One suggestion on how to reduce the negative impact of using wood chips as a soil amendment was to incorporate the wood chips from land clearing debris into the soil prior to starting construction, thus allowing additional time for decomposition prior to trying to establish vegetation in the conditioned soil. The reasons given by the participants for not using the mulch included a lack of market for the material and a lack of equipment and time to grind the material.
  • Drywall — There was an interest expressed in applying drywall on-site as a soil amendment. The concerns identified with reusing drywall on-site included: the risk of contamination and mildicides. However, it was mentioned that the presence of mildicides should not be a problem. Another option for using the drywall on-site was to place the drywall in the wall cavities of the home. While there was interest in this management method, one attendee reminded the group that this only delayed the drywall from being disposed of in the landfill and was not a true reuse practice.

Finger-jointing lumber scraps

Finger-jointing is a process that joins small pieces of solid sawn lumber together into longer, reusable lengths. It was noted during the site assessment that at least one builder used finger-jointed lumber. In response to a discussion about how others are exploring the potential of finger jointing, several attendees, including several builders, expressed interest in the idea of a finger-jointing pilot project. Such a project would explore the feasibility of leasing a piece of finger-jointing equipment and sharing the equipment among several builders. David Ewing of Habitat for Humanity International stated that Habitat considered incorporating a finger-jointer into their operation, but Habitat decided after a demonstration of the equipment that it was too labor-intensive and expensive. Mark Risse indicated that he thought at least one manufactured housing firm in South Georgia was (or had considered) finger-jointing their scrap material. It should be noted that one builder stated that finger-jointed lumber may be limited to non-load bearing applications.

Barriers to Waste Reduction & Recycling

Several participants raised concerns about the feasibility of recycling engineered woods such as plywood. Aesthetic concerns are based on the inability to evenly color the engineered wood material during the dyeing process. Economic concerns are based on the cost of grinding or processing equipment to manage the limited volumes of materials generated at an individual construction site. While co-oping with other builders may be an option to share cost or aggregate materials, many expressed concern about the additional time and effort required with little or no economic return for the energies invested.

Participants agreed a key to increasing the recycling of building materials was education and behavioral changes. It was also mentioned that in many instances the issue is not the builder’s interest or desire to reduce waste quantities, but rather their inability or lack of willingness to change the behavior of subcontractors. Builders fear that any additional requirements placed on the subcontractors might result in the subcontractor quitting, thus leaving the builder without a subcontractor. And, in Atlanta where there is a shortage of qualified subcontractors coupled with a boom in the housing industry, builders are reluctant to upset their subcontractors.


As stated in the waste assessment results, some of the observed builders’ current job site practices lend themselves to waste reduction and recycling opportunities:

  • The relatively high cost some builders appear to be paying for their waste management services (on a per house basis) can increase the likelihood that alternative methods of hauling and/or recovery could be cost-competitive.
  • Some builders have their waste hauled by clean-up services that manually load scrap materials into a truck. In addition, at least one builder has scrap gypsum wallboard removed by a subcontractor on approximately 50-75 percent of his job sites. These approaches to waste management create an opportunity to sort the scrap material while servicing the site and can enhance the opportunities to find recycling outlets for the source separated materials.

Opportunities & Action Items

  • Establishment of a Job Site Recycling Committee & Survey of Builders

The GAHBA should consider creating a Job Site Recycling Committee (this could be done as part of or independent of the Green Builder Committee). The Committee would act as the contact point for the residential building industry regarding solid waste issues, and provide a forum for market representatives and other interested or affected groups and organizations to share perspectives and new ideas. It would be helpful to routinely involve the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division and the Department of Community Affairs in this Committee, either as members or resources.

The GAHBA, with the assistance of the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division and the Department of Community Affairs, should consider surveying the GAHBA builder-members about their current waste management practices and costs. The survey should determine what “standard waste management practices” are on residential job sites. The results of the survey should be used to verify, refine, or modify, as appropriate, the results of the NAHB Research Center waste assessment and observed waste reduction and recycling opportunities. This information could assist the Job Site Recycling Committee in defining industry problems and needs and identifying possible strategies for encouraging voluntary waste reduction practices. Suggested survey questions included the method of hauling used by the builders, whether the drywall subcontractor hauls the gypsum wallboard scrap, and builder awareness of hazardous waste generation, i.e. CESQG rules.

  • Maintenance of a Recycling Market Directory and Other Information

The Department of Community Affairs should be encouraged to continue to maintain and routinely update the directory of recycling markets, to make this directory available on their web site, and to consider, at least for the Atlanta metropolitan area, adding a map of secondary market locations. The Department of Community Affairs, working in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Division, should also be encouraged to track tipping fees at C&D landfills and to develop a map and directory of tub grinders which could be used by home builders. The GAHBA should consider ways to make this information readily available to builders, either electronically or published.

The GAHBA should also consider ways, again possibly working with the state agencies, to monitor the value of specific recovered materials and to make this information available to builders.

  • Initiation of One or More Demonstration Projects

Cleaning service materials recovery program. With the assistance of the state agencies, a demonstration project could be established linking a cleanup service provider with material markets to determine the costs and benefits of a recycling program in those situations where a clean up service is used.

On-site use of land clearing material and scrap gypsum. Drawing on the experience of the state with agricultural applications, the interest and experience of the builder operating a mulching subsidiary, and the grinder manufacturer that participated in the Roundtable, a demonstration project could be conducted illustrating the best methods for on-site use of these materials. Methods for accelerating material decomposition and achieving a productive carbon:nitrogen ratio should be explored.

Take-back program. Building material supply companies (e.g., Bill Lummus, of Lummus Supply, was invited but did not attend Roundtable) could be contacted about establishing a pilot take-back program for such materials as cardboard, drywall, or recyclable siding products.

Re-store/Reuse Store. A pilot project, supported by state agencies, to develop a reuse store for construction materials may help provide contractors with an incentive to develop waste recycling programs. This project should be developed in an area where construction materials are being segregated, e.g. through cleanup services, so that the construction by-products can be readily delivered to a center and marketed for reuse.

Finger-jointing lumber scraps. Potential participants for a pilot project exploring the feasibility of finger-jointing equipment could be identified and queried about their interest. Dennis Creech of Southface Energy Institute suggested that other related businesses such as producers of architectural moldings might have an interest in partnering in such a demonstration project and possibly sharing the cost of the equipment.

  • Preparation and Distribution of Fact Sheets and Other Information

Working together, GAHBA, the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division, and the Department of Community Affairs could prepare fact sheets and case studies as well as other information of assistance to builders interested in recovering and diverting scrap materials. These materials could be made available by and distributed through the three organizations as well as being used by GAHBA in their publications routinely distributed to builders. Suggested topics include:

  • Market value of recyclables. It was suggested that because residential builders are concerned with the market value of only a few materials that “market monitoring” information could be included in regular mailings to builders (either as stand-alone fact sheets or as part of other mailings).
  • Conditionally-exempt small quantity (hazardous waste) generators. It would be helpful for the builders to understand this issue. EPD could be asked to prepare a fact sheet for distribution to builders, or an article for inclusion in a GAHBA publication, clarifying the revised RCRA regulations and how this impacts builders’ and haulers’ disposal practices. The fact sheet should clearly address the issue of determining if the contractor or the construction site (owner if lot/home is already sold) is the “generator” of the hazardous materials.
  • Land clearing debris. Builders, haulers, and landfill operators would benefit from information outlining the costs, issues, and opportunities for diverting land-clearing debris. The Department of Community Affairs developed an article for their waste reduction periodical highlighting the alternative management practices used by builders during the burn ban and expressed a willingness to work with GAHBA to prepare a fact sheet or updated article for distribution to builders.
  • Waste Reduction Practices.
    • Design Phases – Uniformity in building design. GAHBA along with P2AD should develop a case study, or hypothetical example, illustrating how advanced framing techniques such as modular room sizes, roofing design, wall heights, etc. can result in efficient material usage with less waste generation.
    • Construction Phase. GAHBA along with P2AD should develop a fact sheet highlighting building practices (e.g., cutting wood in only one location so as to encourage the use of scrap materials and reduce the use of whole pieces of wood.)
  • Specifications for Material Use as a Soil Amendment. Possibly drawing on the experienced gained through a demonstration project, a standard specification could be developed for the use of specific materials as a soil amendment.
  • Utilization of Resources and Experience of Habitat for Humanity and the Southface Energy Institute

The presence of the Habitat for Humanity and the Southface Energy Institute in Georgia provides the state, GAHBA, and home builders with the opportunity to learn based on the first hand knowledge and experience of these organizations with waste reduction and recycling during the construction of homes. Their experience and knowledge is a resource that should continue to be drawn on by the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division and GAHBA. This can include the development of case studies and sponsoring of demonstration projects in partnership with these organizations.