Green Deconstruction on the Rise in NOAZ

Jan 25, 2016

Construction waste takes up a significant amount of landfill space in the United States. But, almost 90 percent of those materials can be recycled or reused. And there is a growing number of contractors who are trying to do that through green deconstruction. It’s a process of salvaging construction materials for other uses that saves landfill space and resources. Arizona Public Radio’s Justin Regan reports. 

Salvaging old and left over building material is essential to green deconstruction.
Credit Justin Regan

General contractor Doug Minnier is at work on a home renovation and sustainable rebuild.

We are definitely ripping this house apart and rebuilding it,” says Minnier.

Instead of throwing all the wood, wiring, metal and other scraps in the dumpster, Minnier makes a giant salvage pile in the side yard.

Neighbors come by and ask if they can use some lumber for a shed or whatever they are going to use it for. Absolutely of course, take what you like. That’s what we’re after here,” says Minnier.  

Keeping building materials out of the landfill is essential to green deconstruction. Concrete can be ground up into landscaping material, old wood can still be used for projects as long as it’s in good condition and windows can help make a good green house.  But not everything can avoid the dumpster. For Minnier, that includes dry wall, also called sheet rock.

Coconino County does not have the means to process dry wall (shown above).
Credit Justin Regan

“The biggest waste in any construction is sheet rock. I would love to see the city of Flagstaff and Coconino County come up with a recycling plant for sheet rock,” says Minnier.

Many small rural towns like Flagstaff face similar economic challenges. That’s why so much construction material ends up in the landfill. Amanda Acheson is with the County’s sustainable building program.

“There’s great resources for metal recycling, we have great resources for concrete recycling, but in general there’s limited resources here in Northern Arizona. And so it’s finding a source that can take it out of Phoenix or elsewhere, but then there’s a cost associated with it,” says Acheson.

And often, that cost isn’t worth the trip for many contractors. Even so, green deconstruction is gaining popularity nationwide. States like California and Massachusetts have laws that require more building materials be reused. Arizona does not have such a law, but more businesses are taking it upon themselves to repurpose building materials, even the big box companies. Brad Guy is with the Center for Building Stewardship in Washington D.C.

“When you look at the Nikes, or the REIs these types of companies that care about their environmental message, it’s a very visible way to communicate that to use these types of reclaimed materials,” says Guy.

Local businesses are in on the trend as well. When the old Flagstaff lumber mill was made into a brewing company, the owners used old beams to craft benches and converted roofing material into the interior design. The Grand Canyon Trust did the same thing when they used materials from an old barn to make a new one. Green deconstruction is also useful for DIY projects.

“We’re building these mini-camper adventure mobile kind of things, and we’re getting supplies here,” says Avi Farber

When he’s not fighting forest fires, Farber tinkers with projects like building drip irrigation systems and customizing his truck’s camper shell. He picks up most of his supplies at Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store in Flagstaff. The organization collects and sells used materials from construction sites, to keep them out of the local landfill.

General contractor Doug Minnier at work on a home renovation. He tries to reuse as much building material as possible.
Credit Justin Regan

“It just doesn’t seem necessary to have new material, these work just as well as something new. I guess it just helps eliminate waste,” says Farber.

Coconino County officials say green deconstruction has been on the rise the last several years, even though it’s tough and expensive to do. It’s a burgeoning faction of the nearly three billion dollar a year green building industry.