One person’s trash is another’s treasure and the relationship is a core underpinning of recycling. There has to be some value to the material being recycled and the value is determined by the marketplace. Massachusetts is betting on that with a bold, state-wide ban on the land-filling of most construction and demolition waste—asphalt pavement, brick, concrete, metal and wood—starting July 1.
As the nation’s first statewide ban, the move is a strong one, designed to save limited landfill space and push recycling deeper into the economy (see p. 17). The danger is that the new regulations may be getting ahead of the marketplace, which will choke off needed disposal without providing an alternative avenue for the materials. When this happens, waste finds its own way to a final resting place, and it is not always pretty or environmentally sound. Still, a unified statewide plan makes more sense than regulating on a town or county level.
Recycling has taken a long time to take hold, and usually is driven by governmental regulation to help reduce the 1.9 million tons of trash that America generates daily. But reusing some materials makes good business sense, such as recycling asphalt pavement to eliminate waste and save aggregate resources. And there is money to be made from scrap metal, waste wood and crushed concrete and brick.
Every ton saved helps extend the life of America’s 2,700 landfills and construction and demolition’s 20% share of the waste stream is a fair target. It is appalling to see the kinds of usable and recyclable materials the industry still sends to landfills today. That will be changed only when there is official motivation and fast and affordable means of separating the good from the bad and ugly materials that have no other home than the landfill.
In order to be successful, we need to wage a war on waste similar to the huge scrap metal drives of World War II. Massachusetts has fired the first shot and others states should join the new campaign, especially those on the Gulf Coast where “deconstruction” of damaged structures moves into high gear.