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Industry preps for recycling mandates

Sean Ryan

The industry is ready to comply with upcoming state and federal requirements to recycle construction waste as long as someone is willing to buy the material.

“It’s a lot further than it was 10 years ago,” said Jason Johns, government affairs representative for the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Solid Wastes Management Association. “But it’s really been in the last five or 10 years that companies are forming to figure out what to do with that.”

State officials Monday will announce that, starting in 2010, contractors must recycle waste material on state demolition jobs and building projects worth more than $5 million, said Jenna Kunde, executive director of WasteCap Resource Solutions Inc., which is a nonprofit organization that helps companies recycle construction waste. The announcement will come on the heels of President Barack Obama’s Oct. 5 executive order that, starting in 2015, federal agencies must require at least half of the construction waste on their projects be recycled.

“On most (state) construction projects in the past, it has been little to none — zero to 10 percent,” Kunde said. “What always happens is the electrical contractor takes back the metal scrap wire.”

But recycling requires someone to buy or take construction debris and use it for something else. There will be plenty of demand in the state’s urban areas, such as Milwaukee and the Fox Valley, but the markets are not as well-developed in rural areas, said John Hansen, co-owner of City Wide Recycling LLC, Milwaukee.

City Wide sorts construction debris by wood, metal and other types and sells it to companies that can reuse it.

The company set up around Milwaukee a network of companies that want certain types of waste. There is a rising demand for scrap wood for biomass plants that burn it for electricity, Hansen said.

But it might be harder for companies such as City Wide to operate in rural areas, he said. The requirement could raise prices in those situations, he said.

“That’s where they’re going to struggle because facilities like ours need volume to exist,” Hansen said.

The National Solid Wastes Management Association in Wisconsin is trying to encourage more recycling by lobbying for state tipping-fee requirements on construction waste, Johns said. Now, the state does not require a tax on truckloads of construction debris going into landfills and recycling facilities. The fee could encourage contractors to recycle because, if a mulch company picks scrap wood and trucks it from the site, for example, contractors can save on shipping costs and tipping fees.

On the national level, the National Solid Wastes Management Association lobbies to remove laws that make it harder for companies to buy and reuse construction waste, said President and CEO Bruce Parker. The group supports the new federal recycling requirement, he said, but states must remove regulatory barriers to make it work.

“We just want to make sure that there’s availability,” he said, “that markets are opened up for construction and demolition waste.”

Some states, for example, don’t consider burning wood in biomass plants to be recycling, and others require “beneficial use determinations” before recognizing recycling plans, Bruce said. It’s too much red tape, he said.

Efforts to remove barriers and influence the economic forces, such as tipping fees, will all help areas develop local markets for scrap metal, wood and other debris, Kunde said.

“The economics are going to make recycling even more cost-effective,” she said, “and clearly that is what you should go for.”

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