The Circular Building, by Arup, is a fully demountable prototype to show how the circular economy can be applied to the built environment. Each component is tagged with digital technology with information to aid reuse, and the data is part of a Building Information Model.  

C&D Activities and Waste Stream

To reach zero waste, the city will need to address construction and demolition (C&D) waste, which is defined as discarded building materials, packaging and rubble generated during building and structure construction, renovation and demolition (excluding natural land-clearing and excavation materials such as rock, soil, stone and vegetation).

Nationwide, C&D waste accounts for 25%–45% of the solid waste stream by weight, and it is often contaminated—with paint, adhesives, fasteners—and even toxic. Studies done on New York City indicate a higher percentage of C&D waste, though there’s a lack of reliable data because transfer stations self-report to DSNY. Quarterly reports from 2016 indicate that the city processes an average of 7,500 tons of C&D waste per day.

Chapter 2’s Best Practice Strategies looks at how architects can reduce waste through consideration of waste streams created daily within their buildings. This chapter looks at how architects can consider waste generated during construction of a building and at subsequent demolition phases (for refurbishment or at end of life of the building). This balance is akin to the ways architects can reduce energy requirements—for both the operating energy within a building and the embodied energy within the building itself. For many large commercial buildings, C&D waste is a near daily stream; chances are that at any time, a unit somewhere in the building will be undergoing refurbishment.

Estimates indicate that of the building materials waste generated, 10%–15% become waste during construction; the remaining 85%–90% become waste when that part of the building is demolished or replaced. ←  Ellen McArthur, “Growth Within: A Circular Economy Vision for a Competitive Europe” (2015): 20.

C&D waste at a Materials Recovery Facility

Rules and Standards 

DSNY Rules

DSNY 16 RCNY §1-10 designates C&D waste—excluding plaster, wall coverings, drywall, roofing shingles and glass windowpanes—generated by construction businesses as recyclable. It also requires that this waste be source-separated from other waste streams. NYC’s Business Integrity Commission certifies city waste haulers and maintains a comprehensive list of registered haulers approved to remove construction and demolition waste.

LEED v4 Credits

LEED has credits for materials and waste management, including for Construction and Demolition Waste Management Planning and for reaching diversion goals of 50% or 75% of the total C&D material. These targets are by weight, so steel and concrete are substantially more important than gypsum wallboard (GWB), ceiling tile and other light materials. There are also credits for Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction and Building Product Disclosure and Optimization, which are harder to achieve. These look at related material impacts including life-cycle assessments of energy, water use and the health and environmental impacts of materials. (See LEED v4 Waste Management Credits.)

Enterprise Green Communities Criteria with NYC Overlay

EGCC is a nationwide green building criteria list designed for affordable multifamily housing. NYC’s Housing and Preservation Department requires that projects follow it and has an overlay that makes some of the credits mandatory. Credits are available for Recycled Content of Materials; Regional Materials; Certified, Salvaged and Engineered Wood Products; and Construction Waste Management.

Recycling Certification Institute

Substantiation of reported recovery and recycling rates is provided by RCI, which requires independent evaluators to verify the accuracy and reliability of the data. (See certified facilities.)

Building Code Requirements and Green Codes Task Force Proposals

Although there are requirements for safeguards during demolition (BC 3301), there are no diversion requirements and little requirement for recycled content. The Green Code Task Force proposal RC4, which passed, requires 30% content of recycled asphalt by weight (or 10% for heavy-duty asphalt). Proposal RC1 required ceiling tiles, carpeting, new GWB scrap and large-dimension lumber to be sorted on-site and reused or recycled; it also required construction-waste management plans for large projects. Though it did not pass, the proposal formed the background to Carpet Working Group and work by Building Product Ecosystems.

Global context 

Material Shortages

Since 1980, the amount of materials extracted worldwide has doubled. In 2010, it reached close to 72 gross tonnage (GT), and it is projected to reach 100 GT by 2030. The construction sector represents 36% of this total. These trends indicate that material shortages in the construction industry will likely increase in the near future. ←  Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Material Resources, Productivity and the Environment, OECD Publishing, 2/12/2015, link.

Takeback Programs

Increasing numbers of manufacturers are offering takeback programs for their products, including office furniture, carpet and ceiling tile. Programs aim to reuse or repurpose products and divert recyclable materials.

Office furniture takeback (Steelcase end-of-use program shown)

Collaborative consumption

Collaborative consumption slows down material flows and the creation of waste through efficient use of assets. It has three distinct systems:

  • Redistribution markets: Unwanted and underused goods are redistributed, through organizations such as BigReuse or AptDeco. For other reuse organizations see DSNY’s DonateNYC’s website.
  • Collaborative lifestyles: Nonproduct assets such as space, skills and money are exchanged and traded in new ways. Two examples, Spacious and Kettlespace, make provisions in restaurants—during closed daytime hours—for freelancers to work.
  • Product service systems: In this type of system, the consumer pays to access a product rather than to own it outright. Car2go (car sharing), Citi Bike (bike sharing), Turo (private car sharing), Spinlister (private bike sharing) and Philips, which offers lighting as a service rather than as a product, all reflect this new model.

Technical Changes: Data, Passports, ID Tags

New technologies that allow us to encode materials with information can greatly lower waste creation. This information will be useful for deconstructing a building and repurposing materials. A building can be considered a “material bank,” and if the project was modeled via building information modeling (BIM), including material information, the contents of the material bank are easily accessed virtually. There are also low-tech examples of data being connected to materials—for example, members of the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), who represent over 95% of the US industry, have agreed to list the material makeup of a carpet on its underside, making the proper recycling method easier to determine. (To date, special equipment has been needed to determine a carpet’s composition.) ←  As defined by the US National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee, building information modeling (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.

“Waste is material without information, so by providing material with adequate information, we prevent waste and create value.”
—Thomas Rau of turntoo ←  turntoo company website

New York City Context

Circular Material Loop Initiatives and Organizations

  • Building Product Ecosystems (BPE) is working with a multidisciplinary group to look at promoting circular material loops, with special attention paid to the health issues associated with materials. They are presently looking at GWB recycling and replacing the cement (or flyash) in concrete with local recycled glass pozzolan.
  • As part of the development of these guidelines, AIANY worked with Urban Green Council to convene a group of stakeholders to build upon the Green Codes Task Force proposal for carpet recycling.
  • Carpetcycle provides demolition services for GWB, carpet and acoustic ceiling tile in commercial projects, in order to divert materials from landfill. Carpetcycle partners with manufacturers of carpet and acoustic ceiling tiles with takeback programs, such as Interface, Shaw, Mohawk and Armstrong.
  • Big Reuse has two building material reuse centers in NYC that divert over 2000 tons of building material each year for reuse. Materials accepted include doors, appliances, plumbing fixtures, lumbers, kitchen cabinets, and flooring. Small demolition crews from the centers will remove some items. Additionally, Big Reuse has recently begun a paint reuse pilot project to test the feasibility of remixing partially used containers of latex paint into larger batches and then repackaging them. ←  The latex paint reuse model is based on successful programs in Portland, Oregon, Austin and throughout Canada.

Pilot pour using concrete containing glass pozzolan, Halletts Point

Windows at BigReuse

Landfill Costs

NYC has high landfill costs, meaning that it is economically advantageous for transfer stations to divert many materials.

Construction Site Logistics

Contractors typically collect C&D waste in “minis”: 0.5 cu yd containers, though larger containers – 1 or 2 cu yd and even 20–35 cu yd containers may be used. The hauler usually provides them and takes them to a waste transfer station and/or processing center when full. Some separation of materials may happen on-site, and some recyclers of materials will pick them up directly from the construction site. Space is often tight, and if the specifications do not call for separation, materials are often mixed and brought to a processing center for sorting and transport to recyclers, waste to energy plants, cement kilns and landfills outside the city. Some NYC facilities, such as scrap metal yards and clean fill facilities, accept certain separated streams for reduced costs. While some materials are fairly easy to sort at a processing facility, others—like GWB, carpet and ceiling tile—are damaged and rendered unrecyclable if put in mixed containers.

0.5 cu yd ‘minis’ used for bulk waste

C&D Waste Composition

The table shows NYC data from a local processing facility and indicates that much of the waste that it receives can be recycled, though it is often downcycled. The category “screenings” refers to materials such as GWB and ceiling tiles that break up and are used as alternative daily cover on a landfill, which LEED no longer considers recycling. ←  Cooper Tank Recycling, link.

Data from a NYC C&D recycling facility showing end use of materials


Space constraints
Space is tight at most NYC construction sites, and staging area is often only available curbside. It takes more planning and coordination to keep recyclables separated on-site.

Labor costs
High labor costs in NYC make it more expensive to recycle materials than elsewhere.

Split between operating and construction costs
A split between responsibility and accounting for capital and operating costs makes it hard for the developer and design team to make the life-cycle argument for selecting durable materials.

Split between owners and tenants
In commercial buildings, tenants are the primary generators of C&D waste during renovation. Building owners need to include the requirements for C&D waste management in leases.

Lack of information and data
It can be difficult for designers or developers to source recycled or previously used materials or components. There is no central online resource/source that allows developers to know what material is available now or will be soon so they can account for it in their development. Also, as there are commonly no quality protocols for recycled materials, their performance is not guaranteed.


Demolition permit process
For projects requiring a demolition permit, there is a window of opportunity to salvage furniture and finish materials—carpet, for one—before the demo process starts. NYC requires asbestos testing before the demolition can begin. In Denmark, the requirement for more extensive hazardous material testing allows a longer stretch of time for salvage.

Leadership from city agencies
City agencies can help promote change through practices in their new buildings. For instance, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) is using some of pozzolan concrete for sidewalks in its projects.

In San Jose, California, all projects requiring a building permit also need to make a Construction and Demolition Diversion Deposit proportional to the project’s size. To get the deposit refunded, developers have to demonstrate they’ve recovered a baseline of C&D waste.

Fiscal drivers
Other countries—the UK, for example—have used incentives like landfill taxes and levies on virgin aggregate to reduce the amount of C&D waste sent to landfill.


Next Section: Construction & Demolition Waste Best Practice Strategies →