May 28, 2010 8:00 PM  PDT

Adding Up the Climate Benefits of C&D Recycling

by Meri Soll
Program Manager
Stopwaste.org
 
By now, building industry professionals have gotten the message that energy efficiency and renewable energy are the tickets to decreasing a building’s carbon footprint. But while energy often seems to take center stage, many experts believe that construction and demolition (C&D) recycling deserves a bigger share of the spotlight.
 
 
In recent years, StopWaste.Org, a waste-reduction agency that serves the county and 14 cities of Alameda County and two sanitary districts, has been looking closely at the connections between greenhouse gas emissions and building construction.
 
As part of that effort, StopWaste.Org and Build It Green jointly developed the GreenPoint Rated Climate Calculator. The calculator serves as an adjunct to the GreenPoint Rated program, Build It Green’s point-based rating system for green homes.
 
“When a house undergoes the GreenPoint Rating process, the third-party rater uses the Climate Calculator to generate data on greenhouse gas emissions avoided,” said StopWaste.Org program manager Wesley Sullens.
 
Climate Calculator Takes Recycling into Account
The Climate Calculator tabulates the carbon savings associated with green building features like energy and water efficiency, and reuse and recycling of C&D waste. On the C&D side, the calculator accounts for the most common waste streams, including wood, cardboard, concrete, green waste, metal and mixed materials.
 
When a builder recycles 95% of the C&D material generated during construction of a typical 2,000 sq. ft. new home, the calculator shows a reduction in CO2 emissions of 5.7 metric tons. “That’s the equivalent of taking one car off the road for a year,” Sullens said.
 
While that may sound modest on a per-house basis, the numbers add up quickly.
 
In California alone, an estimated 2.6 million new homes will be built by 2020, according to California Energy Commission forecasts. If 95% of the C&D material for each of these homes were recycled, emissions would be reduced by more than 14.8 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.
 
That’s comparable to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of more than 2.6 million passenger vehicles, or the carbon dioxide emissions from more than 1.6 billion gallons of gasoline.
 
C&D Recycling—A Cost-Effective Path to Emissions Reductions
StopWaste.Org’s Climate Calculator research shows that for homes built to meet GreenPoint Rated standards, the emissions reductions of C&D recycling outweigh those achieved through energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, at least for the first few years of occupancy.
 
For a new green home in California where the builder recycles 95% of C&D material, recycling accounts for a whopping 75% of total emissions reductions in the first year after construction, according to the Climate Calculator research.
 
After 10 years, the relative impact of recycling C&D waste shrinks because unlike energy efficiency, the savings from C&D recycling do not grow over time. However, that one-time occurrence of C&D recycling still accounts for a significant 24 percent of the 10-year-old home’s cumulative emissions reductions.
And while C&D recycling happens only once for a particular project, the climate benefits are actually more enduring from a community perspective. That’s because building construction and demolition are ongoing activities, said Sullens.
 
 “C&D recycling is less sexy than renewables or energy upgrades in homes, but in most markets—especially in California—recycling waste is much more cost effective per ton of carbon saved,” Sullens said.
 
For more information about the GreenPoint Rated Climate Calculator and StopWaste.Org’s green building program, visit www.BuildGreenNow.org.
 
Stopwaste.org is a Build It Green Platinum Sponsor.

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