Wisconsin Division of State Facilities Develops Standardized Recycling Program

Story by Mike Larson, Editor. | September 28, 2010

The Wisconsin Division of State Facilities (DSF) has adopted a sustainable facilities policy and is in the midst of setting up a standardized system for handling, tracking, and reporting construction and demolition waste from its projects.

The DSF constructs and maintains all buildings owned by the state of Wisconsin, ranging from WisDOT weigh stations to regional service offices, large state office buildings, prisons, state-owned hospitals, all state university facilities, and even the Capitol building.

Each year, the department conducts about 800 construction projects that run the gamut from small repair jobs to erecting multimillion-dollar high-rise buildings.

The DSF's new standardized procedures are being developed to help minimize the environmental impact of its construction and demolition projects by maximizing reuse and recycling of waste, as well as standardized reporting.

Currently, the DSF requires contractors working on its projects to reuse and recycle construction and demolition waste to the extent that is feasible, but does not require progress reports, a full waste-management plan, and does not provide standards or a method for reporting.

Standardized Recycling Procedures Coming For All DSF Projects

The new standardized procedures will be consistent for all projects, and be included in every DSF project's bidding requirements.

Each project's lead contractor will be responsible for meeting the state's 50-percent minimum recycling/reuse goal, for seeing that other contractors participate in the recycling program, and for submitting progress and final documentation of recycling results to the DSF.

Pilot Projects Under Way

Assisted by nonprofit WasteCap Wisconsin, Inc., through a contract with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the DSF is developing and testing its new standardized procedures and reporting format on five pilot projects around the state.

The pilot sites include a residence hall at UW-Parkside in Kenosha, the College of Business and Economics at UW-Whitewater, UW-Madison Biochemistry II, replacement of the Rothwell Student Center at UW-Superior, and renovation of Baldwin Residence Hall at UW-Stevens Point.

The recycling pilot study for DSF will be completed by the end of 2009.

Successful First Pilot Project Points The Way

The renovation of the 130-room Baldwin Residence Hall finished as a resounding success. Completed in 2008, the three-month project not only exceeded its recycling goals, but also pointed out key factors that became early guidelines in development of the new procedures.

The extensive Baldwin Hall renovation included gutting and repainting all the rooms; re-doing floors; upgrading room lighting; installing more energy-efficient windows; replacing radiant steam heat with a four-pipe system that heats, air conditions, and offers individual room control; installing fire-protection sprinklers; and making ADA-compliance modifications including an elevator and revised exterior ramps.

With guidance from WasteCap, lead contractor Ellis Stone Construction Co., Stevens Point, set up separate, clearly labeled dumpsters for recyclable wood, cardboard, concrete, scrap metal, and cans/bottles/office paper. Additional dumpsters handled non-recyclables like painted wood, insulation, mortar bags, specialty wallboard, and food.

Ellis Stone and WasteCap then ensured that everyone working on the site was trained on what materials could and could not be reused or recycled. Vinyl baseboard trim was saved for reuse on other projects. Other materials that were recycled included window screens, carpet and carpet tiles. Commodities that were recycled included cardboard, concrete, metal, and cans/bottles/office paper, and unpainted wood.

WasteCap Senior Project Manager Ralph McCall, who is WasteCap's key staff liaison to the DSF on the standardizing project, says that the Baldwin Hall project reused or recycled 90.7 percent of its construction and demolition waste. That's far better than the project's goal to recycle 75 percent. In all, the project's recycling program prevented 231 tons of waste from going into landfills.

A Few Key Lessons:

  • Tell all contractors — at the pre-construction meeting — that they are required to participate in the recycling program established by the lead contractor
  • To be sure all material amounts (including site-prep debris) are recorded, the waste-management plan must be filed with DSF before any waste can be removed from the site
  • Every construction-planning meeting should have recycling on its agenda
  • The reporting forms should be easy to use
  • Reports should be filed with DSF regularly
  • A trash container should always be near each recycling container
  • All containers for recyclables and trash should be clearly marked

Program Could Hold Large Benefits For Environment, Contractors

WasteCap's McCall points out that this is an opportunity to make major cuts in the amount of waste going into the state's landfills and turn waste into resources while saving contractors money.

He says, "When contractors who do work under the DSF's standardized program find out that recycling is fairly easy and saves them money, we hope they will carry the practices into their other jobs, too."

"That ripple effect would help dramatically cut the amount of construction and demolition waste deposited in landfills, save on resources, and save contractors cost on a multitude of public and private projects," he said.

Citing a solid-waste study commissioned by the state, McCall says that about 29 percent of the solid waste dumped into Wisconsin landfills each year is construction and demolition debris.

"In an average year," says McCall, "more than 600,000 tons of wood, alone, ends up in the state's dumps. That's a lot of wasted resource that could be re-used. With tipping fees averaging $35 a ton, that's also a lot of cost contractors could avoid — just for wood."

"Asphalt shingles are another example," McCall says. "Although shingle recycling is relatively new in Wisconsin, it holds big potential, too. Each shingle is about 25 percent oil, and about 300,000 tons of them go into Wisconsin landfills annually. That means we bury as much as $30 million of recoverable oil each year."

The DSF's pilot programs are progressing well, and the department's new standardized recycling procedures are expected to be phased in over the next two years.


Huge Nationwide Potential For Improvement

Although Wisconsin faces recycling challenges, it is by no means alone. WasteCap research shows that, nationwide, contractors dump more than 136 million tons of demolition and construction waste into landfills each year. That's enough, says WasteCap, to build a waste wall 60 feet wide and 20 feet high across the country from San Diego, CA, to New York, NY.