deconstruction in lane county: where it stands now

A woman wearing a hard hat and yellow safety vest kneels on the floor, using a crowbar to remove floorboardsDuring the1990s, BRING pioneered deconstruction services in Lane County, successfully recovering materials from homes and buildings throughout the region. As momentum for deconstruction grew, BRING stepped away from the role as a contractor and stepped up our role as an outlet for reused materials.

While deconstruction was still an option in Lane County, the practice was not keeping up with increasing amounts of Construction and Demolition (C&D) materials in the waste stream, or new knowledge about the impacts of materials on the climate. To address this, BRING established the Construction Materials Recovery and Reuse Program (CMRR), a free service to contractors, builders, and businesses in the trades. With financial support from Lane County Waste Management and the City of Eugene’s Waste Prevention and Green Building department, over a five-year period CMRR staff provided consultation and technical assistance to 94 different construction projects, resulting in the recovery of over 400 tons of reusable material that was made available at low cost to the community. Though popular, funding for CMRR ceased in the fall of 2022.

Despite the absence of an active deconstruction-promotion program in our community, discussions on sustainably managing C&D waste persist.

Recycling Vs. Reuse

Presently, Lane County mandates that all loads of construction and demolition materials measuring six cubic yards or more be separated for recycling or delivered to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for sorting. While this policy marks a step in the right direction, recycling alone falls short of making a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Recycling C&D materials takes energy, time, and space, often negating the benefits of the recycling process itself. For instance, standard recycling practices for lumber involve processing it into wood chips for soil amendment or burning it as “hog fuel” to generate energy. The collection, sorting, transportation, and processing of wood for recycling consumes significant amounts of fossil fuels. Alternatively, much of the wood destined for recycling could and should be recovered and reused, as the positive impact of recycling lumber is significantly less beneficial than reuse.

An analysis conducted by BRING revealed that materials recovered for reuse through the CMRR program between 2021 and 2022 prevented 177 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MTCO2e), the equivalent of taking 40 passenger cars off the road for a full year or sequestering carbon from 211 acres of forest land. Alternatively, recycling would have prevented 78 MTCO2e. When compared to reuse, recycling is less than half as good.

A New Standard

When the topic of reducing C&D waste comes up, it inevitably leads to the way in which buildings are renovated and demolished. Conventional demolition typically involves quick and easy removal of materials using heavy-duty equipment that destroys rather than preserves energy intensive materials. The process of demolition caters to tight budgets and project timelines by offering fast and affordable services. In contrast the process of deconstruction necessitates an intention to recover materials. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality defines deconstruction as “the systematic dismantling of a structure, typically in the opposite order it was constructed, in order to maximize the salvage of materials for reuse, in preference over salvaging materials for recycling, energy recovery, or sending the materials to the landfill.”

With standard demolition practices as the norm, it is no wonder that recycling is the go-to option for C&D waste. The Lane County Solid Waste Management Plan acknowledges that material recovered for reuse from mixed loads of C&D debris is often the most cost-effective option available. However, the existing policy in Lane County regarding C&D waste only requires materials be sorted for recycling or delivered to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for mechanical recycling. Once processed in this way, materials are heavily damaged or are otherwise unusable.

What’s Next?

Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste constitutes approximately one-third of the world’s waste. In Lane County, C&D waste accounts for over thirty percent of the waste stream. According to the City of Eugene’s Climate Action Plan 2.0, construction materials consumed in Eugene contribute around 10% of the community’s consumption-based emissions, signifying the immense environmental impact of this sector.

While new construction and renovations undoubtedly benefit the community economically, the larger ramifications of these activities, such as natural resource depletion, environmental degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, and environmental justice, often go overlooked. In many cases, the allure of expediency and cost-effectiveness drives the decision to dispose of “unwanted” materials and waste rather than sorting them for reuse.

The CR0WD (Circularity, Reuse, Zero Waste Development) Network, based at Cornell University, recently published a guide for government and community leaders, recommending policies that promote salvage, deconstruction, and reuse. CR0WD suggests implementing incentives and regulations to facilitate the transition from traditional demolition practices to a thriving building material circular economy. A deconstruction and reuse ordinance would require specific parameters for deconstruction, and pre-building removal assessments would generate valuable insights regarding deconstruction and reuse potential. CR0WD recognizes that the successful implementation of these policies necessitates incentives and proposes government-issued grants to property owners to encourage deconstruction, as well as providing deconstruction projects with preferential treatment and perks during the permitting process.

While policies in Lane County have yet to be developed, there is some effort to support training in the process of deconstruction. Earlier this year, the Lane County Waste Management Division hosted a two-day workshop at a County-owned building that is slated for demolition. Located in Cottage Grove, the vintage farmhouse sits on property that is part of a planned expansion for the local transfer station.

Dave Bennick from the Building Deconstruction Institute in Bellingham, Washington, and long-time friend of BRING, provided the training to ten local contractors. The workshop covered the fundamentals of deconstruction, what it takes to start a profitable deconstruction business, and hands-on material removal techniques. For contractors that participated, they will be invited to bid on the deconstruction of the farmhouse. Moving forward, the hope is that contractors will be equipped to submit competitive bids for construction projects, providing viable alternatives to conventional demolition.

There is a growing global movement to address the impacts of energy-intensive materials resulting from construction and demolition activities. To achieve this locally, a comprehensive approach that encompasses promoting deconstruction services, prioritizing materials for reuse, and the implementation of policies, will help us reach our community adopted Climate Action plans and provide a better future for all.

Read the entire Summer 2023 edition of UsedNews here

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