The Importance of Market Creation, Regulatory Instruments, and the Circular Economy  

Increasing diversion rates and extending the landfill lifespan are both local and provincial objectives, especially with consideration to the amount of Construction, Renovation, and Demolition (CRD) waste in the municipal waste stream. As of 2010, CRD represented 12% of the Ontario waste stream. Globally, 70-80% of CRD waste generated is being disposed of in developed countries. That being said, the United States Green Building Council believes that up to 70% of CRD is recyclable.

With a significant amount of material being sent to landfill, municipalities can implement mechanisms to direct CRD flow of material elsewhere; this can happen through two means. First, is the creation of a municipal CRD program to recover and recycle materials. This opportunity often benefits from collaboration measures between municipalities to drive economies of scale. Second, are the regulatory instruments and policy mechanism designed to prevent waste, encourage reuse and mandate recycled content to drive a circular economy and greenhouse gas reductions.

Short Term Actions

The key objective in the sphere of circular economy for municipalities is waste diversion from landfill.  CRD waste presents diversion opportunities across multiple material categories, such as wood, drywall, shingles, and concrete. All of these materials have the ability to be reused or recycled, thus extending our supply of natural resources and making organizations more cost efficient in a circular economy. The aforementioned material categories however all require differing procedures and costs for processing, as well having varying end market options. These end market opportunities tend to be locally driven, creating regional market opportunities for municipalities only within the service area.

Smaller municipalities and economies of scale

Regional markets place significant limitations on the ability of outside or smaller municipalities to establish sustainable CRD programs. For example, if the municipality cannot identify a service provider in their area, transportation costs could become prohibitively high to run a diversion program, even after considering tipping fees. Province wide market creation however, requires both strategic and policy support in a form that would encourage the use of recycled CRD materials and at the same time discourage landfilling of recyclable materials (e.g. landfill bans).

Smaller and more sparsely populated municipalities often face different challenges than those municipalities located in more urban areas, specifically related to the local geography, seasonal impacts, as well as sparse population relative to a dense urban area. There are however, a number of benefits related to a CRD diversion program that transform these challenges into opportunities; such as the potential local agricultural market for recycled drywall or returned to manufacturer for reuse, the use of recycled glass, concrete, and shingles for road aggregate, and the sale of scrap metal. Often the challenge for smaller municipalities is compiling enough waste to justify the transportation costs.

A potential solution for this could be collaboration between smaller municipalities to create economies of scale to invest in the appropriate treatment facilities or combine tonnages. While a CRD program is not a revenue source, extending the life span could offer municipalities cost saving benefits for years to come – and this can be done through both upstream and downstream management using circular economy principles.

Long Term Actions

Managing at source

Beyond diversion, a circular approach to the CRD program challenges would be to look first and foremost at the source of the issue: design, renovation, and construction upstream.  During building planning phases, design and construction, development teams can implement circular principles by encouraging the use of specified building materials with high postconsumer recycled content, rapidly renewable materials, locally extracted and manufactured sourced materials, and determine if specified excess construction materials can be diverted locally.

Resource efficient or green building construction practices may include recovering lumber from the project or using recycled concrete as an aggregate.  Using the principles of circular economy, green buildings can drive financial savings as well as waste and carbon reductions.  The core idea is to incorporate the 3R principles into the design to encourage more resource efficient projects upstream, reduce waste through refurbishment, and maximize the reuse of products and materials downstream.

Awareness and incentives

On a municipal level, it is key to drive awareness and markets for green buildings to ultimately limit both CRD waste and GHG emissions. The City of Kingston, Ontario for example is encouraging all builders, owners, and stakeholders to consider designs for all new large buildings, and new and renovated homes using highly energy efficient and sustainable standards.  In San Diego California, a Green Building Incentive Program has been designed to promote the use of resource efficient construction materials, water conservation and energy efficiency in new and remodeled residential and commercial buildings.  The program offers incentives of reduced building permit fees for projects meeting program requirements.

Diversion and recycled content targets

Municipalities can also help set the standards by implementing mandatory regulations that discourage landfill use downstream.  Seattle, Washington has a phased landfill program in place on eight CRD material categories. In Portland, Oregon, a new law has banned the generation of demolition waste for homes built on or before 1916.  These municipalities hope that these measures will significantly increase the reuse of materials and increase landfill diversion.

In Los Angeles, California municipalities have strict diversion targets and developers are required to divert (reuse and recycle) 50% of their CRD waste.  Similarly, Ontario has recommended adopting a target of 10-15% substitution of recycled content for use in road aggregate. While this recommendation has not appeared in policy or regulation yet, many Ontario municipalities, including City of Toronto, Region of York, City of Sudbury, and City of Ottawa are currently using recycled content. Requiring the use of recycled content in buildings, products, and infrastructure can significantly expedite the drive of new markets.

In summary, municipalities need to work with industry to tackle building life cycles holistically.  First, looking upstream to incorporate the appropriate policies with respect to waste prevention and awareness measures, starting with construction design.  Second, looking downstream, it is key that municipalities to meet economies of scale and drive new markets.  This will mean the implementation of appropriate policies that target end-of-life cycles and restrict access to landfills. This will also mean promoting industry actions that provide cost-effective means to easily source-separate and reuse or recycle CRD on site.  Ultimately short and long-term actions by municipalities can prevent waste and increase diversion of recyclable or reusable material, thus driving a circular economy and greenhouse gas reductions.