Sustainable approaches to landfill diversion: the global sustainability of
deconstruction

United States Army Corps of Engineers, Engineering Research and Development Center-Construction
Engineering Research Laboratory-Champaign, IL, USA

Concurrent Technologies Corporation-Largo, FL, USA

University of the Pacific-Stockton, CA, USA


ABSTRACT: This paper provides analysis that higher diversion rates of construction and demolition (C&D)
waste from the U.S. landfill sites are not only good from a sustainability standpoint, but also an achievable
goal. When deconstruction occurs, proper planning should start to take advantage of all technologies and
processes available for recycling and reuse along with emerging markets for transformed C&D materials. The
data collected and analyzed in this paper suggest that the benefits of increasing C&D diversion rates resulting
primarily from deconstruction projects will have tremendous positive impacts on having a sustainable future,
which includes energy production, virgin materials, end items, and processed materials. Deconstruction
projects of the Department of Defense (DoD) military installations are analyzed in detail in this paper.
Although the DoD has been pioneering many C&D solid waste management projects to reap the benefits of
high diversion rates from landfill, there have been discernible efforts by the industry to attain diversion rates
as high as 90% in many instances.

1 INTRODUCTION
Deconstruction is a relatively new term that refers to
the process by which a building is disassembled in a
reverse order to the process of construction. The
term was originally used around the mid-nineties in
a meeting of the Used Building Materials
Association (UBMA). Deconstruction, as opposed
to demolition, is considered an organized and
systematic method, as materials need to be separated
at the source in order to maximize landfill diversion
through reuse and recycling. At first, there was no
distinction between reuse and recycling of
construction and demolition (C&D) waste. Manual
and mechanical separation helps increase the rates of
reuse and recycling and thus increasing diversion
from landfills. During the late nineties, the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest a
modest recovery and diversion of C&D waste to be
20 to 30%; however, other organizations such as the
National Association of Home Builders (NAHB),
the military, and other non-profit deconstruction
organizations have already aimed or achieved a
diversion rate of 90% in some instances.
The costs associated with demolition of old
facilities such as buildings, warehouses, roads,
power plants, and others through hauling debris to
landfills can be tremendous. Tipping fees are only
one piece of the puzzle, but the environmental
impacts and long-term effects of dumping C&D
waste directly into the landfill on water, land, and air
can be daunting. The social, political, and
environmental pressure to increase reuse and
recycling, and thus maximize diversion from
landfill, are often counterbalanced by economical
and technical perspective. For example, California’s
Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989
established a goal of 50% diversion rate of all
municipal solid waste (MSW) that includes C&D by
the year 2000 [Guy 2004].
The benefits of landfill diversion are highly
noticeable when it comes to the environment. This
can be seen given the fact that over 60% of all non-
food and fuel raw materials consumed in the US are
actually consumed by the construction industry

according to the US Geological Survey. On the
other hand, out of the nearly 4 billion tons of new
materials that flow into the market each year, nearly
200 million tons are from renewable sources. For
example, wood recovered from deconstructed
buildings could supply just about a quarter of the
lumber supply for the housing construction industry
over the next fifty years, thus greatly reducing the
amount of landfill space [Anderson 2000].
The sustainability of deconstruction lies in the
fact that reducing amounts of C&D waste that were
traditionally destined to be landfilled will conserve
valuable land space and help minimize the negative
impacts of waste on the ground, water, air, soil, and
forest. This process is also emphasized by supplying
the market with newly recycled and reused materials,
which relieves the demand on virgin materials.
This paper provides an overview of the strategies
used to manage C&D waste. From policy and
regulation to pricing and codes, there have been
tremendous activities over the past ten years in the
area of C&D waste management, which resulted in
an increasing rate of diversion of C&D waste from
landfills. This can be attributed to increased
awareness