A visual sign of progress, prosperity and growth can be seen in the endless construction projects dotting our landscape, which show the world that, yes, we’re doing quite well, thank you very much. For all of the structures that mark our skylines, there is, however, the inevitable fall of others that no longer meet our expectations. Maybe they’re a little worse for the wear or perhaps remodeling them would actually take far more time than simply just knocking them down and starting all over again. Those casualties are often swept away so rapidly that we rarely if ever ponder what ultimately happens to them. Are bits and pieces of them actually recycled? Do slabs of old buildings naturally biodegrade? Should any of us really even care? Reno Contracting could easily be perceived as a shining eco-underdog in an industry that is typically responsible for producing a staggering volume of waste. The San Diego-based company has set itself apart from the crowd due to its ongoing commitment to recycling materials such as cardboard, wood, concrete, metal, asphalt and even landscaping waste that is leftover from various construction and demolition projects. The result of the company’s gung-ho “conserve-reuse-and-recycle” battle cry is that it has managed to prevent an astounding 60,000 tons of rubble from entering local landfills. 60,000 tons!
Perhaps a little perspective might be helpful in order to grasp the true scope of the American construction industry’s waste reclamation efforts (as opposed to that of other countries). Despite being a trailblazer in many ways, the U.S. lags woefully behind when it comes to making the most of post-demolition and excess remodeling materials — a fact that doesn’t make a great amount of sense since so many items used in the commercial and residential construction industries are notoriously easy to repurpose and even melt down.On an annual basis, however, the U.S. generates 160+ million tons of construction waste (based on EPA estimates), of which 20 to 30% is typically recycled. That figure may not seem all too shabby in the grand scheme of things (and a little recycling is better than none, right?), but when compared to Germany’s efforts (the country recycles a full two-thirds of the 192 million tons of construction waste that it produces annually and 95% of its aluminum), we have a long way to go. Considering that the typical demolition yields 155 pounds of waste for each square foot (the equivalent of 3,875 tons for every 50,000-square-foot commercial structure) and even brand-spanking-new projects are responsible for generating 3.9 pounds of waste for every square foot (the equivalent of 97.5 tons for every 50,000-square-foot commercial structure), it’s a case of reassessing what we perceive as salvageable. And, more than ever, it’s a necessity rather than a lovely yet fleeting notion. With 560,000 acres currently earmarked for the 2,000 landfills in operation across America, they may in fact be ample in size but they don’t have an infinite shelf life. On average, each is estimated to have a lifespan of 50 years before being decommissioned. Statistics on the remaining capacity of our country’s landfills are understandably illusive, but it’s not a stretch to say that it would behoove us to pursue ecologically responsible alternatives well before our options run dry. That’s why Reno Contracting’s eco-achievement — just one of multiple construction industry recycling initiatives currently in place in California — is so notable. With approximately 400 demolition recyclers in the Golden State alone, Reno Contracting and its eco-brethren have successfully trimmed down the amount of landfill-relegated waste (resulting from assorted building projects) to a relatively modest 12%. When contrasted with our countrywide average of 25%, they’re clearly doing something right. To bring that number into focus, imagine the massive surface area of one NFL football field, which is 360 feet long by 160 feet wide (in other words, 120 yards by 53-1/3 yards). Pretty big, right? Well, multiply that number by three fields, adding at least 100 feet of garbage inside of each. If anything crystallizes the vast scope of waste that the company has successfully diverted since it launched its recycling program in 2009, it’s a football field perspective. Although the “little engine that could” approach may make naysayers roll their eyes, there is something to be said for sticking to your guns when it comes to aiding the environment. One small company banding together for the common good of Mother Nature can make a measurable difference through diligence and perseverance, so what if 25 companies followed Reno Contracting’s lead… and then another 25… and so on, and so on? In terms of Reno’s specific recycling achievements, the company has clearly proven that there is a vast eco-potential for reclamation — something that our countrywide construction industry could easily emulate by outlining a similar plan of action and execution. The ecological benefits are a given, but the financial boost resulting from this type of program should really be the deal maker for those who are wrestling with indecision.