From January 1, 2014, new stricter building regulations came into effect in the state of California, which focus on green or environmentally friendly construction practices. The California 2013 Green Building Standards Code (or CALGreen) governs the construction or alteration of low and high-rise residential buildings. The legislation covers many aspects of construction, including waste management. If you're building or extending a home, find out how CALGreen applies to any construction or demolition waste you create and what you need to do to comply with the law.
Any waste that goes to landfill can create serious environmental problems. The United States has over 3,000 active landfill sites, and more than 10,000 old municipal landfills. The aim of a landfill site is to dispose of waste in a contained area, using a liner that stops the any contaminants leaking into the surrounding environment and groundwater.
Landfill sites generally use clay, plastic or composite liners. Some of these liners are surprisingly thin, and some modern landfill sites use materials that are just 1/10 of an inch thick. Fractures and cracks in landfill liners inevitably allow contaminants to leak out of the site. Contaminated water can also build up in the bottom of the landfill, until the pressure drives waste through the liner.
As such, green building regulations in California aim to cut the amount of construction waste sent to landfill sites.
The waste that construction sites create
Home construction inevitably creates waste. CALGreen now mandates that project managers/owners salvage at least 50 percent of non-hazardous construction waste for recycling, reuse or some other method that will avoid using a landfill site. On average, residential construction projects create 10.95 tons of waste per square foot. This waste is typically 42.4% wood, 27.3% drywall and 12% concrete. As such, home builders should focus on the materials that they don't need to send to landfill.
Some exemptions apply. These include:
- You do not need to count excavated soil and land-clearing debris as part of the overall 50 percent target.
- You do not need to meet the target if you are working with a local agency in another way, or where recycling facilities do not exist or are not close enough to the work site. This is crucial for remote rural projects.
- The authorities may also exempt your project if you work on a single, isolated job site that is beyond the boundaries of the nearest waste diversion and recycling facility.
You should check with the local planning authorities to see if your project is exempt from the rules.
Developing a construction waste management plan
According to CALGreen, you'll need a construction waste management plan (CWMP) throughout the project. The enforcing agency may ask to see this plan at any time, but the overall aim of the CWMP is to support the reduction in landfill waste. The five elements your plan should cover are:
- Details of the construction materials that you will recycle or reuse on the project or off-site.
- Confirm that you will either sort waste materials on site or bulk mix them.
- Identify the facilities you will use to handle your waste material.
- Describe the construction methods you will use to lower the amount of waste your project generates.
- Detail how you will calculate the amount of waste that you divert (you can do this by weight or volume, but not both).
You'll need to keep documentation that tracks the amount of waste you create, recycle and reuse or send to landfill. The local enforcement agency may ask to see this at any time.
The waste stream reduction alternative
You won't need a CWMP if you can prove to the enforcing agency that you have met the 50 percent reduction target in other ways. Under CALGreen rules, projects that generate no more than four pounds of waste per square foot automatically meet the 50 percent reduction target. If you're working on a multi-family or high-rise residential project, this threshold decreases to two pounds of waste per square foot.
If you're building or extending a residential home in California, legislation now imposes strict rules about the waste you produce and dispose of. Talk to your local planning office and custom home builders for more information.