Smarter C+D Waste: Earth Day 2019


As we consider Earth Day 2019 and its message to protect endangered species, I am hopeful about all progressive developments in the waste and recycling landscape over the past two years, and active efforts to reduce the trash in the environment.

Ever since China announced in January 2018 that it would no longer accept contaminated recyclables from anywhere in the world, waste management companies like Waste Management and Republic Services, who both collect and dispose of trash in landfills, are lucratively growing their businesses through enhanced recycling capabilities to process more than just paper and plastics. We’re also starting to see the technology industry expand into the waste and recycling space at a rapid pace, with companies like Recycle Track Systems (RTS) and Rubicon Global pitching themselves as the “Uber for Trash” solutions.


So even though this ban caused significant disruptions in the global recyclables market, I see many opportunities for our construction industry to adapt to tighter municipal waste regulations and drive market transformation to optimize waste management systems.

Earlier this year, my Sustainability team started a research initiative looking at 10% of Clark’s active green building projects from a variety of angles, including Construction and Demolition (C+D) waste management. As part of this work, we looked at forty-five jobs across the country to study how they performed on LEED construction requirements, and particularly on C+D waste. We concentrated on the mid-Atlantic region where we could leverage our proximity to sorting facilities and understand the current state of operations both internally to Clark, as well as our tenured relationships with local waste hauling companies.

Optimizing waste management contracting allows us to reduce carbon emissions and save operating costs

We found that centralizing the procurement of all construction and demolition waste and prioritizing our third-party certified service providers enabling us to optimize our waste management practices while cutting costs, manage any potential risks in the improper handling and disposal of construction waste and help our clients meet their LEED project goals.

Clark has been able to tap into discounts by hauling waste using our own trucks. We’ve found that our per ton price decreases by nearly 5% when we pull waste with our trucks. Our smart contracting for hauling services have routinely optimized vehicle miles traveled from job sites to sorting facilities or landfills and helped us reduce special delivery and transportation costs.

For example, based on interviews with some of our region’s leading waste management companies, hauling a load of concrete to Prince Georges county costs roughly $450, but it is $1,000 for the same weight to Montgomery County because of traffic. Knowing how congestion and mileage cost variables work in this region, our smart internal planning anticipates these factors and develops optimal routes for haulers to avoid traffic, optimize route selection, maximize fuel efficiency and save money.

Optimizing waste management allows projects to earn LEED innovation and social equity points

LEED credit points are available for qualified projects that send their commingled waste to a third-party certified recycling facility for C+D waste. The facilities benefit our projects by providing more accurate waste diversion data, strengthening the waste hauling supply chain, and adding value to our client’s LEED project goals. The Recycling Certification Institute assures that it’s Certification of Real Rates (CORR) Protocol as practiced at certified facilities is enough for meeting this LEED pilot credit. These type of certified facilities are ideal “preferred vendors” for Clark due to the different price and LEED credit incentives listed.

An additional public benefit is that they also help to improve the accuracy of C+D waste diversion at a time when cities and counties are committing to stringent waste reduction policies, such as New York City’s recently announced ban on plastic bags.

An additional LEED social equity credit is available for jobs which address social equity issues regarding job site material production, development, and final site assembly. Job sites are eligible to receive this credit by issuing supplier assessments or providing documented completion of a code of conduct.

Clark’s internal Sustainability Steering Committee helps inform projects on strategies to comply with local environmental regulations and requirements

Our national group of more than 20 committed sustainability champions helped us understand who the stakeholders are in our construction waste space and how we are all working together to meet project requirements and avoid penalties associated with failing to comply with specific county regulations. For example, pages 20 and 21 of the Maryland Solid Waste Management and Diversion Report list individual county regulations and explain the overall framework that “a county with a population greater than 150,000 is to recycle 35 percent and a county with a population less than 150,000 is to recycle 20 percent of its waste stream by December 31, 2015.”

In addition to Maryland, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality asserts that “each county, city, town or regional authority is required to establish recycling programs that meet or exceed recycling goals of 25% of its municipal solid waste generation.” Both documents outline the specific statewide and county-wide legislative requirements our projects must follow, which are captured in the LEED project requirements.

Overall, there are exciting opportunities ahead with the recent pledges to reduce waste made by major cities and regions worldwide. Late last year, 23 major cities and regions in the US and around the world pledged to significantly cut waste, accelerating them on the path toward "zero waste," a term generally recognized to mean a 90 percent diversion rate from incinerators, landfills, or the environment. The 150 million citizens that live in these 23 cities and regions are boldly embracing the transition to a zero-waste future by avoiding the disposal of at least 87 million tons of waste by 2030.


By signing the “C40’s Advancing Towards Zero Waste Declaration,” these cities and regions have committed to reduce or eliminate "the amount of waste generated by each citizen 15% by 2030, reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and incineration by 50% and increase the diversion rate to 70% by 2030. Signatory cities" in the US included New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, and Washington D.C.

As I think about the months ahead toward the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, it’s more critical than ever to proactively anticipate these new policies and regulations to compete for better jobs, and stronger results from our green building projects, and create higher value for our clients and the communities we all live and work in. Clark has answered this challenge in the past by consistently delivering more than 75% waste diversion rates from it’s more than 450 active or completed green building projects, and in many cases has achieved exemplary performance in LEED by diverting over 95% of C+D waste from landfills through a combination of smart material reuse on-site or neighboring construction sites.

So, I am very confident we are moving toward the right long-term solutions for our clients’ projects and our company’s bottom line, and it's encouraging to have some initial analysis of our performance to confirm our green building values are also helping to drive our sustainable bottom line.