In 2021, over 1 million single-unit houses were under construction in the United States, contributing 4.1% to the entire nation's GDP. In addition to these single-unit homes, many multi-family residential properties, office buildings, commercial spaces, and other buildings were also under construction or renovation. Each of these worksites creates construction jobs and new spaces for people to live and work.
Structures don't last forever, and there are countless buildings demolished each year as they become uninhabitable or are hit by natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes. Whether new building construction or tearing down pre-existing buildings, debris is always a part of every site. This waste not only poses a potential threat for workers and passersby, but it also accumulates quickly, accounting for hundreds of millions of pounds of waste going into landfills each year.
Tornado damage in Mayfield, where Mother Nature demolished buildings
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), construction across the US generated 600 million tons of waste in 2018. In 1990, there were 130 million tons of waste, which means the total has increased by four times in less than 20 years. Overall, demolition represents over 90% of all construction debris and waste.
This article will cover construction debris: what constitutes construction debris and waste, the most common types of waste generated, safety surrounding waste and debris, and, of course, the personal protective equipment (PPE) workers must wear when handling construction debris. Here's what you need to know about construction debris and waste.
What Is Construction Debris and Waste?
Construction debris and waste are discarded building materials from construction, remodeling, repair, or demolition operations. Many call it C&D (construction and demolition) materials or CDW (construction demolition waste).
C&D refers to the discarded building materials and rubble created during construction, either unused or damaged. When these waste products are created, they must be transferred to a landfill, recycled for new use, incinerated, or reused directly on site. Thankfully, of the 600 million tons of waste generated each year, 455 million tons are redirected to future use. These new use areas may be as aggregate, compost, or fuel.
Common Construction Waste Removal Items
Since construction and demolition debris refers to materials that come from the construction, destruction, renovation, or repair of physical structures like houses, buildings, commercial facilities, and roads, the term "construction waste" can reference a whole host of materials.
The fifteen most common types of construction waste materials are:
- Ceramic and tile
- Dredging waste (like rocks, shrubs, and stumps)
- Drywall and gypsum
- Ferrous metal
- Hazardous waste
- Insulation materials
- Non-ferrous metal
- Stone and clay
In addition to these materials, the EPA identifies that trees, stumps, and plastics are also widespread forms of waste commonly removed from construction sites. Others include asphalt, plumbing materials, roofing materials, and flooring.
An Industry That Removes Waste
After a construction project, the chances are high that there is quite a bit of clean-up to do, and an essential part of that would be to remove the construction waste and debris leftover. There are often time constraints for this step, and it can be costly, too.
As detailed by the North American Industry Classification System, or NAICS, various organizations collect and haul waste within a local area. NAICS classifies all establishments operating in this subsector. The NAICS classification for "Other Waste Collection" is coded as 562119 and would include removing waste after a construction project. This might involve:
- Collecting, hauling, and disposing of construction waste materials
- Brush collection
- Debris removal services
- General waste collection
- Rubble hauling and removal services
The top companies operating in this industry segment are Republic Services, Junk King, and 1800gotjunk.
There are more specialized industries within NAICS 562, such as garbage collection and hazardous waste collection. These fall under their specific industry code and not the all-encompassing 562119 code.
Unfortunately, worksites can become messy and littered with debris and materials, creating a potentially hazardous work environment for all those who work at the site. Construction debris and waste put workers at significant risk. For example, unsecured debris, including plywood, shingles, or other loose items, can fall overhead or get blown about in the wind. Any airborne material has the potential of permanently damaging a worker. Other potential hazards include:
- Not having proper scaffolding to catch falling materials and debris
- Having flammable or volatile debris on-site that can quickly ignite
- Encountering nails or other sharp objects on the ground, on sidewalks, or in roadways
- Handling chemical substances, corrosive materials, chemical-based glues, and caulking materials
- Confronting dust and particulate waste
- Disposing of hazardous waste such as lead paint and asbestos
- Handling infectious materials
These hazards can result in any number of worker injuries. Since hands are the primary tool in handling and clearing away debris, the most common injuries are cuts and lacerations to the hands. Here are some other common debris-related injuries:
- Back injuries due to slipping and falling
- Injured feet due to dropped debris
- Getting struck by construction debris or waste
- Burns from fires or explosions of construction debris
Before any construction debris removal occurs, planning is critical, as you'll need to know what materials you're likely to encounter so you can plan for how to dispose of them safely. By being prepared, it will help mitigate the risk of injuries.
According to Waste Advantage Magazine, building an average-sized home amasses almost 10,000 pounds of construction waste and debris. This amount of waste requires that workers give a great deal of thought about safely managing and disposing of this debris on the job site.
What can workers do to limit the risks associated with construction waste? Besides wearing proper safety gear, which is covered in the next section, here are some critical safety facets of debris removal:
- Materials may need cutting into smaller pieces for more effortless loading, transfer, and removal.
- Use certified specialists when encountering hazardous or toxic materials such as asbestos.
- Place yellow warning labels over the waste that can't immediately be removed, alerting others to the danger.
Personal Protective Equipment
Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is an absolute must for anyone handling construction debris. Crews need proper chemical protective clothing, heavy-duty gloves, puncture-resistant gloves, cut-resistant sleeves, DuPont™ Tyvek® garments, proper eye protection, dust masks, hi-vis gear, and much more.
Butyl rubber gloves are considered the most heavy-duty chemical gloves available for general industrial applications. For anyone concerned about contact with unknown chemical substances, these are the styles you'll want to be wearing.
Our Sasquatch® leather driver work gloves work hard to protect the wearer. They feature an ANSI abrasion 6 performance score, the highest score possible, and field tests have confirmed up to three extra weeks of wear time! When workers are handling demolished concrete or other construction waste, they can't go wrong wearing one of the three gloves shown above.
A puncture wound is a forceful injury caused by a sharp, pointed object penetrating the skin. This form of injury is a definite concern for anyone handling sharp debris or objects with exposed nails. We've built a new puncture-resistant online catalog to ensure you can quickly find the protection required for your job site hazards.
Cut-resistant sleeves provide extended protection past the hand and up a person's forearm. We stock over 68 different variations, which means we have a version designed for the application you perform.
DuPont™ Tyvek® garments are composed of flash-spun, high-density polyethylene, which creates a unique, nonwoven material. This disposable coverall provides an ideal balance of protection, durability, and comfort with its state-of-the-art fabric technology. This form of PPE is worn by countless workers protecting against contact with debris that may contain hazards such as asbestos, lead, or mold.
Hi-vis safety vests keep workers noticed on worksites with moving equipment or around busy streets. We have all the options you require, from Class 3 styles that offer the most visibility to a simple sash for those operating in lower-risk environments. Our brand-new hi-vis safety catalog will allow you to quickly find the style you require.
MCR Safety Dust Masks
Safety glasses can help protect workers' eyes from the small particles, dust, and debris that fly around on a job site. But finding the right glasses for the job can be a challenge, especially for workers who alternate between interior and exterior environments. A clear lens outside won't protect from bright glare, so a tinted safety glass may be a better choice. As we highlight in our Lens Tint Guide, many lens tinting options are available to users today. MCR Safety is known for stocking one of the broadest ranges of tinted safety glasses in the market today. You'll find all the styles we offer on our online safety glasses catalog.
Where does construction waste go?
- A wide array of materials are used in the construction process—concrete, wood, glass, electrical, plumbing materials, and more—and recycling construction site recycling is essential in reducing waste in landfills. Many sites employ source separation, which uses different dumpsters or containers on-site to separate and sort materials into different categories based on how those materials need to be disposed of. Furniture or other reusable items are often sold, and workers sort the other recyclable materials as they go. Recyclable products are sent to the appropriate recycling facilities, and hazardous materials are sent to hazardous waste processing sites as needed. This is an important step, as non-recycled construction waste winds up in landfills.
Where can I drop off construction waste?
- Construction waste isn't like regular trash. It must be removed with care to avoid polluting the environment with construction contaminants and avoid non-compliance fees for improper disposal. Of course, hazardous waste like asbestos, lead, silica, and some glues will need to go to a suitable facility, but what about everything else? Some construction waste materials can be reused, repurposed, or recycled. For debris that's going to a landfill, dumpsters must be rented from a company that accepts construction debris and waste.
Construction debris and waste can be described in two ways: Clean and dirty.
· Clean waste has been sorted. The specifications of a "clean" dumpster may vary from company to company, but typically it means that there are no bricks, concrete, or other materials mixed in
· Dirty waste may include a mixture of wood, concrete, and other materials. This is the most common kind of waste from a construction site, but it's also the most expensive because construction companies must pay for disposal at the landfill.
You can find a list of construction waste drop-off locations near you by clicking here.
How much waste is developed in the construction of houses?
- The National Association of Home Builders reports that construction sites generate an estimated 8,000 pounds of waste materials that get sent to a landfill when building a 2,000 square foot, stick-built home. This massive amount of construction debris is expensive to dispose of and is why some builders attempt to recycle on the job site. All in all, it's estimated that 40 percent of solid waste in the US comes from traditional, stick-built home construction sites, accounting for hundreds of millions of tons of landfill waste each year.
Protecting Workers from Waste
Whether it's from paving new roads, renovating homes, or building a new office structure, much waste and debris are generated from construction products. At MCR Safety, we understand that the first step in preventing injury or health issues related to construction waste and debris is suiting up with proper safety equipment. In conjunction with maintaining a safe, clean worksite, the proper protective clothing and gear can make all the difference between a devastating injury and a safe, productive construction project.