Residential Construction
Solid and Hazardous Waste
August 4, 2015

It is becoming more difficult and expensive to dispose of both hazardous and non-hazardous construction and demolition (C&D) waste because of stricter environmental regulations and a shortage of landfill space. Non-hazardous C&D waste typically consists of concrete, insulation, bricks, asphalt, wood, glass, masonry, roofing, siding, plaster and drywall, soil, rock, stumps, boulders, and brush. Hazardous wastes commonly generated during construction activities include paints, solvents, adhesives, caulks, pesticides, wood preservatives, oil, or stored materials (such as solvents or pesticides) that have exceeded their shelf life. Especially hazardous wastes such as asbestos, PCBs and heavy metals can be released during demolition or renovation of existing structures.

Reasons to Change


New buildings generate large amounts of waste, especially wood waste. According to the Center for Resourceful Building Technology in Missoula, Montana, a typical new single-family home creates 4-7 tons of waste, almost 50% of which is wood. Efficient wood use stretches the limited supply of wood products, reduces the pressure on forests from logging, and saves you money.

Across the country solid waste disposal is highly regulated. Know your state and local regulations. Any component of C&D waste that is not reused, recycled, or directed toward a beneficial use is regarded as solid waste and needs to be disposed of at a licensed landfill.

Even if recycling is not an option for certain materials, source separation can still be beneficial. By separating bulky from less bulky materials, you may be able to haul some of your waste to a cheaper facility.

Storage and Collection of Waste
How waste is collected and stored is often regulated. The following are often components of regulations as well as good management practices:

  • Solid waste must be collected and stored to prevent vector growth; conditions for transmission of diseases to humans or animals; hazards to service or disposal workers or the public; air pollution, water pollution, or escape of solid wastes or contaminated water to public waters; objectionable odors; dust; unsightliness; or other nuisance conditions.
  • Solid waste must be removed at regular intervals. Check with city or county officials for local storage, safety, and removal requirements.
  • Storage bins and areas must be watertight, rodent-proof, cleaned regularly, and managed to minimize leaks or spills.
  • Site must be kept clean and litter must be controlled.
  • Burning or burying solid waste is strictly regulated.
  • Solid waste being transported on a public highway must be attached, covered, or otherwise secured to the vehicle to prevent littering or creating a dangerous obstruction.

Hazardous Wastes Hazardous wastes commonly generated during construction activities include paints, solvents, adhesives, caulks, pesticides, wood preservatives, oil, or stored materials (such as solvents or pesticides) that have exceeded their shelf life. You may often not be aware of hazardous wastes you generate, but it is your responsibility to identify and separate hazardous wastes from non-hazardous wastes.

Problems associated with hazardous wastes include:

  • They can pollute the land, air, or water, or endanger human health and animal safety.
  • Septic systems can be ruined from contamination by hazardous waste.
  • Disposing of hazardous waste with nonhazardous waste (trash) is detrimental to solid waste collection systems, causes problems at landfills, poses a potential health threat to workers, and is illegal in many areas.
  • Improper disposal of hazardous waste can lead to costly cleanups. Under federal and state law, businesses are liable for improper hazardous waste disposal and hazardous waste spills or releases.

Construction and demolition (C&D) materials may contain special wastes that are, or may soon be, subject to special state and federal regulations. Special wastes include asbestos, fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and lead. Because of serious health risks, building materials containing asbestos must be disposed of according to strict state and federal regulations, which include disposal only in landfills certified by DEQ to accept asbestos waste. Contractors are liable for failure to follow regulations, procedures, and permitting requirements for containing, hauling, disposing, and keeping records of asbestos waste.


Following are examples of places in a house where asbestos might be found:

  • Exterior Surfaces – exterior walls and closed decks built with a fire retardant sheeting that looks like gray cardboard; cement asbestos board (usually light gray in color) used as sheets for straight and lap siding, or shaped to substitute for wood shingles; roof felt or window putty.
  • Wall and Ceiling Insulation – loose blown-in and batt insulation (especially in homes built or remodeled between 1930 and 1950) found where interior spaces need to be protected from outside temperatures (such as outside walls and floor or roof/attic spaces between structural joists and rafters).
  • Floor Coverings – sheet vinyl (including the backing or underlayment), vinyl tile, and vinyl adhesive.
  • Furnaces, Boilers, Heaters, and Piping – insulation blankets (the outside covering or shell), door gaskets, duct insulation, and tape at duct connections of furnaces and boilers; furnaces with asbestos-containing insulation and cement (the material is white or gray in color and resembles plaster) generally installed in older homes between 1920 and 1972; on and inside furnace ducts; insulation or asbestos paper (which looks like corrugated cardboard) around steam and water pipes, particularly at elbows, tees, and valves; cement sheets, millboard, and paper frequently used as thermal insulation for protection of floors and walls around woodstoves.
  • Interior Surfaces – sprayed-on or troweled-on surface material on wall and ceiling surfaces; acoustical tiles, textured paint, or heat reflectors (woodstoves).
  • Electrical Equipment – materials in older lamp socket collars, electric switch and receptacle boxes, liners for recessed lighting, backing for switchboard panels, fuse boxes, and old-fashioned “knob & tube” wiring.
  • Built-in Equipment – oven or dishwasher (in cabinet) units were often wrapped in insulation blankets or sheets until the mid-1970s; water heaters, range hoods, or clothes dryers.
  • Appliances – parts with asbestos-containing materials in refrigerators, freezers, portable dishwashers, or ovens.

The above list does not include every material or place in a house that may contain asbestos. More than 3,000 building products contain asbestos. The age of the building is not a valid way to determine the presence of asbestos. Always have suspicious material tested.

You are most likely to encounter polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) during remodeling or renovation. PCBs were widely used before 1979 as dielectric fluid to insulate electrical equipment such as capacitors, transformers, switches, and voltage regulators, and for fluorescent lamp ballasts. PCBs are considered hazardous because studies have shown them to cause cancer as well as reproductive and developmental defects in laboratory animals. Handling and disposal of materials containing PCBs is regulated by federal and state law.

According to the EPA, approximately three-quarters of the nation’s houses built before 1978 (approximately 64 million dwellings) contain some lead-based paint (LBP), although lead-based paint is not used in new residential construction. Lead is also a common component in C&D debris, found in roofs, cornices, tank linings, and electrical conduits. These materials may leach lead into the environment if not properly managed. Soft solder, an alloy of lead and tin, is used in plumbing for soldering joints. Soft solder has been banned from many uses in the United States.
Most buildings constructed before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Buildings constructed as late as 1978 may also contain lead paint.  Lead pipe and solder can be found in all but the most recently constructed buildings.
Operations that generate lead dust and fumes include:

  • Using flame-torch cutting or welding or using heat guns on lead painted surfaces during repair, reconstruction, dismantling, demolition, or abatement work.
  • Abrasive blasting of bridges and other structures containing lead-based paints.
  • Sanding, scraping, or grinding lead painted surfaces during repair, reconstruction, dismantling, demolition, or abatement work.
  • Maintaining exhaust duct work.



P2 in Action


Best Pollution Prevention Practices 

  1. Reduce the amount of waste generated during construction.
  2. Reduce disposal fees and construction costs.
  3. Provide a safe, clean site.


  • Design to use less. Evaluate the design to see if there are ways to increase the efficiency of materials used.
  • Use standard lumber or drywall dimensions.
  • Buy only as much material as you need to get the job done.
  • Salvage and reuse items that are in good condition such as doors, cabinets, and equipment.
  • Encourage reduction of packaging waste. Ask suppliers to deliver products in returnable pallets and containers.
  • Store lumber on level blocking and cover to minimize warping, twisting, and waste.
  • Measure carefully. Use a central cutting area. Smaller lengths can be used for spacers or blocking or left for firewood. Save clean sawdust for compost or mulch.
  • Make subcontractors responsible for their own waste. Include waste reduction in subcontract specifications.
  • Use alternative materials, such as engineered wood products, which can be ordered to the exact size you need.

Renovating an existing structure rather than building a new one is one of the best ways to reduce material waste. Renovation avoids wasted energy from the manufacture, transport, and assembly of new building materials.
Salvage of materials is usually more cost effective than disposal, but this depends on local markets for resale or reuse of materials. It is a good idea to go over the building with someone from a local salvage business (listed in the Yellow Pages under “Demolition Contractors,” “Salvage,” or “Building Materials – Used”).
As an example, you might never think of reusing blueprints. Blueprints can be cut into scratch pads or used at a preschool for art classes.  Look for other ways to reuse materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Material Exchanges
Another way you can divert wastes from landfills is to locate a local Material Exchange. These exchanges connect businesses that have unwanted but usable materials with businesses that need those materials. The benefits of exchanges include reduction of disposal costs, acquisition of inexpensive raw materials, and decreased use of landfills.

Best Pollution Prevention Practices

  1. Reuse materials.
  2. Save landfill space.
  3. Save energy.
  4. Conserve natural resources.


  • Identify salvage opportunities.
  • To avoid ownership problems with salvage materials, sign clearly written contracts before project permits are issued. You may need a separate agreement with each salvage company. Include appropriate insurance and licensing requirements in these agreements.
  • Allow time for salvage as early in the construction process as possible.
  • Use as many existing materials and building components as possible in the new design or store them for use in a future project.
  • Donate materials to nonprofit organizations if you cannot use them.
  • Plan ahead for salvage. A built-in is a good example of an item that can be salvaged if elements are attached with screws rather than glue.

It is impossible to eliminate or salvage all waste; however, studies show that builders who separate and recycle waste can save on hauling and disposal costs even when they factor in the extra labor. Material recovery facilities (MRFs) usually offer reduced rates for disposal of recyclable C&D waste.

Uses for Recycled Materials
Materials suitable for recycling today include cardboard, concrete, and metals. Uses and markets for products that previously could not be recycled are now expanding (examples: gypsum from wallboard is used as a soil amendment; concrete and asphalt are crushed and used as aggregate or base material. Construction industry waste makes up roughly 20% of the total municipal waste stream recycling can significantly lower this figure.

Best Pollution Prevention Practices

  1. Reduce disposal fees and overall construction costs through recycling.
  2. Provide feedstock for the manufacture of new materials.


  • Evaluate your waste stream. Estimate the quantity of recyclable materials you will generate. Identify materials that have the most recycling potential in your area. Recyclable materials are likely to include cardboard, wood, metal, concrete, masonry, and wallboard.
  • Contact local recycling centers to determine each facility’s acceptance requirements and restrictions. Find out if they recycle plastics, paints and finishes, asphalt roofing, or expanded polystyrene. Find out if they require separation of wastes or allow mixed wastes.
  • Compare the costs for hauling clean source-separated materials versus mixed waste.
  • Incorporate recycling into subcontracts. Include requirements for source separation and on-site recycling.
  • Ask your waste hauler or cleanup contractor to supply bins and to give you advice for setting up the site for maximum recycling.
  • Clearly designate recycling bins. Use color coding or large graphics.
  • Encourage subcontractors and employees to reuse and recycle. Discuss waste handling requirements before beginning a project and ask for their suggestions about more efficient methods or materials.
  • Track your results. Compare the costs to separate materials for recycling versus hauling everything to a landfill.
  • Work with your local building association or solid waste agency to expand opportunities for recycling.

Waste minimization (also called pollution prevention or source reduction) is the best way to curb your hazardous waste generation and reduce potential liability. Minimizing waste involves good housekeeping practices, employee training, process modifications, or substitution of a non-hazardous material for a hazardous one. Examples include:

  • Minimizing your supply of raw materials to prevent overstocking
  • Adopting a “first-in, first-out” inventory policy
  • Labeling waste containers properly to avoid mixing incompatible wastes or contaminating clean materials
  • Controlling access to storage areas and routinely inspecting containers (received containers that are leaking or damaged should be rejected)
  • Maintaining vehicles and equipment at a central location, preferably in a garage or maintenance facility–not on the construction site
  • Training employees to use equipment properly



Best Pollution Prevention Practices

  1. Maximize the useful life of materials before discarding them.


  • Use solvents such as mineral spirits and paint thinners more than once. Reusing thinner as a wash thinner to clean equipment reduces waste as well as the costs for raw materials or disposal.
  • Keep lids closed to prevent product loss through evaporation.
  • Use up or reuse all leftover paint.
  • Recycle as many materials as possible. Check to see if there is a waste exchange in your community.

Managing Hazardous Waste

Asbestos Management

Great care is needed to protect air quality while working with asbestos-containing materials. Do not cut, scrape, tear, sand, saw, or drill asbestos-containing materials unless absolutely necessary.  Basic precautions when dealing with asbestos:

    • Do not disturb the material. If the asbestos is in poor condition, do not allow it to be released into the air (for example, by walking through the area or pushing it aside to work in the area).
    • If asbestos-containing materials are in poor condition and you need to work in the area, ask a professional before disturbing the materials

PCB Management
Before disposing of fluorescent ballasts, you should determine if they contain PCBs. Look to see if the ballast carries a “No PCBs” label.  If it does, then your ballast does not contain PCBs and you don’t have to worry about most of the other information in this section. See the content in this section under Disposal of PCB Ballasts and Recycling Ballasts for disposal and recycling options.
EPA has established a policy that recommends against disposing of individual small PCB capacitors, small PCB capacitors contained in fluorescent light ballasts, or untested fluorescent light ballast potting compounds as municipal solid waste. Instead, the EPA encourages you to dispose of non-leaking fluorescent light ballasts and small PCB capacitors at a TSCA-approved facility. These facilities include recyclers, landfills, and incinerators that have EPA approvals to dispose of PCBs.
Disposal procedures for PCB ballasts depends on your particular situation:

  • The following types of ballasts may be disposed of at a TSCA-approved recycler, landfill, or incinerator (they may also be disposed of at a licensed Class II municipal landfill that agrees to accept them, although EPA does not recommend this disposal method):
    • All ballasts without PCBs
    • Ballasts that contain PCBs, but are not leaking and have less than three pounds of dielectric fluid (which should always be the case)
  • If the capacitors in your ballasts are leaking, you must send them to an EPA-approved PCB incinerator. Recycling is not an option.
  • Whether your ballasts are leaking or not, you can transport them yourself or you can hire a certified hauler. If you transport the ballasts yourself, contact the disposal facility first to make sure your ballasts will be accepted.


Lead Management

Best Pollution Prevention Practices
Engineering and Work Practice Controls

  • Do not sand, dry scrape, or burn lead-based paint (this generates contaminated dust).
  • Increase the length of cutting torches to increase the worker’s distance from the contamination.
  • Reduce lead exposure during torch cutting by stripping paint away from the area to be cut.
  • Substitute blasting techniques that are less dusty than abrasive blasting:
  • (1) wet blasting using high pressure water with or without abrasive media (be aware that control and disposal of water can be a problem)
  • (2) vacuum blasting where a vacuum hood for material removal is positioned around the exterior of the blasting nozzle
  • Use flameless heat guns to remove lead-based paints in residential housing units. Heat guns should have electronically controlled temperature settings to allow usage below the HUD limit of 1,100EF. Heat guns should be equipped with various nozzles to cover all common applications.
  • Remove and replace interior woodwork and entire window systems rather than scraping.
  • Cover lead-based paint surfaces with materials such as vinyl wallpaper, plaster, or wallboard.
  • Use coatings that do not contain lead.
  • Use chemical strippers to soften and remove lead-based paint (Caution: many chemical strippers, such as methylene chloride, are toxic or release toxic by-products when subjected to high temperatures).
  • Use exhaust ventilation that is equipped with a dust collection system to capture lead dust and fumes at the point of generation.
  • Use wet cleaning methods (damp mopping or dusting) to reduce the spread of dust.
  • Use vacuum equipment with high-efficiency particulate filters.
  • Use non-lead solder.
  • Recycle lead pipe removed from demolition jobs (do not reuse).

Respiratory Protection, Protective Clothing, and Equipment

  • Establish a respiratory protection program in accordance with the OSHA standard in 29 CFR 1910.134. Provide an appropriate, clean respirator that has been approved by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  • Provide employees with dry, protective work clothing and equipment which include coveralls or full-body work clothing; gloves, hats, and shoes or disposable coverlets; and face shields, vented goggles, or other appropriate protective equipment that complies with 29 CFR 1910.133. Also provide appropriate changing and hygiene facilities.


  • Keep the work site clean. Use either a vacuum with a HEPA filter or a wet cleaning method when removing lead dust. Never use regular vacuums or compressed air for cleaning.
  • Clean up thoroughly. Mop with a solution of 5% trisodium phosphate (TSP) in warm water.
  • Wash hands and face before eating, drinking, smoking, or applying cosmetics.
  • Keep all food away from work areas. Eat, drink, or smoke in areas outside the work site.
  • Shower and change into clean clothes, including shoes, before leaving the work site so that no lead contamination is carried off-site.

Managing Heavy Metals from Lamps
Fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps–such as metal halide and mercury vapor lamps–contain mercury, cadmium, and antimony. Incandescent light bulbs contain lead. Exposure to small amounts of these substances can cause serious human health problems.   Even in the absence of disposal regulations, recycling is an environmentally responsible way to manage spent lamps. Recycling separates toxic substances such as mercury from the glass, aluminum, and other lamp components that can be reused. It costs only 10 cents per foot to recycle a fluorescent lamp. Fluorescent and HID lamps can be recycled regardless of whether the lamp fails the TCLP test.
Some precautions to take for storing spent lamps:

  • Do not break or crush lamps–mercury may be released.
  • If storing lamps for recycling facilities, avoid taping lamps together.
  • If lamps are accidentally broken, store them in a sealed container.

If your construction or demolition activities involve removal and disposal of fluorescent or HID lamps, you should monitor changing regulations.