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Business & Education >>  Construction >>  Managing Waste >>  C&D Characteristics

Local, state and federal governments classify construction and demolition (C&D) waste as "solid waste" that includes materials generated from construction and demolition activities for the transportation, building, and land clearing industries, as well as disaster debris. Building-related C&D waste includes building materials (asphalt shingles, insulation, concrete, wood, gypsum drywall, PVC, metals, etc.), packaging materials (cardboard, styrofoam, straps, pallets, etc.), tree stumps, and rubble resulting from construction, remodeling, repair, and demolition of homes, commercial buildings and other structures and pavements. "Hazardous waste" or potentially harmful materials may also be contained in building-related debris, although they are not generally included in the official definitions of C&D waste. These materials including lead, asbestos, mercury, liquid paints and stains, pressure treated lumber, etc. must be removed and disposed according to practices and regulations beyond those for C&D waste.

A study conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that building-related C&D waste totaled approximately 136 million tons in 1996. Of this amount, approximately 57% was non-residential and 43% was residential. New construction generated an estimated 11 million tons (8%), renovation 60 million tons (44%) and demolition another 65 million tons (48%).  

Building-related C&D waste contributes significantly to the total waste stream flowing into the nation's landfills with estimates ranging from 10 - 30 percent of total waste. Construction waste disposal is regulated on the state and local level. Therefore, the guidelines for disposing of construction wastes vary from state to state. Construction wastes used to be burned in fires or buried on-site. However, these practices have been widely abandoned and in most states,  made illegal.

waste bin
Building site -- C&D waste bin

As of 1996, EPA reported that most construction waste generated in the U.S. is thrown into dumpsters and hauled to either a permitted construction and demolition (C&D) waste landfill or a municipal solid waste facility. There were an estimated 1800 C&D landfills operating in the United States in 1995. The EPA estimates 20 - 30 percent was being recovered for reuse or recycling in 1996. Approximately 3,500 operating facilities processed this C&D for recovery.

The composition of building-related construction and demolition debris varies due to the nature of construction activity. Demolition sites generate more concrete, asphalt and metals while construction generates more corrugated containers, wood and gypsum wallboard. Demolition and remodeling activities are more prone to generate asbestos and lead-contaminated materials.

Results of waste generated at 15 residential construction projects compiled by the EPA demonstrates a large variation in waste generation amongst single-family home construction. Waste generated from these homes ranged from 2.41 to 11.30 pounds per square foot, with an average generation of 6.14 pounds per square foot. Home size does not appear to have been the determining factor for waste production, other factors including contractor, materials chosen or special circumstances may have more to do with waste generation than size of home.

A study conducted by the National Association of Home Builders Research Center, estimated that 8,000 lbs. of waste is thrown into the landfill during construction of a typical 2,000 square foot home. The makeup of this waste is estimated in the table below.

Weight (in pounds)
Volume (in cubic yards)*
Solid Sawn Wood
Engineered Wood
Cardboard (OCC)
Vinyl (PVC)**
Hazardous Materials

*Volumes are highly variable due to compressibility and captured air space in waste materials.
**Assuming three sides of exterior clad in vinyl siding.
***Assuming a brick veneer on home's front facade.

Source: NAHBRC, Residential Construction Waste: From Disposal to Management

Although construction wastes vary from one site to another, other studies reflect similar trends in characteristics of waste materials with wood, drywall and cardboard contributing the largest percentages of material. Materials in the "other" category may include glass, ceramic, aggregate, rubble, paper and paperboard, plastic, electrical wire, carpet, rubber, insulation, and miscellaneous items and scraps.

Many of these materials can be reused/salvaged or recycled, especially the wood, cardboard, and drywall. Over 70% reduction in waste would be achieved if these three materials were reused or recycled, thus saving resources, money and landfill space. Reduction of waste through prevention methods may also reduce the financial and environmental impacts of construction waste.

Many states have programs, run by government or private organizations, that work to enhance Construction and Demolition recycling. Some programs recognize the economic benefits of developing this inherently local industry while others wish to capture the lost resources and reduce impact to landfills. Material exchanges are one product of these programs. "Green Building" programs provide contractors with support to reduce waste through product choices and techniques as well as recycling waste materials that are generated.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Characterization of Building- Related Construction and Demolition Debris In The United States, 1998
NAHB Research Center, Residential Construction Waste: From Disposal to Management

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