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Sustainable sells: 81 percent of the world believes that companies should help the environment. This can be a competitive advantage for builders who tap into that green mindset and find increased support among home buyers and governments alike.

One large component of building sustainably is limiting waste and disposing of unavoidable debris, like dirt, concrete, and scrap metal, in an eco-friendly manner.

At first, it can seem daunting to learn what can be recycled, how you can implement sustainable practices, and where to take materials. But the pros of diverting waste grow as you streamline your routine and processes.

Waste Diversion 101
Throwing items in the landfill is almost like throwing away cash. Not only can items like scrap metal and excess carpet be resold instead of tossed, the process of dumping comes with a price tag.

If dumping yourself, you may need to pay a landfill fee and for the time your worker spends taking trips to the landfill. Nails, screws, and other sharp objects collect on the top of landfills, threatening to puncture tires whenever you dump. By dumping, you increase the average cost of your vehicle maintenance, especially since landfills are likely far from any residential construction site.

Waste diversion also earns you credits toward LEED certification, depending on how much you divert, and government contracts. For instance, the City of Austin requires its contractors to divert 50 percent of debris from the landfill. This opens an additional opportunity for selling to eco-conscious buyers.

On the JobsiteDisposing of waste sustainably requires everyone on the crew to participate, from construction managers to equipment operators to carpenters. Everyone needs to be mindful of diversion and understand how the process works.

The best way to ensure all unused debris doesn’t go directly in the Dumpster is to set up designated collection bins or areas. All ferrous scrap metal should go in one bin and non-ferrous in another. Excess carpet, unbroken tile, and other items need their own containers. Clean lumber should be deposited in a specific section. Uncontaminated dirt can be reused, so it should get its own zone, too. As should all other diversion streams.

Mixing up your waste types will cause headaches down the line and even keep you from diverting. For example, if brush, metal scraps, or other non-compostable items get thrown in with the dirt, it becomes unusable. Trying to sort out items later, such as metal scraps from broken tiles, can be dangerous for your workers — especially if you threw everything into a single Dumpster. This also means if you’re hiring a company to haul away your waste, there’s little to no guarantee any of the items in that single collection area will be diverted. It’s too dangerous and time consuming to re-sort items.

Keep diversion areas and bins clearly delineated throughout the entire build and ensure every worker, from management on down, knows what should be deposited where.

Move It OutThe simplest way to remove all the recyclable and reusable items you collect is to hire someone else to do it. Junk removal companies in your area likely have already established relationships with recycling centers and businesses that accept the items you want to remove sustainably.

If you want to cut out the middleman, you should know there’s likely a business for every item you could possibly divert; it’s just a matter of finding the right company. Do as much due diligence as you can beforehand, but so long as your items are cleanly separated, you can often avoid dumping.

Scrap metal is probably the easiest to recycle and to turn a profit doing so. Find the local scrap yard and double check what they do and don’t accept. Yards typically don’t require a minimum amount of metal, and they also don’t set amount caps. Just make sure you keep your ferrous and nonferrous metals separate.

For your clean fill dirt, check out landscaping companies. If there isn’t a large one in the area, consider posting about your clean dirt on Craigslist. Another contractor could see your post and pay to haul away and repurpose your fill dirt.

You can offload items like excess drywall and carpet, and whole tile to a resale store. Your local Habitat for Humanity organization likely has a storefront, and you can also donate larger pieces of unused lumber to them. Not only is this a great diversion tactic, it also helps the local community.

Luckily, the more you build in a single location, the more avenues for diversion you’ll likely find and utilize. Additionally, the more you practice sustainable waste removal, the more diversion tips and tricks you learn.

Don’t wait until your next construction site to start diverting waste. Set up your diversion streams and start educating all on-site personnel on your processes now. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see the benefits.