County Efforts on Recycling of Building Materials Surpass Half-Million Ton Mark

Contractor compliance with 2012 ‘3D’ ordinance means less waste going to landfills

Cook County’s Demolition Debris Diversion (3D) Ordinance has resulted in more than 540,000 tons of building material being recycled since its passage in 2012.

In addition, another 130,000 tons of material have been reused or salvaged as a result of the ordinance, meaning that more than 600,000 tons of material resulting from building demolition has been diverted from landfills.

“Construction and demolition debris represent the largest single category of waste in Cook County,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “Considering the U.S. EPA has found that, nationally, 40 percent of what ends up in our landfills is building waste, these results are a giant step forward for the County’s efforts to reduce waste.”

The ordinance was approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners as part of President Preckwinkle’s strategy to achieve a zero-waste goal that was originally set out in the County’s Solid Waste Plan update in 2012.

The ordinance took effect November 21, 2012. It requires that all demolition and major renovation projects in suburban Cook County (excluding those involving sheds and garages) recycle 70 percent (by weight) of debris and that residential projects also demonstrate that 5 percent (by weight) is diverted for reuse. (Reuse, involves the process of salvaging building material — such as doors, sinks and cabinetry — from one facility and using it in the same manner in a different facility.)

The benefits of recycling and reuse of construction and demolition debris goes beyond the positive environmental impacts.  Reuse also creates jobs, stabilizes local economies and creates a supply stream for manufacturing, as well as materials for construction, renovation and infrastructure building, Preckwinkle said.

A study by The Delta Institute has shown that diverting 5 percent of demolition material for reuse from about 30 houses could produce revenue that supports at least one new reuse retail center and related jobs, and pay for 25-30 full-time deconstruction workers.  Since the 3D Ordinance has been in effect, the number of these retailers in Cook County has increased from one to three, employing an additional 14 full-time people. In addition all three reuse retailers have job training programs and have trained a total of 82 people on building deconstruction or material reuse.
The 3D ordinance is the first of its kind in the Midwest to incorporate reuse. Reuse is even more environmentally beneficial than recycling, because it saves more material, uses less energy and produces fewer pollutants in the process. The ordinance is now seen as a national model, and the County’s Department of Environmental Control, which administers the program, has fielded queries about it from municipalities such as Hennepin County, Minn.; MN, San Antonio, Texas; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Department of Environmental Control uses the online Green Halo system for contractors to enter waste plans and final diversion data for each job. Neither the County nor contractors are charged for using Green Halo.

Green Halo also offers a feature that suggests to contractors nearby locations, based on the address of their work, where they can take – and often get paid for – materials that they formerly would have paid to dump at a landfill.