Alberta is drafting plans to start recycling construction and demolition waste — refuse that makes up nearly a quarter of the province’s landfills.
The Alberta Construction Association and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of Alberta have partnered with the government and expect the program to be up and running by 2010.
Although Alberta Environment has not decided exactly how the system would work, one option might be a deposit-refund program, says Chris Boudreau, a spokesperson with the ministry.
Under the program, industry would be reimbursed for a deposit on materials provided it meets whatever criteria the province lays out. The money generated would fund the program, as would any unredeemed funds. There would be no cost to taxpayers or municipalities.
“Only 10 per cent of what we could recycle is actually being recycled right now,” Boudreau says.
“We needed to do something about the volume of waste that is being created.”
Christina Seidel, executive director of the Recycling Council of Alberta, says economic and population growth generated a massive increase in housing and commercial construction projects throughout the province.
“Fort McMurray is certainly one of the cities that has undergone a large boom but the biggest problem areas are the largest populated areas – Edmonton and Calgary,” she says.
Despite the economic downturn, a recent report from the Royal Bank of Canada indicates construction in Alberta isn’t likely to slow down.
The RBC Renovations Survey found 74 per cent of Albertans plan to renovate their homes in the next 12 months and that homeowner construction plans rose by five percentage points – the highest in the country.
While the thriving construction industry is creating 23 per cent of landfill waste, Seidel says it has managed to fly under the radar for some time.
“It’s almost a bit of a hidden waste stream,” she says.
“The average person doesn’t see it because it’s in unique places, only on construction sites and then it goes to construction landfills. Most people have no idea.”
But it was public concern over construction waste that, in part, got the Alberta Construction Association (ACA) on board with the government’s plans.
Ken Gibson, executive director of ACA, says contractors have been receiving more and more requests from owners to recycle construction waste.
“It’s a need driven by society’s expectations,” he says.
Indeed, many materials can be recycled.
“Concrete, brick, stone. Most of this can be reused on new roads,” Gibson says.
He says there are also well-developed markets for steel and copper recycling, as well as drywall, which can go back into the manufacturing of new drywall or used as compost in soil.
Wood is also recyclable, although demand fluctuates with the market.
“Right now with the reduction in the U.S. housing market the demand for lumber has gone down,” he says.
Since the government announced its plans, Gibson has already started to see more interest and investment in the recycling industry, where he says environmental groups could also make a profit.
“There is already one fellow setting up a transfer station down in southern Alberta. That’s the kind of experimentation that’s going on.”
Alberta would be the only Canadian province to make construction and demolition waste recycling mandatory, although not everyone may be pleased by it.
Michael Nyikes, director of Safety and Technical Services for the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of Alberta, says forcing the industry to recycle could pose problems for less developed parts of the province.
“In some of the smaller, rural communities, they don’t have the same facilities or infrastructure to handle these materials. It’s more prevalent in larger centers,” he says.
Still, Nyikes sees the need for such a program.
“The average resident single family house puts approximately four to seven tonnes of construction waste into the landfill through the construction process,” he says.
By diverting 50 per cent of construction and demolitions debris, Alberta Environment estimates the program would reduce the amount of waste it sends to landfills by 130 kilograms for each Albertan, every year.
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