The Greenest Building is the One Already Built

When a building is torn down, most of the the demolition debris ends up in a landfill. Some goes to Construction & Demoltion (C&D) landfills, others to landfills that handle Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). Where it goes depends on your location. Where we live, Illinois, there are only three active C&D Landfills, as reported by the EPA.

In 1996—the most current C&D figures are now over a decade old—the EPA reports that construction and demolition generated an estimated 136 million tons of waste. It is believed that 20-30% was recycled, avoiding a landfill. That same year, the US generated 209.7 millions tons of Municipal Solid Waste, with only 16.2% recycled (MSW recycling has increased dramatically, and in 2006 rose to 32.5%). The 1996 figures, added together, total 345.7 million tons of waste. Subtracting for recycling, approximately 35-38% of all waste combusted or destined for landfills comes from construction and demoltion.
To use the calculator, begin by choosing your property type from the top row. In the box labeled existing building enter your building's total square footage. Next enter the sq. ft. for the new building. Click calculate to get the amount of Construction & Demolition debris created in tons.

  sq.ft. +    sq.ft. =   tons
C&D Waste 
And here is a single calculator for demo waste alone.

  sq.ft.   tons
C&D Waste 
The U.S. EPA reports, "In 2006, US residents, businesses, and institutions produced more than 251 million tons of MSW [Municipal Solid Waste], which is approximately 4.6 pounds of waste per person per day" [click here].

We can easily convert the tons of waste into the number of years it would take a single person to generate an equivalent amount of trash. Enter tons from above and click calculate.

  tons  ÷  4.6 lb/day = approximately    years 
For this calculator we relied on the U.S. EPA report, Characterization of Building-Related Construction and Demolition Debris in the United States. Appendix A contains residential and nonresidential construction debris and demolition worksheets. We used the "Average Generation" figures, as exhibited in tables A-1 through A-4. These values are displayed to the right.

Note that these values are presented before any recycling of materials takes place. The same EPA report tells us 20-30 percent of C&D debris was recycled (see p. ES-4). Concrete, which is often the bulk of any demolition project, is also easily recyclable.
Characterization of Construction & Demolition Debris
Building Type:
lb/sq. ft.
lb/sq. ft.
Residential – Single Family4.38111.3
Residential – Multi-Family4.38 *127
Commercial & Other Nonresidential4.02173

* while the report separates SFD and MFD in the demolition worksheet (Table A-3), it does not do the same for construction debris (Table A-1). To be consistent, we used the average generation values presented in the Appendix worksheets. However, see Table 3 for multi-family waste assessments.

The National Trust's Sustainability Initiative is the best source on the web for green preservation. We recommend their Green Home Tips. Learn more with sustainability news, research and case studies. And read the article that started it all, Carl Elefante's "The Greenest Building Is...One that is Already Built," from the Summer 2007 Forum Journal.

More links? Visit our blog: The Greenest Building is the One Already Built

Read more about embodied energy in Australia's "Your Home Technical Manual"

MTWAS est. 2007

Embodied Energy:
concept model
survey model
ACHP report

Demolition Debris

Total Teardowns

May T. Watts


AT gmail DOT com